Updated: 6 hours ago
UPDATE February 23, 2021: 'Valentine Sally' has been identified as 17-year-old Carolyn Eaton. Click here for more information.
Valentine’s Day is, admittedly, not my favorite holiday. But for millions of people, it’s a happy day, a day to celebrate their loved ones. But on Valentine’s Day 1982, something awful happened, and we still don’t have all the answers. Let’s talk about the Jane Doe only known as Valentine Sally.
On February 14, 1982, an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer was looking for a tire on the highway about 11 miles west of Williams, Arizona. The tire had somehow come off of a vehicle; I don’t think the officer ever found the tire, but they did find a body.
The body was found lying face down under a tree about 25 feet off the road. It belonged to a girl who had been in her mid to late teens; maybe twenty at the oldest. The girl had been dead for about two weeks before her body was found but, due to animal activity, her body was already badly decomposed. She was only wearing jeans, but a sweater and bra were found nearby.
Early in the investigation, the girl was being called Sally Valentine, due to being found on Valentine’s Day. Somehow over the years, the nickname has morphed into Valentine Sally, which is what most people know her as today.
Valentine Sally isn’t thought to have been killed where she was found but, rather, dragged there from another location. A user on Websleuths claims to have talked to Detective Chuck Jones of the Coconino County Sheriff's Office. According to this user, the evidence suggests this Jane Doe was dragged from a truck by her belt loops and left under the tree. I assume it’s evidence like this that led investigators to believe Valentine Sally was murdered. Her cause of death has never been officially stated, but she’s thought to have died from suffocation or strangulation.
Once word of Valentine Sally’s discovery got out, witnesses came forward with some promising information. A student from Northern Arizona University said he picked up a girl matching her description on February 2. According to the student, the girl said she lived in Phoenix but was going to New Jersey because of family issues. This exchange happened at Cordes Junction, just over 100 miles south of Williams.
Two days later, on February 4, another witness statement put Valentine Sally at a truck stop in Ash Fork, Arizona, only about 17 miles outside Williams. Witnesses said she was with a white man, about 60 to 65 years old, about 5 foot 8 inches to 5 foot 10, tall and “medium weight.” He was wearing a brown checked leather vest and a felt cowboy hat with a peacock feather on top. There has been some talk about how she might have been with two men, and I have seen people online say she was spotted with a black man as well, but I can’t confirm any of this.
A waitress at the truck stop recognized Valentine’s Sally’s sweater when it was shown to her. She said the girl came in with a man around 3 o’ clock that morning and was holding her jaw, complaining about a toothache. The girl also asked for aspirin for the pain.
Evidence shows that Valentine Sally had had one of her molars drilled in preparation for a root canal about a week before she died. It’s almost certain that she and the girl at the truck stop that morning were the same person. But neither she or the man she was with have ever been identified.
In an attempt to find out who Valentine Sally really was, Lt. Jack Judd of the Cococino County Sheriff’s Office went through about 5,000 missing persons reports. In 1984, he came across a promising lead: Melody Cutlip.
Melody was 14 when she ran away from her home in Florida in 1980. Four years later, she was still missing. Lt. Judd had a facial reconstruction done, and it looked a lot like Melody. The case was closed and Melody’s mother was notified in Florida. But she didn’t believe Valentine Sally was really Melody and didn’t want the body — even though Melody’s half sister ID’d the body as that of Melody.
Two years later, in 1986, Melody Cutlip was found alive and reunited with her family. She wasn’t Valentine Sally, and investigators were back to square one. According to findagrave.com, Valentine Sally’s tombstone at Mountain View Cemetery in Williams still bears Melody’s name. Find A Grave also lists a Melody Cutlip matching her description who was killed in a car accident in 1998.
As of 2013, Valentine Sally’s DNA is in a national database, but no matches have been made. This means not only is there no match for her, but nobody related to her has DNA in the system either.
Even though there’s not a lot of information here, there has been plenty of speculation. Most of what I’ve found is about Valentine Sally’s dental treatment, where she was going and the man (or men) she was with.
Valentine Sally was clearly about to have a root canal before she died. But if the story she told was true, she was traveling far from home. It’s a little bit strange to be preparing for a dental treatment when you’re also traveling. There has been speculation that she went to a dentist in the Phoenix area; maybe her dental problems came up unexpectedly, or she didn’t realize how bad they were until she was already on the road. Maybe she was forced to leave home abruptly, for whatever reason, but her dental treatment also couldn’t wait. Several people have pointed out how strange it is that no dentists have come forward to recall their stories of performing this kind of treatment.
And who was the man she was with? Did he pay for her surgery? Did he kill her? Did he do both? Were they related? For my own speculation, I wonder if she met up with this man while on the road, struck up some sort of relationship with him and convinced him to pay for her root canal. Then something happened and he killed her — accidentally or intentionally. There’s also been speculation that the man was her father or stepfather, or that he was killed along with her but his body was never found.
And what brought Valentine Sally on the road? We know she told someone she was from Phoenix and traveling to New Jersey. Did she lie about this, maybe for privacy reasons? If she was telling the truth, did her family problems have to do with why she may not have been reported missing? In a lot of these Doe cases, it later turns out the person was never reported missing because their families simply thought they were off traveling on their own. It’s also been speculated that she was actually killed by a family member, as is also often the case here. Others have said she might have been reported missing but the report was later lost, as was the case with The Lime Lady, who I talked about awhile back.
There is a lot more speculation on this case, mostly on Websleuths and Reddit. A few people on these sites also speculated that Valentine Sally wasn't actually murdered, but instead died from dehydration or an abscessed tooth.
The Jane Doe known as Valentine Sally was a white female found on February 14, 1982 just outside Williams, Arizona. Eyewitnesses who saw a girl matching her description said she had blue eyes. She also had straight strawberry blonde hair about 9 1/2 inches long — so it probably would have stopped just above her breasts. She’s estimated to be between 15 and 20 years old, 5 feet 5 inches tall and 120 to 125 pounds. There were signs of an unfinished root canal on her back left molar. She had a small scar on the front of her right thigh and another on her left foot.
Valentine Sally was wearing size 8 or 9 jeans from the brand Seasons. Found near her body were a white handkerchief, a red and white striped sweater and a white bra size 36C.
In the early morning hours of February 4, Valentine Sally was reportedly seen with a white male, 60-65 years old, about 5 fot 8 inches to 5 foot 10 inches tall. He was wearing a brown checked leather vest and felt cowboy hat with a peacock feather on top.
“This case is definitely solvable…There is so much to work with here – a facial reconstruction, photos of the clothes and a strong lead suggesting she was seen in the area prior to her death.”
Hopefully investigators will take advantage of all this, as well as newer technologies, and Valentine Sally can have her name back someday. And, as always, I would love to know your thoughts in the comments below.
If you have any information that could lead to the identity of Valentine Sally or the man with her, you can contact the Coconino County Sheriff’s Department at 928-226-5012. (case # 3-0282-0319)
You can also contact the Coconino County Public Health Services District Medical Examiner Office at 928-679-8775. (case # 82-022)
Or you can contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE LOST (1-800-843-5678).