A little girl whose burned remains were found over 60 years ago in the Arizona desert has finally been identified.
The Yavapai county sheriff’s office said Tuesday the girl had been identified as four-year-old Sharon Lee Gallegos of New Mexico.
The child’s remains were found on 31 July 1960, partially buried in a wash in Congress, Arizona. Her age at various times over the years was estimated to be between six and eight years old, then later at between three and six years old.
Residents in the nearby central-north Arizona community of Prescott raised money for a funeral and florists and a mortuary donated its services for the little girl they had dubbed “Little Miss Nobody”.
Her original grave marker read: “Little Miss Nobody. Blessed are the Pure in Heart … St Matthew 5:8.”
News reports at the time said a local radio announcer and his wife stood in for the girl’s parents during the funeral at Prescott’s Congregational Church.
“I guess I just couldn’t stand to see a little child buried in boot hill,” KYCA announcer Dave Paladin was quoted as saying in an 11 August 1960 article by the Associated Press.
Sharon Lee Gallegos was reportedly abducted from the yard of her grandmother’s home in Alamogordo, New Mexico, on 21 July 1960, a little over a week before her body was found. Authorities say they do not know who took and killed the child, and the case is still under investigation.
The Alamogordo police department and the FBI searched for the little girl but were unable to find her or the suspects believed to be in a dark green 1951 or 1952 Plymouth.
Authorities’ initial thoughts about the age of the victim found in the desert, the clothing she was wearing and a footprint at the scene caused them to rule out the possibility that the dead girl was the missing four-year-old from New Mexico.
The Yavapai county case went cold until 2015, when the remains were exhumed to get DNA samples. The National Center for Exploited and Missing Children, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System and others worked on the case.
The sheriff’s office and Texas DNA company Othram raised $4,000 earlier this year to pay for specialized testing that finally identified the girl.
Yavapai county sheriff David Rhodes said he was glad investigators “did not let go until the unfortunate moniker of ‘Little Miss Nobody’ could be removed from the headstone that sits in a cemetery here in Prescott”.
The girl’s parents have since died, but her nephew Ray Chavez was at the news conference to thank authorities for not giving up their quest to identify his aunt. There was no other mention of any other surviving relatives.
Chavez said his aunt had always been described to him as a happy-go-lucky girl.
“We were amazed how the people rallied around her,” Chavez said. “Thank you for keeping my aunt safe and never forgetting her.”