The body of a young girl dubbed “Valentine Sally,” found in 1982, has finally been identified nearly 40 years later. Thanks to a DNA test from a private company, police have finally learned the identity of a young girl found on the side of the road.
According to Coconino County sheriff’s officials, detectives continued to try to find the girl’s identity for years. They exhausted all possible leads, but were unable to uncover her identity — until now.
On February 14, 1982, an Arizona state trooper discovered the body of a young girl off Interstate 40. Because of the holiday she was found on, authorities referred to her as “Valentine Sally.”
Patricia Wilkins, a 35 year old waitress at a truck stop near where the body was found, was believed to be the last person to see her alive. Wilkins told a local news outlet that she had a knack for spotting girls who were in trouble who came to the diner.
On the day that the young girl came into the diner with a “much older” man, Wilkins asked her if she was okay. According to Wilkins, the girl told her that her only problem was a toothache, so she gave her an aspirin to put on it.
“And I asked her, I said, ‘Do you want to stay here with me or did you want to go with this gentleman?'” Wilkins recalled.
“‘No, no, no. I’ll go with him. I’m fine.’ So I assumed it was a relative, you know, a dead uncle, you know, because it was early fifties,” she said the teen told her.
On Valentine’s Day, a few days after the girl visited the diner, a detective entered the diner to ask about the girl they had found murdered — with an aspirin still on her tooth.
The investigator reportedly told Wilkins that the girl had likely been murdered soon after she left the diner.
“And that’s something I’ve lived with now for forty years,” said Wilkins.
Her Real Name Discovered
Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll announced on February 22 that a DNA test confirmed “Valentine Sally” was actually Carolyn Eaton, 17, a teenage runaway from St. Louis.
Investigators had decided to hire a private company to process DNA for entry into online databases. When they were processing the DNA from “Valentine Sally,” the entry led to the discovery of possible familial DNA matches, according to the sheriff’s office.
Arizona detectives decided to interview these possible family members, traveling to St. Louis to speak to them in person. After they learned that there was a sibling who had run away in December of 1981, detectives collected new DNA samples, which led to a confirmation that the DNA did indeed belong to Carolyn Eaton.
“Now she’s going to go home and she’s going to go with people she loves and that love her. But I think about [Eaton] all the time,” said Wilkins, who mentioned that she hasn’t celebrated Valentine’s Day since 1982.
Eaton’s death was ruled a homicide, though her cause of death has never been reported. Detectives are now moving forward in the investigation to search for suspects.