CONGRESS, Arizona—The little girl’s name, the one she has been known by for the past 61 yearsit is hard to even say.
Her body was found in the Arizona desert on July 31, 1960. She wore a blue buttoned blouse and shorts, and on her small feet were adult flip flops that had been cut to size. Her fingernails and her toenails were painted. But her name, her race, and even her exact age could not be discerned.
She became known as Little Miss Nobody.
Over the years, the mystery of who she was and how she died has waxed and waned. There have been periods of activity, of possible breakthroughs that fizzled out, and long spells of silence with barely a whisper about the unknown little girl found dead in the desert.
But on Tuesday morning, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office announced the little girl would be Little Miss Nobody no more. “I hope we never hear that name again,” Sheriff David Rhodes said.
Using fresh DNA analysis, authorities concluded they had definitively identified the girl as Sharon Lee Gallegos.
Sharon was abducted from her grandmother’s home in Alamogordo, New Mexico. She was 4 years old.
Early reports about the body found in the desert connected the two cases. A report in The Arizona Republic on Aug. 8, 1960, read: “There is some speculation that the body could be that of Sharon Lee Gallegos, kidnapped at Alamagordo NM July 21.”
But investigators of the era, based on evidence at the time, concluded the remains were not Sharon, Yavapai County Lt. Tom Boelts said on Tuesday.
The body was initially believed to be that of a child aged at least 7, while Sharon was 4, he said. The clothing description was different. And according to Boelts and past newspaper reports, a footprint comparison conducted by the FBI in 1960 found they were not the same. In a story on Aug. 9, 1960, The Republic reported federal agents in Washington had “ruled out the possibility” the body was Sharon.
“Footprint comparisons are obviously not how we do things now, but that was probably the best technology they had available to them at the time,” Boelts said.
Identifying the girl as Sharon is a startling breakthrough that offers answers to some — but not all — of the questions that have surrounded this case for decades.
Little Miss Nobody: Girl identified over 60 years later
The Sharon Lee Gallegos case
Sharon was playing outside with two other children when she was abducted on July 21, 1960, authorities said.
Her playmates, turned witnesses, said a dark green sedan, a 1951 or 1952 Plymouth or Dodge, had pulled up outside the house. Inside the car was a white man, who was driving, and a woman. One of the children also said there were two kids in the car, including a freckle-faced boy.
Boelts said the woman had tried to entice Sharon into the car with the promise of new clothes and candy, but the 4-year-old refused. “The woman then got out of the car, grabbed Sharon by the elbow, and pulled her into the car,” he said. Alamogordo police set up roadblocks but Sharon’s captors evaded them.
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Boelts said they had information a woman had been asking about Sharon and her mother at church on Sunday and at a neighbor’s house in the days before the little girl was kidnapped.
Many questions remain. Who were the man and woman? What happened between July 21, when Sharon was abducted, and July 31, when her body de ella was found? Could the freckle-faced boy still be alive today?
Sharon’s nephew, Rey Chavez, said on Tuesday his mother had been 15 when her little sister was abducted. “It did shape our lives,” he said.
He was born in 1965, and never met his aunt. “Growing up, we did n’t talk about it too much as a family. I was probably 12 years old when I finally got the courage to ask my mother de ella about her.”
He learned his aunt had been “very feisty,” even at such a young age. She loved playing outdoors with her cousins, being around her older brother and sister, and running errands at the little grocery store around the block.
Chavez’s message to his aunt’s abductors was simple. “Why? Why choose her?”
The ‘Little Miss Nobody’ case
Ten days after Sharon’s kidnapping, on July 31, 1960, a child’s remains were found by a Las Vegas schoolteacher hunting for rocks with his family. She was partially buried in a sandy wash off Alamo Road, a mile and a half from Highway 93, outside of Congress, Arizona.
Officials believe she had died one to two weeks earlier. Little could be gleaned from her body, which was in an advanced state of decomposition. An autopsy could not pinpoint a cause of death.
But the following would eventually be determined: Though officials first believed the girl was older, she was most likely between 3 and 6 years old when she died. She weighed about 55 pounds, was about 3 feet, 6 inches tall and had a full set of baby teeth. None of her bones was broken, and her body revealed no obvious signs of trauma prior to her death.
The scene contained tantalizing clues — a pocket knife, footprints that officers thought belonged to the girl — but they did not translate into answers.
Forensic DNA solves the case
“Yavapai County Sheriff’s officers were still trying at noon to establish identity of a little girl whose body was found Sunday,” read the front page of the Prescott Evening Courier on Aug. 1, 1960.
The reporter could not have known just how long they would be trying.
A dispatch nine days later from the girl’s burial at Prescott’s Mountain View Cemetery on Aug. 10, 1960, said officials had been “stumped at every turn.”
“We may never know the whys and wherefores, but somewhere someone is going to be watching the paper to learn what happened to a little girl left on the desert. If there has been a misdeed, probably a disquieted conscience will go on and on, ” Dr. Charles Franklin Parker told the dozens of mourners who had turned out to bid farewell to a child they would never know.
More days passed, and then months, and then years.
“Sixteen years later, I still think about her,” LH “Red” Johnson, who led the investigation before going on to become the Peoria police chief, told The Republic in 1976. “If I’m in the area, I’ll put flowers on her grave again.”
Then in 2018, the unidentified girl was given a face.
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Three years earlier, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children had funded an exhumation of her remains, hoping new forensic technologies could unlock the mystery of who she was. A facial reconstruction sketch was generated and circulated in the media in 2018.
A tip came through that the missing girl might be Sharon Lee Gallegos, an NCMEC representative said on Tuesday.
A DNA profile was also developed after the exhumation, and Sharon’s surviving relatives offered up their DNA for testing. But even then, it was not enough for a match. “Unfortunately, DNA science at that time, as advanced as it was, wasn’t advanced enough to give us an identity,” Boelts said.
But now, another breakthrough.
About five months ago, forensic DNA laboratory Othram got in touch wanting to help, Boelts said.
According to CEO David Mittelman, Othram’s fresh analysis was partially funded by the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, with the shortfall made up by crowdfunding on the DNAsolves.com website. “We were able to crowdfund the necessary funds remaining for this case in just 24 hours,” he said. “It’s quite amazing.”
The long-awaited call to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office came three weeks ago. Othram was 100% sure the body found in the desert was that of Sharon Lee Gallegos.
It is a big step, but the first step, Boelts said. “We still have work to do in this case. We would like to ID the people who took her.”
Chavez said he was grateful to learn Sharon had a proper burial, attended and funded by the people of Yavapai County, all those years ago.
“We as the family want to say thank you. Thank you for what you’ve done for us,” he said.
“Thank you for keeping my aunt safe and never forgetting her.”
Contributing: Angela Cordoba Perez
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism