True crime meets forensic science
Sept. 28, 2022

E14 “Little Miss Nobody” The Abduction and Murder of Sharon Lee Gallegos

A 62-year-old cold case is solved when a little girl’s remains are finally identified


When a child’s remains are found in a remote area of Yavapai County, Arizona in 1960, the community comes together to bury the child with a card that reads “Little Miss Nobody. God’s little child. Date of birth unknown. Date of death unknown.”  In 2014 Detective Michael Scott Perry with the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office teamed up with longtime volunteer John Shannon to crack the case. It would take them another eight years to find out the identity of “Little Miss Nobody.” In this episode, how they did it and what it meant for the family who never knew what happened to Sharon Lee Gallegos. Full transcript available at https://www.whatremainspodcast.com.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

Transcript

Listener Warning: 

This podcast contains frank descriptions of human remains and physical violence. Listener discretion is advised. 

Open  

Every family can trace a moment in their history that just changes everything that comes after.  

For Rey Chavez that moment has haunted his family for generations. 

Rey Chavez: My grandmother never forgot it. And she always would sit with me and we'd say, you know, I wonder what happened to Sharon 

Amanda: What did your mother tell you about what happened to Sharon?  

Rey: So, when we really sat down, because I wanted to hear the whole story. And it was a little bit when I was older that I said, well, what really happened? And she said, well, it started about four to five days before they had kidnapped her. 

Amanda: This abduction would define the rest of Rey’s mom’s life and even though he was born after Sharon was taken, the kidnapping would come to define Rey’s life too even 62 years later. 

Scott: There was so much speculation from the family. What happened to their aunt? They remember growing up and hearing stories about Sharon, but no one ever really knew, like, what happened? Where did she go? What happened to her? 

Amanda:  In this episode a volunteer, a detective and a lab with cutting edge DNA technology try to solve the case. And a family that never lost hope... 

Rey: You know, even till that last minute, we were expecting to hear news that our aunt was alive. 

Amanda: From WRAL Studios, this is What Remains: stories of connecting unidentified human remains to the missing and the murdered. I’m Amanda Lamb. 

In 1960, Sharon Gallegos was just about to turn 5 years old.  

Her nephew, Rey Chavez, remembers how the rest of story goes. It’s deeply rooted in his family’s bones. 

So, Rey says his aunt Sharon used to love to go down to the mom-and-pop grocery store on the corner in their town of Alamogordo, New Mexico and buy things for her family. 

Rey: It was a different time back then and my mom had taken her many times and literally it was just around the corner from where they lived. And my mom said she had asked to go; my grandmother had asked her to go pick up a bottle of ketchup and gave her a quarter. And then she came running back, jumped into my mother's arms and said, I never want to go back to the store again. And my mom said, well, what's going on? What's going on Sharon? And she said, somebody's following me, somebody's following me and calling me from a car and I got scared. So, I came running home and, and my mom and grandma were like, I wonder what's going on? You know? Um, so they, my mom, you know, held her and they went looking for this car that was supposedly doing that. And they didn't find anything.   

Amanda: Two days later, Sharon was playing in her backyard on the swing set with her 7-year-old cousin Vicki and a neighborhood friend who was 12 at the time, while Sharon’s mom, Rey’s grandma, was inside the home. Then, a car pulled into the yard from the alley that ran behind the home. 

Rey: And it was a man and a lady in the front seat of the car and then there were two children in the back seat of the car. And the reason we know this is because my cousin Vicki remembers that incident happening. And then the lady calling out to Sharon, specifically saying, Sharon, Sharon, come here, come here, I'll buy you candy. Or I'll get you some new clothes, if you come with us. And she refused, she said, no, I don't want to go with you. You know, this is my house. My mom's here, my sister's here. And then my cousin Vicky said, I'll go with you. And so, the lady was like; so she gets out of her car, grabs Sharon by the arm, pulls her, throws her into the back seat and off they go. So, then Vicky and the young lady come running, you know, start screaming and come running into the house to get my grandmother and my mom and her brother and said, someone just took Sharon. Someone just took Sharon. 

Amanda: The family ran out of the house but didn’t see anything. The car was already gone. They didn’t have a phone, so Rey’s grandmother ran to the next-door neighbor to call the police. The sheriff’s office was called and then the FBI. 

But eventually the case went cold. 

Meanwhile, outside Congress, Arizona, 10 days after Sharon was taken, the body of a little girl was found in the desert by a hiker. It was decomposed and burned. 

She was wearing a checkered blouse; white shorts and she was wearing adult size sandals cut down to fit her feet. 

The community raised funds for a funeral and burial. Remember, this was 1960, if a body was found, there was no such thing as DNA testing to help with the ID. Burying the little girl was the logical next step. 

The remains were buried in the Mountain View Cemetery in Prescott, Arizona with a headstone that read “Little Miss Nobody”. The name may sound a little insensitive, but it was the name of a popular 1936 movie that featured a feisty little girl, it was meant as a term of endearment. 

A card on the tiny coffin read: “God’s little child. Date of birth unknown, date of death unknown.” 

We'll be back after the break. 

[midroll 1] 

Seg 2  

Amanda: Ramona Gallegos-Chavez never forgot about her little sister after she was abducted from the family’s backyard in New Mexico in 1960.  

 I mean, how did this, how did this impact her life?  

Rey: Well, it impacted her life pretty significantly because partly she felt responsible of, you know, hey, if I would've said something about this vehicle, you know. Or about what Sharon had told me two days earlier, maybe this would've never happened. And you know, she really was the, she really was a person who took care of Sharon because my grandmother worked. And so really Sharon thought of my mother as her second mother. So, it affected my mom because she was pretty protective of us. And, when she started having kids; I'm the oldest, she was very protective of us. Wouldn't let us go anywhere by ourselves until we were much older. 

Amanda: So, it almost sounds like your mother was haunted by this in a way. I mean, it was not her fault. She was, she was a child, but there was this guilt that it sounds like she carried around with her.  

Rey: She did carry it around with her. You know, that's why she didn't speak of it that often, but she was super interested in trying to keep up with the case. 

Amanda: And she wasn’t the only one...  

John Shannon Sheriff’s Office Volunteer: My name is John Shannon. I'm a volunteer with the Sheriff's department and working here in the Criminal Investigation Bureau. I've been here about eight years now. 

Amanda: John worked as a salesman for Motorola for thirty years in California. The company supplies radio technology and software to police departments across the country. So, when he retired and moved to Arizona, he knew he wanted to volunteer with the local law enforcement agency; the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office. 

One of the things they asked John to do was take a look at cold cases and see if he might be able to uncover something that could help push an investigation forward. Even though he’s not technically an investigator, he’s good with details, and his goal was to see if anything might have been overlooked. The “Little Miss Nobody” case was at the top of his list. 

John: This little girl was found in 1960, out in the desert, partially buried.  

Scott: She was found in a remote area in Yavapai County, near a small town called Congress, Arizona.  

Amanda: That’s Detective Michael Scott Perry with the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office talking about the case. He goes by Scott. 

 

Scott: This is a very deserted desert kind of area. It's close to a highway, highway 93. And the highway is kind of the main highway that goes between Phoenix and Las Vegas. So that’s kind of the route that people take when they travel that, that route. She was found, about, I believe about a mile or so away from the highway  

John: And they tried to determine who she was and didn't have much success. And they actually had a missing person in Alamogordo, New Mexico by name of Sharon Gallegos, but they couldn't connect that person to our little person who would call Little Miss Nobody. 

Amanda: The case went stagnant, though there were many efforts over the decades to solve it. John started working on the case in 2014. 

John: So, we started digging into it and we reconstructed everything that we could from newspaper articles that were available to us because there was no files, because the files had been moved from the courts to the judge's house, to a garage. And over the years, the files got moldy, and they got thrown out. So, we didn't even have any files at all. 

Amanda: What did you think when you were told, hey, oversee this. I mean, were you like, yeah, we're going to solve this. I mean, what was going through your mind?  

Scott: It's very difficult, and because we don't, like John explained this. We didn't have a lot of the original case files. We didn't have the case notes. We didn't have recordings of the interviews that were done, and who the original suspects were, who they had talked to. I mean, because this was, you know, a pretty big deal, you know, with the FBI getting involved, it was, Yavapai county Sheriff's office. And from the very beginning, there was the idea that possibility that the little girl was Sharon Gallegos, you know, that was explored way back in the 1960 when this happened. 

Amanda: I mean the tools that you have now are so amazing compared to what existed back then. I mean, there really wasn't much of a chance of solving it back then, unless somebody confessed. Right. Unless there was a witness.  

Scott: Yeah, and that's true. And it's hard sometimes when we investigate these, and we have to remember like; what technology did they have available to them back then? 

Based on their technology at the time and what they knew, it was put aside and because of the, the feet prints didn't match. And the estimated age of the girl's kind didn't coincide with one another. So, it was kind of dismissed. But after we looked into it more and more, it was always a strong belief of ours that that little girl was Sharon Gallegos. 

Amanda: The sheriff’s office teamed up with NAMUS, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to try and get some traction on the cold case. 

They exhumed the body from the grave in 2015 and had it sent to the University of North Texas. And they weren’t able to get a strong DNA profile from the University, so they tried several other labs and still had no luck.  

Back in New Mexico, Sharon’s family was still waiting. Sharon was really young when she was taken. Rey's family thought she might have been abducted to live with another family and had been living her life as a member of that family for all these years. 

Rey: Maybe every 5 to 10 years, somebody would contact us and say, hey, we're still looking with your aunt. And there was some people that even did a college project on it. They interned at the Missing Children's and chose Sharon's case.  

Amanda: But every time efforts were renewed, nothing ever came of it, and the family’s hope dwindled again. 

Rey and his family made sure his mom’s DNA was taken for comparison and his uncles DNA too. And eventually, about four years ago investigators asked for Rey’s DNA and his sister’s DNA. They gladly obliged but they thought nothing would come of it. And then, in 2022 Detective Scott Perry contacted Rey to say a new team was working on Sharon’s case.  

When Rey hung up with Scott. 

Rey: I called my sister right away and we called my brother. We got on a three-way call and said, hey, what's going on? Why what's, you know, why did these people call us? And so, we all thought, oh, you know, it's just another sheriff. And they're going to, you know, just ask us questions again.  

Then about two weeks later, detective Perry calls me and says; Hey, we would like to have a Zoom meeting with your family. We all agreed to talk to them at three o'clock on a Friday afternoon. 

Rey: After that happened, of course we started talking to each other even more, you know. Like, okay, what's going on? Do you think they have something? What are they going to tell us? So, we had all kinds of thoughts going through our heads and you know. We talked about our mother, because she had passed away in 2017. My grandmother had passed away before that. And so, we were just thinking, oh my goodness, what if, what if they tell us our aunt is alive and they found her and all of this, you know. Even till that last minute, when we took the zoom call, we were expecting to find, too, to hear news that our aunt was alive. 

Amanda: We’ll be right back 

[Midroll 2] 

Amanda: In Arizona, volunteer investigator John Shannon and the cold case unit at the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office had been waiting for long time. They tried so many different labs to try to identify Little Miss Nobody. 

John: Now DNA in our world takes six, eight months to get a result. So, we hit the second and third and fourth roadblock. 

And then we decided we would try this other company, this Othram company as a last chance. 

Amanda: Othram Incorporated, is a lab in Houston, Texas and we’ll talk more about their special technology in an upcoming episode, but basically, they can take very old, very degraded DNA and use it to create a solid DNA profile. Othram’s services are expensive, about $5000 per case, and the department had already spent a LOT of money on these previous tests. But remember, the community and people from all over really were behind Little Miss Nobody and wanted to reunite her with her family. A crowdfunding effort run by Othram raised the money in less than 24 hours. 

Amanda: What was that like? When, you know, did they call you? How did you find out that they had made the connection? And, and what was that like?  

Scott: The day I found out, the same Lieutenant who had briefed me on the case had pulled me into his office and, and said, hey we got some news back from Othram lab. And we think that, and they have determined that they know who Little Miss Nobody is.  

Amanda: So, Scott reached out to Rey’s family. He knew how long they’d been waiting, and he wanted to deliver the information to them all together on a Zoom call. 

Rey: And so, they said, well, we have some news for you. There's been this little girl, little miss nobody that we found around the same time, you know, in 1960. She's been here in Prescott, and we never were able to put a name, name to her and we have identified her, that it's your aunt. It's Sharon Gallegos.  

Amanda: What was that like to hear them say that out loud? Like you said, going into the zoom call, you thought maybe they were going to tell you she was alive. So, what, what was that like to hear those words that, that they had in fact found her remains?  

Rey: It was a shock, you know we all got that, it was a shock . It was like, oh my God.   

My sister started crying and I was holding back tears. My brother just was quiet. My uncle didn't say a word. He was just stunned because after 62 years, my goodness, them telling him his sister is, you know, actually been found and she's deceased.  

Amanda: And I mean, for you, you didn't know her, but this was emotional on account of your mother and, and what your mother went through and what your grandmother went through.  

Reys: Oh my gosh. Being the oldest in a Hispanic family you have a lot of responsibility, especially if you're a man. It was tough for us because we had carried this, and we had hoped to find resolution for it. And when they told us that, it was just mixed feelings because we were shocked. We were relieved that she was found. We wished my mother, and my grandmother were alive to hear this news. And then it opened up a lot of other questions like who would, who would murder a little girl?  

Amanda: In a perfect world, the investigators would be able to answer all of Rey’s questions, and they want to, but with a case this old it’s almost impossible. Still, they haven’t closed the door on trying. So far, Sharon’s murder remains unsolved. 

Little Miss Nobody’s case had been on the minds of the people of Prescott and the Yavapai County Sheriff’s office for so many years. 

Scott: Letting them know that we found Sharon and that Little Miss Nobody was indeed their family member. That's probably been one of the most rewarding experiences I've had as, you know working with the law enforcement and, and just like the gratitude and of that family and their appreciation for the hard work that we did was very, very, very rewarding. And that's ultimately, like bringing a little bit of closure to that family has been one of the best experiences. 

Amanda: Once the connection was made between Sharon Gallegos and Little Miss Nobody, Rey wanted to know more about how his aunt’s remains were handled over the years. What he discovered was that she had been treated with respect by the people in Yavapai County.  

The local radio host who led the fundraising effort for the funeral and burial and his wife stood in for the little girl’s parents at the service which was held at the First Congregational Church in front of about 70 mourners. 

The Associated Press quoted the minister Charles Franklin Parker as saying: “Somewhere, someone is watching to learn what happened to this little girl left in the desert.” 

“If there has been a misdeed, probably a disquieted conscience will go on and on.” 

REY: When we looked into it, I was like on my God this community has taken care of my aunt for 62 years. 

Then, we really looked into Little Miss nobody and saw all the Facebook pages, and I mean. Some lady had reached out to my mother, and she was convinced Little Miss Nobody was my aunt. And she even drove from California where she picked up her daughter. Instead of going back to Houston she, she detoured and came to Alamogordo, New Mexico and actually knocked on my mother's door, and said, I know this, I know this Little Miss Nobody is your sister. I know she is.  

Amanda: So, you had heard, you had heard the name Little Miss Nobody before?   

Rey: We had...  

Amanda: But there just wasn't ever any proof 

Rey: Well, it even mentioned it in the newspaper because they reached out to the police. But they, but they said that, you know, it wasn't the little girl. And they actually sent a good friend of my grandmothers to go identify the body. And she said, the little girl's too big, you know, it was bigger than Sharon. 

Amanda: On March 15, 2022, investigators with the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference to share the good news with the public that they had solved the 62-year-old case. 

 So, you did go, you, you went to Arizona for the press conference, correct?  

Rey: I did, I did go when we found this out. 

Amanda: And what was that like? To meet everybody and just to, to have that kind of resolution, not just for your family, but publicly.   

Rey: I thought it was important that somebody go and represent, at least my mom and my grandmother. And I just happened to be able to work in a job where I could take, I could just make that decision right away and say, I'm going. And so, to be there, I was really nervous. You know, I was really nervous because I didn't know what to expect. There was lots of people, cameras, newspapers, community people so I was pretty nervous. 

Amanda: But Rey was immediately set at ease when he met everyone from the sheriff’s Office. 

Rey: The sheriff announced it and it all over again, it just gave me goosebumps. And I was like, oh my goodness, this is a big deal you know.  

Amanda: How, I mean, did you ever think in all these years of this story being shared in your family and, you know, you understanding the emotional pain, your mother and your grandmother had gone through, did you ever think this case would be solved? 

Rey: We didn't because I even told them at the press conference that I had always thought I would find my aunt alive. That one day she would find us through 23andMe. 

And when they actually told us that and it, you know. I was living that reality that they were telling us that this was our aunt and a hundred percent guarantee that this is our aunt. It was overwhelming, but I wanted to be there to take that opportunity to thank the people myself from the family, telling them thank you for taking care of our aunt. 

Amanda: For Detective Scott Perry, the case gives him hope that other cold cases in Arizona and across the country will be solved. 

How important is it to give a victim back their name and to have that victim returned to a family? 

Scott: As a police officer, you know, one of our main goals is to always bring closure. We always look out for the victim. We always want to make sure that we do everything we can for that person. Who's been a victim of a crime. And for that little girl, I don't know, even today, what happened to Sharon. From the time she got kidnapped from the time that she was found in Arizona. But I think back and as a father, I mean, to bring justice to that little girl would be the ultimate goal, to find out exactly what happened to her. 

Amanda: Rey now has his aunt’s cremated remains. He says a funeral home in Prescott wouldn’t even let the family pay for the cremation. Sharon is being buried in Tularosa, New Mexico just outside of Alamogordo where Rey’s grandmother and great grandmother were from.  

Amanda: Rey, anything I haven't asked you, I mean, this is such a fascinating story journey that your fam emotional journey that your family has been on. Um, and I just, I really, really appreciate you sharing it with me. 

Rey: Sure 

Amanda: Is there anything else that I, that I have missed? 

Rey: Well, you know for other families in similar situations. When you have a cold case, I mean, we waited 62 years and to never give up hope, never give up, never give up hope of finding your loved one.   

You know, with technology and people like the cold case detectives, they're, they're tirelessly doing their job. So don't give up hope because one day you may find out the answers, you may find the answers.  

Amamda: If you’d like more information about Sharon’s story, check out our website, whatremainspodcast.com 

This episode of What Remains was written by me, Amanda Lamb. It was produced and edited by Rachel McCarthy, with final mix by Doug Miller. Our Director of Podcast Operations is Anita Normanly and our Executive Producer is Ashley Talley. 

Thanks for listening.