For decades, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office in Prescott, Arizona, along with the National Center for Missing & Exploited 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 remained unsolved.
This girl now has a name, thanks to advanced DNA technology.
Authorities identified her as Sharon Lee Gallegos at a press conference on Tuesday. This is the oldest cold case solved by the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.
Four-year-old Gallegos was abducted while playing in her grandmother’s backyard in Alamagordo, New Mexico on July 21, 1960, authorities said. She was abducted by “a couple who were stalking her,” according to the National Center for Missing & 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 kidnapping and what led to his death. Investigators have some leads from Gallegos’ cousins, who were with her at the time of her abduction, Sheriff David Rhodes said Tuesday.
“As a family, we want to say thank you,” Rey Chavez, Gallegos’ nephew, said at the press conference. “Thank you for what you have done for us, thank you for keeping my aunt safe and never forgetting her.
Chavez said her family described Gallegos as a very feisty and carefree little girl who enjoyed playing with her cousins. His death and disappearance left a lasting impact on his family members and as a result, they consider themselves overprotective of the children in their family.
At the time, investigators determined that Gallegos the remains had been burned one to two weeks earlier. Since no other trauma was evident, the cause of death was difficult to determine and due to the suspicious nature of the case, Gallegos the death was ruled a homicide, police said.
When found, Gallegos was about 3 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 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-sized sandals that had been cut to fit her. Her fingernails and fingernails were also painted, the center said.
Following the discovery of her body, the local community raised funds to buy a coffin and give the little girl a proper burial, the center said. “Little Miss Nobody” was engraved on her headstone with the words “Blessed are the pure in heart”.
Advanced DNA testing moves the needle to find answers
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 “Little Miss Nobody”.
Othram received the case in December 2021 and turned over the identity to authorities in February 2022, Dr. Kristen Mittelman, Othram’s director of business development, told CNN.
The evidence isn’t always strong enough for reconstructing and building a DNA profile, Mittelman said. But improved technology means the lab can create DNA profiles that might 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 looks at 20 DNA markers and compares a person to a known database of thousands of ex-offender DNA profiles.
“What our technology does…is it looks at hundreds of thousands of markers and is able to assess your identity without you being present in any database,” she said.
The “Little Miss Nobody” case was funded in about a day, she said.
“It shows how interested people actually find the answer to that question and find out who that little girl was,” Mittelman said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the wrong name for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
CNN’s Claudia Dominguez and Amanda Musa contributed to this report.