Nearly 40 years after a body of a girl was found on Valentine’s Day off a northern Arizona highway, earning her the nickname ‘Valentine Sally,’ she has been identified by police as a teenage runaway from St. Louis.
Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll announced on Monday that DNA confirms the victim is 17-year-old Carolyn Eaton.
The decades-old cold case began when an Arizona state trooper spotted her body on February 14, 1982, on the north side of Interstate 40 just west of Williams.
Named; An Arizona homicide victim previously known only as ‘Valentine Sally’ has been identified thanks to DNA and online ancestry databases as 17-year-old St Louis runaway Carolyn Eaton (pictured left in a facial reconstruction, and right in artist’s rendering)
Eaton’s body was found off of Interstate 40 near Williams, Arizona, on February 14, 1982, earning her the moniker ‘Valentine Sally’
According to Coconino County sheriff’s officials, detectives exhausted all possible leads over the years but were unable to determine the girl’s identity.
Investigators recently hired a private company to process DNA from the body for entry into online ancestry databases for genetic comparison. The sheriff’s office says this led to the discovery of possible familial DNA matches.
Former waitress Patty Wilkins spoke to Eaton less than two weeks before her body was discovered when the girl walked into the truck stop cafe where she worked
Detectives in Arizona traveled to St. Louis to interview the potential relatives. These possible family members told police they had a sister – one of six siblings – who ran away around Christmas in 1981 after an argument.
‘The family members were awestruck,’ Cococino Sheriff’s Lt Jason Lurkins told St Louis Post-Dispatch. ‘We told one family member we were investigating a missing person case and they asked: Is this about Carolyn?’
From there, detectives collected new DNA samples which led to positive confirmation.
The sheriff credited the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children with providing funding that allowed DNA testing through a private company, which led to the positive identification.
Patty Wilkins, then-a waitress at her family-owned truck stop in Flagstaff, is believed to be among the last people to have seen Eaton alive, less than two weeks before the discovery of her body.
Wilkins said Eaton (pictured in another artist’s rendering, left) was accompanied by a man in his 60s wearing a cowboy hat with a peacock feather (pictured right in a sketch)
She recalled how on February 2, 1982, Eaton, dressed in a striped sweater and jeans, walked into the cafe at the truck stop accompanied by a man in his 60s wearing a brown leather vest and a cowboy hat festooned with a peacock feather.
Eaton complained she had a toothache from a recent root canal, so Wilkins said she gave her an aspirin pill to put on her tooth, reported KSDK.
‘And I asked her, I said, “Do you want to stay here with me or did you want to go with this gentleman?'” Wilkins said, to which Eaton replied that she is fine and will go with the man.
On Valentine’s Day, a detective arrived at the truck stop cafe, asking questions about a girl in a striped sweater and jeans they had found murdered. The victim still had Wilkins’ aspirin on her tooth.
Eaton was found wearing this red-and-white striped sweater, which Wilkins recognized from her meeting at the cafe
She also had on this pair of Seasons designer blue jeans
Wilkins said she learned from the detective that the girl likely died not long after she left the truck stop with the older man.
‘I could have pulled her off that truck. I could have forced her to stay with me. I could have called 911. I could have done a million different things that I didn’t do. The only thing I did was put that aspirin on her,’ Wilkins said Monday in an interview with the St Louis Post-Dispatch.
Sheriff Driscoll said Eaton’s death is a homicide, but no cause of death has been determined because of the state in which the body was found. Detectives will now move on to looking for suspects.
Police have never identified the older man in the cowboy hat who was last seen with Eaton.