St. Louis teen’s body identified in 40-year-old Arizona cold-case
DNA confirmed the victim is 17-year-old Carolyn Eaton, a teenage runaway from St. Louis
FLAGSTAFF, Arizona – Nearly 40 years after a girl’s body was found on a highway in northern Arizona on Valentine’s Day, police confirmed her as a teenage runaway from St. Louis.
Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll announced Monday that DNA has confirmed the victim is 17-year-old Carolyn Eaton.
The decade-old cold case began when an Arizona soldier discovered her body on Interstate 40 west of Williams on February 14, 1982.
Because of the day she was found, the unidentified girl was referred to as “Valentine Sally” by the authorities.
Patricia Wilkins was then a 35-year-old waitress at a rest stop near Williams. Authorities believe she may have been the last person Eaton saw before she was murdered.
Wilkins told 5 On Your Side that she had a knack for spotting girls in trouble getting through their dinner. But she says the day she waited for Eaton, and a “much older” man, Eaton, told her her only problem was a toothache. Wilkins gave her an aspirin to put on.
“And I asked her, I said, ‘Do you want to stay here with me or did you want to go with this gentleman?'” Wilkins recalled.
“‘No, no, no. I’ll go with him. I’m fine,'” she said, the teenager told her. “So I assumed it was a relative you know a dead uncle you know because it was early fifties.”
A few days later, on Valentine’s Day, she said an investigator stopped by asking questions about a girl who was murdered with an aspirin on her tooth.
Wilkins recalled the investigator telling her the girl likely died not long after she left the restaurant.
“And I’ve lived with it for forty years now,” said Wilkins.
Coconino County Sheriff officials said the detectives have exhausted all possible leads over the years but have failed to establish the girl’s identity.
Investigators recently hired a private company to process DNA from the body for access to online databases. The sheriff’s office says this led to the discovery of possible familial DNA matches.
Detectives in Arizona traveled to St. Louis to interview potential relatives. These possible family members told police they had a sibling who ran away in December 1981.
From there, detectives collected new DNA samples, which resulted in a positive confirmation.
“Now she’s going to go home and go with people she loves and who love her,” said Wilkins, who added that she hasn’t celebrated Valentine’s Day since 1982. “But I think about (Eaton) all the time.”
Driscoll says Eaton’s death was murder. The detectives will now be looking for suspects. No information was given about the cause of death.
Although this case occurred nearly 40 years ago, it had regained public interest a few years ago.
A Facebook page called Valentine Sally – 1982 AZ Unidentified Teen Murder Victim began in 2016. Hundreds of people there followed and posted news articles related to the case.
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