They called her Little Miss Nobody.
The partially buried remains of a 4-year-old girl found in the Arizona desert by a teacher and his family on a rock hunt went unidentified for six decades until DNA testing revealed her name.
On Tuesday, police announced the slain child was Sharon Lee Gallegos, who was abducted in 1960 while she was playing with two other kids in an alley behind her grandmother’s Alamagordo, New Mexico, home.
The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office said the question of whether the body could be Sharon’s was raised within days of the discovery.
But investigators had estimated the decomposed remains belonged to a 7-year-old girl—older than missing Sharon—and she was wearing different clothing.
Even more crucially, the FBI performed a footprint comparison and concluded they did not match.
“Footprint comparisons are obviously not how we do things now, but that was probably the best technology available to them at the time,” Lt. Tom Boelts said.
DNA was discovered in 1953 and was many years away from being used as a law-enforcement tool in 1960. The investigation in Arizona eventually ran cold, and local residents raised money to bury the girl in a grave that read: “LITTLE MISS NOBODY.”
In 2015, technology had progressed to the point that the sheriff’s office thought it would be worth exhuming the remains. A facial reconstruction yielded a sketch. But, Boelts said, “unfortunately, DNA science at that time was not advanced enough to give us an identification.”
Enter a DNA testing company called Othram, which says it can extract key information from very degraded or very tiny amounts of genetic material. Some $4,000 was raised to re-examine the DNA from Little Miss Nobody.
Four weeks, Boelts said, Othram called with the news: the child buried in Arizona was the girl who had been abducted from New Mexico in 1960.
Ray Chavez, who is Sharon’s 56-year-old nephew, said the family was “overjoyed” to learn part of the case had been solved. His mother, Sharon’s older sister, and their mother have since died, he said.
But the abduction had loomed over the family for years; Chavez even wrote a research paper in high school about the mystery.
“I wasn’t even born when she was taken… but it was something that our family grew up with,” he said, then thanked investigators. “It’s amazing the work that you did for our family to be at peace.”
He also thanked the residents of Prescott, Arizona, who gave Sharon a burial and kept up her grave for so long.
“Thank you for never forgetting her,” he said.
Boelts noted that the identification is just the start.
“We still have work to do in this case,” he said. “We would still like to identify the people who took her. We would still like to be able to answer the question: What happened in the 10 days [between] the time she was taken and the time she was found.”
Sheriff David Rhodes said the story of Little Miss Nobody was also a reminder to victims and criminals.
“Any time you have a horrific crime like this exist, no matter how long ago, we can never give up, never stop searching,” he said.