“Little Miss Nobody”: Child found dead in the Arizona desert 62 years ago, identified as Sharon Lee Gallegos of New Mexico

PRESCOTT, AZ – 62 years ago, a school teacher searching for rocks in an Arizona desert made a terrifying discovery: the cremated remains of a young girl. Her identity was a mystery, and investigators dubbed her “Little Miss Nobody.”

For decades, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office in Prescott, Arizona, along with the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, and a long list of other partners have worked to identify the little girl. But despite multiple leads at the time, the case had remained unsolved.

Thanks to advanced DNA technology, this girl now has a name.

Authorities identified her as Sharon Lee Gallegos during a news conference on Tuesday. It is the oldest cold case solved by the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.

WATCH: Lt. Tom Boelts talks about how they identified Sharon Lee Gallegos as “Little Miss Nobody”.

Four-year-old Gallegos was kidnapped on July 21, 1960 while playing in her grandmother’s backyard in Alamagordo, New Mexico, authorities said. According to the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children, she was abducted by “a couple who had been stalking her.”

While Little Miss Nobody has been identified, more work needs to be done on the case as authorities work to determine who abducted her, what happened in the days following her abduction, and what led to her death. Investigators have some leads from Gallego’s cousins ​​who were with her at the time of her abduction, Sheriff David Rhodes said Tuesday.

“We as a family want to say thank you,” said Rey Chavez, Gallegos’ nephew, during the press conference. “Thank you for what you did for us, thank you for protecting my aunt and never forgetting her.

Chavez said his family described Gallegos as a very lively, happy little girl who loved to play with her cousins. Her death and disappearance left a lasting impression on his family members and as a result they consider themselves overprotective of the children in their family.

Gallegos’ remains were discovered on July 31, 1960, in Sand Creek Wash near Congress, Arizona, police said in an Instagram post in January. The location is over 500 miles from where Gallegos was kidnapped.

At the time, investigators discovered that Gallegos’ remains had been cremated a week or two earlier. With no other trauma evident, the cause of death was difficult to determine and due to the suspicious nature of the case, Gallegos’ death was ruled a manslaughter, police said.

When Gallegos was found, he was about 3ft 6 tall and had an estimated weight of 55 pounds, according to the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children. She had brown hair and was found wearing a plaid blouse, white shorts and adult-size sandals that were tailored to her. Her fingernails and toenails were also painted, the center said.

After the discovery of her body, the local community raised money to buy a coffin and give the little girl a proper burial, the center said. “Little Miss Nobody” was carved on her tombstone along with the words “Blessed are the pure in heart.”

Advanced DNA testing moves the needle for answers

In 2021, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Othram, a Texas-based lab that works exclusively with law enforcement agencies to determine if advanced DNA testing could help solve the “Little Miss Nobody” mystery .

Othram received the case in December 2021 and returned the identity to authorities in February 2022, Dr. Kristen Mittelman, Othram’s chief business development officer, told CNN.

The evidence isn’t always strong enough to reconstruct and create a DNA profile, Mittelman said. But improved technology means the lab can create DNA profiles that may not have been possible in the past.

The FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, also known as CODIS, is the standard technology currently used in forensic testing, Mittelman said. CODIS examines 20 DNA markers and compares a person to a known database of thousands of DNA profiles from previous offenders.

But that technology, which wasn’t introduced until the ’90s, is limited because a child like “Little Miss Nobody” wouldn’t be in the database since she’s not a known offender, Mittleman said.

“What our technology does … is it can look at hundreds of thousands of markers and assess your identity without you even being in a database,” she said.

Experts can solve many cases in a matter of weeks for $5,000 or less, Mittelman said. To cover the costs, Othram has built a network of people who look into unsolved crimes and crowdfund any case when no other funding is available.

The Little Miss Nobody case was crowdfunded in about a day, she said.

“It shows how interested people are actually finding the answer to that and finding out who this little girl was,” Mittelman said “Little Miss Nobody”: Child found dead in the Arizona desert 62 years ago, identified as Sharon Lee Gallegos of New Mexico

Dais Johnston

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