On Valentine’s Day 1982, as people waited expectantly for the mail or for a florist delivery, a Arizona Department of Public Safety officer was looking for a blown out tyre shed by a motorist on Interstate 40 eleven miles outside of Williams, Arizona. It was a cold and frosty morning, the temperature just above freezing when, just 25 feet from the interstate, he came across a girl face down under a tree. He knew immediately she wasn’t just sleeping – not in the cold and wearing only jeans – and just one glance at the decomposition of the body and the damage wreaked by animals on her face and right ear was enough to send him scrambling for his radio. And so began a mystery which haunts the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office to this day.
The stretch of interstate where the body was found is a long incline and truck drivers would frequently pull over to cool their brakes. It was all too likely to investigating officers that the girl had been dumped from a passing truck; a belt loop on her jeans was broken indicating she had been dragged, while a stopped truck wouldn’t arouse any suspicion. She could have been killed anywhere across the USA.
Detectives nicknamed the girl Sally Valentine because of the day on which she was found.
A red and white striped jumper and a 36C bra was found near the body, but there was no way of identifying the girl from those.
But then Patty Wilkins, a waitress and the daughter of the owner of the Monte Carlo Truck Stop just outside Ash Fork, came forward. Following a description and sketch circulated by police, she said that a girl fitting that profile had come into the truck stop around 3am on the morning of 4th February 1982. She was accompanied by an older man and, while Patty was used to runaways and would notify the police, she saw no reason to so do, thinking the man was a relative while the pretty blonde girl was clean, well cared for and didn’t fit the look of the typical runaway. The girl was suffering from toothache and the man was concerned about her pain, the pair staying in the restaurant for an hour during which Patty gave the girl a junior aspirin that she tucked in her mouth. Other witnesses thought the girl was with two men, but Patty only saw her with a man in a two-tone, brown leather vest and a felt cowboy hat with a large peacock feather on the front.When they left, Patty thought no more about the pair until the news of the discovery of the body broke some ten days later. She told police that the girl who’d come into the truck stop was suffering from toothache and indeed an autopsy had discovered that the girl had gone through preparation for a root canal procedure a week before her death. Patty would then identify the jumper and jeans as those worn by the teenager. The girl was buried in Mountain View cemetery, Williams, in an unmarked grave until Patty raised the money – $187 – to give her a headstone. It said simply, Sally Valentine.
The case troubled Sgt Jack Judd who had been involved with it from the start. It concerned him that the young girl had no name, that no-one had come forward to claim her. So, over the next two years he would spend a thousand hours, much of it his spare time, poring over some 1632 FBI computer print outs of missing girls, sending out more than 1650 teletype messages to other law enforcement agencies. And, in July 1984, he found her.
Melody Eugenia Cutlip had been reported missing in 1980 by her mother, Edith L Gervais in Istachatta, Florida, when she was just fourteen. When she was found dead, she would have been just a few days past her sixteenth birthday. His initial identification was confirmed by Dr Homer Campbell, an Albuquerque orthodontist who claimed to be an expert in identifying people through their teeth and did so by comparing photos of the victim and Melody Cutlip. It was, even at the time, a controversial and unorthodox technique, and Campbell would subsequently be found to have misidentified other people. But, with the comparison of Melody’s height, weight and characteristics, it seemed to be a slamdunk.
Judd informed Mrs Gervais who refused to believe the news, even when Judd flew to Florida to speak to her directly. “What is out in Arizona, I don’t think is my daughter. I haven’t seen one ounce of proof,” said Mrs Gervais. She pointed out that Melody had never had any dental work of which she knew and that she’d been told the Arizona body had moles, which Melody didn’t. Judd put it down to denial, to not wanting to believe the worst. A stonemason added the name of Melody Cutlip to the Williams headstone.
And then, in 1986, Melody Cutlip came home.Whether through hope or mother’s intuition, Mrs Gervais was right. Now engaged to be married, the 18-year-old had been travelling the country as a crafts saleswoman, according to her employer, Mitch Kilgore of Franklinton, Louisiana. When she visited Florida for some shows, she decided to contact her relatives and they found her working at a crafts show in a Jacksonville mall. She had never been to Ash Fork, never had a root canal and was decidedly not dead.
In 1987, Sally Valentine’s body was exhumed to give investigators a chance to x-ray her skull. Her DNA was entered into the CODIS system, but it has so far failed to make a match with any relatives. No-one has ever come forward to report a teenager missing from their family. Although Melody Cutlip’s family asked to have her name removed from the stone, this was never done and the unknown girl last seen near Ash Fork lies under two names which do not belong to her.
Sadly, for Melody there was no happy ending. She had settled in Metairie, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, where she worked as a customer service representative for Budget Rent-a-Car and was engaged to Harold Buras. Coming home from work on 11th September 1998 in a storm, her car hit water on I-10 and crashed into an oncoming truck, killing her instantly. She was 32.
On the day the body was discovered in February 1982, Sgt Jack Judd said, “We don’t know who she is.” Almost forty years on, we still don’t know.
UPDATE! On 22 February 2021, the ‘lost girl of Ash Fork’ was positively identified by the Coconino Sheriff’s department as Carolyn Eaton, a 17-year-old runaway from St Louis, Missouri, who had disappeared around Christmas of 1981. Hopefully this will bring closure to her family.
Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit is still investigating this case as a homicide. Any details can be passed to them on 928-226-5033.
This is one of your stories / articles that would qualify as a “public service”. Sorry the poor young lady has never been identified or reported as missing. So Sad.
Wow fascinating tale as always and sad as well And especially shows how in this modern age people can be so invisible.
Such a sad story
I hope that her family can claim her someday.
Sally Valentine crossed paths with a kind, loving soul named Patty Wilkins who did more than give a proper burial and headstone. Patty guaranteed that the story will continue to be told in hopes of finding Sally’s loved ones.
Wow, wow, wow. What a story! The artists impression at the end, makes her look almost continental, I wonder if they have ever tried the search outside of the USA? It is indeed scary in itself that despite a 40 year search they have not stretched their tentacles further. Fascinating.
A fascinating and poingnant story Blue, beautifully written as always.
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Has anyone reached out to CeCe Moore, the genetic genealogist who has helped with recent investigations based on DNA evidence? She is also well known for assisting others thru DNA evidence. She has both a website and FB page.
Or the producers of Netflix’s reboot of “Unsolved Mysteries?”
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You would think A MOTHER OF A MISSING DAUGHTER would have looked and looked and put her missing daughters photo out there. UNLESS her parents killed her
She may not have had family or, for a variety of reasons, the family may not have been close – after all Melody who was misidentified had been estranged from her family for several years. Some mothers may just not want to accept anything might have happened to their child. Plus this case was almost 40 years ago before there was ‘joined up’ sharing of information across law enforcement agencies countrywide. Sadly, as crazy as it might sound, it is still possible for a young person to disappear without anyone missing them. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, roughly 450,000 children were reporting missing in both 2019 and 2018, and that’s just the ones who are reported. Many of those are traced but there are still many who remain missing. 😦
I’m going to visit this gravestone on my next visit to Williams. It’s so sad to hear nobody has been looking for her. Monte Carlo will never look the same to me.
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This would be a great story to feature on Netflix’s reboot of “Unsolved Mysteries.”
Solved! She is 17-year-old Carolyn Eaton, who had run away from her St Louis, MO area home around Christmas in 1981.
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So glad we now know who she is and that her family has some closure. Next step: find her killer. Let’s hope and pray that’s still possible!
Patty Wilkins has apparently come forward in recent months claiming that she recently identified the man she saw with Carolyn Eaton as Arthur Leigh Allen. She lived in a different state and evidently had little prior knowledge of the Zodiac case and had never before seen a photo of Arthur Leigh Allen. I am sure 99% of people today would have never heard of the Zodiac or Arthur Leigh Allen, so this is not unusual. She does seem to be a very credible witness who has the memory of a thousand elephants. I think that event all those years ago and the faces of the girl and the man who accompanied her are permanently fixed in her mind. If she says the man looked identical to Arthur Allen Leigh, then I am tending towards believing her. It either was Arthur Leigh Allen or somebody who looked very much like him.
I have seen that report, but I do have a lot of reservations, especially as the ZNN Zodiac News Network can be a little shaky on facts and long on sensationalism. Patty has made an identification after 40 years? That’s a long, long time, especially when she’s in a job where she would see hundreds of people a day. It’s possible but virtualy anything is possible. And tooth tattoos???
I agree entirely and have the same reservations, based mainly on the content of the other videos on their channel. The whole “tooth tattoos” thing is utterly ridiculous of course and seems to have been intended as “tongue in cheek”. So why involve an otherwise credible witness into that farce and mash the two stories together? Their story is full of contradictions from the outset. Read the introduction and it says she picked out Allen from a line up of male suspects. Yet in the clip they say she “inadvertently” glanced a photo of a man on the interviewer’s computer and he quickly tried to close it from her view, but it was too late because she had already connected the man to the one in her memory. So what is the true story? Did they lead Patty Wilkins in any way to make those claims? I even wondered if that was really her in the interview or an imposter, but she certainly looks and sounds the same. We can only hope that this will not be the final word on the matter and Patty Wilkins can be interviewed by people who are less “sensationalist”. I would, for instance, like to hear her take on the “tooth tattoos”. Somehow I get the feeling she may have been unaware that her story would be interwoven into that concocted drivel.
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I can tell you Patty never forgot that face. “Sally” at the time was two years older then me. Today my mom wished me a happy Valentines day. The last time she did that was the morning of February 14, 1982. So believe me…she remembers.
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