FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Nearly 40 years after a body of a girl was found on Valentine’s Day near a northern Arizona highway, she has been confirmed by police to be a teenage runaway from St. Louis.
Detectives with the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office have positively identified the female as 17-year-old Carolyn Eaton of St. Louis, Missouri.
During the investigation, the unidentified girl became known as “Valentine Sally” by authorities because of the day her body was found in 1982.
“We had limited evidence from the scene,” said Coconino County, Arizona Sheriff Jim Driscoll.
Driscoll has worked the case since Eaton’s body was found in Williams, Arizona, about an hour’s drive from the Grand Canyon.
“Thought we had her identified a couple different times but as it turned out it was not her,” he said.
Investigators received a grant from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and were able to hire a private company to process familiar DNA.
“With the advent of DNA that’s really helped,” Driscoll said. “…It’s nice to finally identify and put some closure to this tragic situation.”
DNA was not first used by police until four years after Carolyn’s body was discovered and there have been great advancements in science since then.
“Valentine Sally’s” DNA was entered into online databases. Information obtained from this database search identified a relative of “Valentine Sally.”
Detectives were able to locate potential family members of Carolyn and traveled to the St. Louis area to interview relatives. Detectives discovered the family members had a sibling who ran away from home around Christmas time in 1981.
The victim’s DNA matched a first cousin in the St. Louis area. Detective Tom Taylor from the St. Louis County Missing Persons agency helped Arizona police with their investigation here.
“You want closure both for yourself for the case but more for the family,” Taylor said.
Detectives also worked with the Bellefontaine Neighbors Police Department, where Carolyn lived before running away around Christmas of 1981.
Police said the teen had left home on three previous occasions and returned home, but not the last time. For years, Arizona authorities doggedly searched for the victim’s true identity.
“Just another example why hope springs eternal, why law enforcement is able to keep going at these cold cases and missing person cases,” Taylor said.
Now that the victim has been identified, detectives are working leads to try and find any possible suspects. Sheriff Driscoll said there’s no doubt Carolyn was murdered.
If you have information call the Coconino Sheriff’s department at 928-226-5087.