‘Valentine Sally’, Murdered Teenage Jane Doe Identified as Carolyn Eaton
Valentine Sally was a 17-year-old Jane Doe that was found on February 14, 1982, by an Arizona State Trooper. She was found along the busy Interstate 40 in Northern Arizona. Almost forty years later, DNA comparison determined that Valentine Sally was Carolyn Eaton of Bellefontaine Neighbors, Missouri. This had been one of Arizona’s longest unidentified cases and is presently still an open investigation.
Carolyn Eaton was a 17-year-old from Bellefontaine Neighbors, MO, a suburb of St. Louis. She was one of six sisters. After an argument with one of her sisters around Christmas time in 1981, Carolyn ran away from her home in Missouri.
Discovery on February 14, 1982
An Arizona State Trooper was stationed along a busy stretch of Interstate 40 at mile marker 151.8. This particular pull off area is normally used by truck drivers as an area to pull off to allow their brakes to cool down. Approximately 25 feet from the road, the officer discovered the body of a young female lying face down under a cedar tree. According to investigators, it appeared that she had been dragged to the tree by her belt loops. The medical examiner determined she had been murdered approximately 2 weeks prior to being discovered. The cause of death was difficult to determine due to decomposition and insect/wildlife activity on her face, head, and neck area. Investigators also noted that her right ear was missing due to wildlife activity. Her autopsy revealed that she had had a root canal on her left lower molar. The root canal had likely been performed approximately one week before her death. It was apparent that the victim was still having issues with the tooth because there was a half-dissolved aspirin located in the tooth cavity. She was fully clothed and had not been sexually assaulted. Based on the fact that there was no other trauma to her body and her Hyoid bone was not broken, the medical examiner surmised that her death was due to suffocation or asphyxiation. The media dubbed the victim named “Valentine Sally”, since she was a jane doe found on Valentine’s Day.
Investigators immediately began canvassing the area, hoping to discover any clues in the case. They visited a truck stop that was located one mile up the interstate from where her body had been discovered at Ash Fork, AZ. Patty Wilkins, a waitress at the truck stop, instantly recognized the clothing in the pictures that police had shown her.
Wilkins told investigators that in the early morning hours on February 3, 1982, a man in his mid to late 50s and a teenage girl walked into the truck stop. They sat down to have a meal. Wilkins described the man as wearing a two-toned leather vest and a cowboy hat with a peacock feather. The teen was wearing a striped lightweight sweater and jeans. The man ordered breakfast, but the girl did not. She was complaining about a toothache and had asked Wilkins for an aspirin. Wilkins helped the teenager in placing the aspirin on the affecting tooth. She stated that she had become accustomed to asking younger patrons if they needed assistance in the event that they were runaways. She explained she had asked the girl if she was ok, and if she was sure that she wanted to leave with the man. Wilkins stated the girl had said that she was fine and did not appear to be in any kind of distress or danger. She further described the familiarity between the two and that she assumed that the man was the girl’s father or uncle.
Upon learning that she was likely the last person to see the teen, Patty Wilkins experienced an extreme level of guilt. According to a news interview, Wilkins stated, “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 stepped up and paid for the teen’s burial. Despite the investigator’s best efforts, the case grew cold.
In 1984, Valentine Sally was misidentified as Melody Eugene Cutlip, a runaway from Florida. A forensic odontologist determined that Valentine Sally’s and Melody Cutlip’s bite marks were a match. As a result, Valentine Sally’s headstone was changed to include Melody’s name. Melody’s mother did not believe that Valentine Sally was her missing daughter, who ended up being correct. Melody returned to her family in 1986 but sadly was killed in a car accident in 1989. Although the misidentification was rectified, Melody’s name remained on Valentine Sally’s headstone.
On February 22, 2021, police announced they positively identified Valentine Sally as Carolyn Celeste Eaton, a 17-year-old runaway from Bellefontaine Neighbors, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. Detectives with the Coconino County Arizona Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, National Missing and Unidentified Person System were able to conduct DNA database comparisons by utilizing grant funding. In a genealogy database, a possible cousin to the victim was identified. Arizona investigators traveled to Missouri to conduct in-person interviews with the family. They discovered that there had been a family member who ran away in 1981. With the support of Missouri officials, they were able to collect DNA from the possible family and confirm Valentine Sally was Carolyn Eaton.
When Carolyn was positively identified, Patty Wilkins told news sources, “Well, I’m going to cry. It’s like one of my girls. It’s only been me and her, but now she’s got a family. Isn’t that great? It doesn’t get any better. We’ve got a name, and I’m no longer in charge of her. I love you and I’m glad you’re going home.”
The Investigation Continues
The murder of Carolyn Eaton remains an open investigation. Detectives are actively investigating any leads they receive. They are hoping to locate any information regarding the truck driver that Carolyn was seen with. Witnesses describe him as being in his mid to late 50s, approximately 5’8″ to 5’10”, medium build, wearing a two-toned checker patterned leather vest, and a black felt cowboy hat with a peacock feather attached.
If anyone knows any information, you are asked to please contact the Coconino County Arizona Sheriff’s Office- Cold Case Division at (982) 226-5033.