After Sixty Years of Mystery, "Little Miss Nobody" is Finally Somebody
An Abducted Four-Year-Old Will Finally Go Home
Thursday, July 21, 1960, started just like any other day for four-year-old Sharon Lee Gallegos. The temperature in Alamogordo, New Mexico began as a pleasant 68.4 degrees but, by midday, would peak at a sweat-staining 90.3. Not that that kept Sharon from doing what four-year-olds do; play outside with her cousins at her grandma's house. Ten days later, she would be dead.
We don't know precisely what Grandma was doing in the house while her grandchildren were outside. Maybe she was cleaning or cooking or sewing. Perhaps she was humming along to Ray Orbison's or Hollywood Argyle's Alley-Oop. She certainly wouldn't have been concerned about the safety of her within-earshot grandchildren. It was a different time.
Tarzan the Magnificent was swinging at the box office; Sharon was a few years away to be excited about hunky Gordon Scott hanging from the tree branches, but her older male cousins would have eaten it up.
It was a relatively slow news day. Francis Chichester crossed the Atlantic aboard his boat, the Gypsy Moth II, setting a new solo record of forty days. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, making her the world's first woman prime minister. But as far as anyone in Sharon's orbit was concerned, these historical events were insignificant. It was Sharon's disappearance that forever marked this day.
The Last Day
No one really knows what happened. Contemporaneous newspaper articles quoted witnesses reporting a woman, a man, and — possibly — one freckle-faced child drove up to the playing children in a dark green early 1950s sedan. They first tried to lure Sharon with offers of clothes and candy. When she refused, the woman pulled the 4-year-old girl into the car and sped away.
The remains now known as belonging to Sharon were found partially buried in a wash ten days later — July 31 — later in Yavapai County, Arizona, 500 miles to the west of where she went missing. Investigators guessed the girl was between three and six years old, and her remains had been buried a week or two before being discovered. If accurate, her captors must have killed her shortly after they kidnapped her. The medical examiner couldn't tell how she died, but it clearly was not due to natural causes. The case was ruled a homicide.
The Prescott, Arizona community raised money to provide a funeral for the unidentified child in 1960. A mortuary donated its services. Newspapers reported that a local radio announcer and his wife stood in as substitute parents during the funeral, and over seventy people attended. Picturing this community grieving for an unknown lost child almost brought me to tears.
Someone got away with Sharon's murder. People were questioned, but there were no serious suspects. But people remembered her. In 2018, officers exhumed Sharon's remains to collect DNA. The local sheriff's office and a Texas DNA company donated the $4,000 to fund the testing that led to her recent identification.
Sharon's nephew, Ray Chavez, was born five years after Sharon disappeared. He attended the press conference to represent her deceased mother and grandmother. Her brother, alive and living outside the country, has been notified.
The Bottom Line
Child abductions by strangers are rare; of the over 800,000 children reported missing each year, 115 are kidnappings by a stranger. That fact was no consolation to me whatsoever when I briefly lost my youngest daughter at a sandcastle festival several years ago. It was no consolation to Sharon's devastated family, either.
But at least it offers some reassurance that this unfathomable horror is unlikely. And we can get a tiny bit of peace knowing that a missing child can finally go home.