(Trends Wide) — 62 years ago, a school teacher searching for rocks in an Arizona desert made a horrific discovery: the charred remains of a girl. The identity of her was a mystery and the investigators called her “Little Miss Nobody” (“Little Miss Nobody”).
For decades, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office in Prescott, Arizona, along with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the National System of Missing and Unidentified Persons, and a long list of other partners have worked to identify the little. But, despite the many existing clues, the case remained unsolved.
That girl now has a name, thanks to advanced DNA technology.
Authorities identified her as Sharon Lee Gallegos during a press conference on Tuesday. It was the oldest cold case the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office has solved.
Four-year-old Gallegos was kidnapped while playing in her grandmother’s backyard in Alamagordo, New Mexico, on July 21, 1960, according to authorities. She was taken away “by a couple who had been stalking her,” according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Although “Little Miss Nobody” has been identified, there is still work to be done on the case as authorities work to find out who abducted her, what happened in the days after her abduction and what led to her death. Investigators have some leads from Gallegos’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 news conference. “Thank you for what you’ve done for us, thank you for keeping my aunt safe and never forgetting her. I’m still taking it in.”
Chavez said her family described Gallegos as a very feisty and cheerful girl who loved to play with her cousins. Her death and disappearance left a lasting impact on her family members and as a result, they consider themselves overprotective of the children in her family.
Gallegos’ remains were discovered on July 31, 1960, in Sand Creek Wash near Congress, Arizona, police reported in a January Instagram post. The place is more than 800 kilometers away from where Gallegos had been kidnapped.
At the time, investigators determined that Gallegos’s remains had been burned between one and two weeks earlier. Since there was no other obvious trauma, the cause of death was difficult to determine and, due to the suspicious nature of the case, Gallegos’ death was ruled a homicide, police said.
When she was found, Gallegos was just over three feet tall and weighed an estimated 55 pounds, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She had brown hair and was wearing a plaid blouse, white shorts, and adult-size sandals that had been cut down on her. She also had her fingernails and toenails painted, according to her center.
Following the discovery of her body, the local community raised money to buy a coffin and give the girl a proper burial, the center said. Her nickname “Little Miss Nobody” along with the words “Blessed are the pure in heart” was engraved on her tombstone.
The role of DNA evidence
In 2021, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Othram, a Texas-based lab that works exclusively with law enforcement, to see if advanced DNA testing could help solve the mystery of the so-called “Little Miss Nobody.”
Othram received the case in December 2021 and declared the identity to authorities in February 2022, Dr. Kristen Mittelman, Othram’s head of business development, told Trends Wide.
The evidence isn’t always strong enough for reconstruction and building a DNA profile, Mittelman said. But improved technology means the lab can build 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 evidence, Mittelman said. CODIS examines 20 DNA markers and compares a person to a known database of thousands of DNA profiles of known criminals.
But that technology, which wasn’t introduced until the 1990s, is limited, because a girl like “Little Miss Nobody” wouldn’t be in the database, since she’s not a criminal, Mittleman said.
“What our technology does … is that it looks at hundreds of thousands of markers and is able to assess their identity without it being present in any database,” he said.
Experts can resolve many cases in a few weeks for $5,000 or less, Mittelman said. To help cover the costs, Othram created a network of people who care about unsolved crimes and crowdfund each case when no other funding is available.
The “Little Miss Nobody” case was crowdfunded in about a day, he said.
“It shows people’s interest in finding the answer to this case and finding out who this girl was,” Mittelman said.
— Claudia Dominguez and Amanda Musa contributed to this report.