FLAGSTAFF, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Valentine Sally: one of Arizona's oldest unsolved "Jane Doe" cases. A young woman was found dead on the side of a northern Arizona highway decades ago, and to this day, nobody knows who she is.

But is law enforcement any closer to solving this case? And who last saw this girl alive?

"It was a graveyard shift. And it was in the winter," said Patty Wilkins, sitting in her quaint home in rural Seligman, Arizona. "It was two, two-thirty in the morning. She was a pretty girl. She really was. And she smiled a lot. It would be nice if somebody could find a name. It would even put me to rest."

Patty Wilkins

Patty Wilkins

For many, Valentine's Day means love. For Wilkins, it means loss.

"Yes. She's the only one I think about," she said. It's been that way for almost four decades.

"I wasn't there long enough, but I should have been there longer. I should've done more. What could I have done? What should I have done?" Wilkins said, with sadness in her eyes.

The story begins in early February 1982. Wilkin's family owned the Monte Carlo truck stop west of Flagstaff off I-40 in rural Ash Fork, Arizona. She worked at the restaurant on the property. During her graveyard shift, a man and a blonde girl walked in to eat. They seemed relaxed — nothing out of the ordinary. The man ordered coffee. The girl ordered water.

"The camaraderie between the two of them were like she knew him, and she was comfortable with him," Wilkins remembered. She believes the man was in his 50s.

"The only thing I really got about him was he wore a cowboy hat with a peacock feather in it," Wilkins said.

And the girl, she remembers to be 17 or 18, wearing a red and white striped sweater and jeans. She had a toothache, so Wilkins got her some aspirin. But what was unusual was for young girls to be at a truck stop with men in the middle of the night.

"She seemed very comfortable. Very comfortable with this gentleman. Because I asked her, 'Are you okay? Do you want to stay here or leave with him?' and she said 'No, I'll go with him.' like it was her father, grandfather, uncle, some relative," she said.

Wilkins never saw what truck they came in.

"The next thing I heard about was that they found a girl, on February the 14th, a mile from my restaurant," she said.

A girl's decaying body was found under a tree, in the bitter cold.

She was only dressed in a pair of jeans with broken belt loops. It looked like she had been dragged. Her sweater and bra were found on the ground nearby.

Valentine Sally's clothes found at the scene

Valentine Sally's clothes found at the scene.

"First they showed me the pictures of the clothes. And yes, I recognized those clothes. She was wearing those clothes," Wilkins said.

Coconino County sheriff's deputies questioned her about everything she could remember.

"I said I know that girl. And he said can you describe who she was with? And I said yes, I can," Wilkins recalled.

Wilkins believes she saw Valentine Sally alive at the truck stop on or around February 2. Her body was found just a mile up the road on February 14. Detectives believe she was dead for about two weeks before she was found.

"When they interviewed me, he said, 'Was there anything outstanding?' And I told him about the toothache, and he said, 'What did you do?' I said we crushed up a baby aspirin, that's all I had, and we put it on that tooth. He said, 'What side was it on?' I said left side. He said, 'That's our girl. The aspirin was still there," Wilkins remembered.

The assumption was and is that girl was killed shortly after Wilkins saw her at the truck stop. People started calling the mystery girl "Valentine Sally," a name that stuck with her for days, months, and years to follow.

"When you first heard of Valentine Sally, what did you think?" asked reporter Briana Whitney.

"It was curious from the onset," said Stan Kephart. Kephart is a retired police chief and law enforcement expert. He sat down with us to take an outside look at this case from start to finish.

"How important is it to solve a Jane Doe case?" asked Whitney.

"It is extremely important," Kephart said.

Sally's death is still a mystery. Suffocation is a working theory, but she didn't have broken bones.

"The pressure that comes from the thumbs inward tends to fracture the hyoid bone. That along with the struggle from the victim usually will produce a fracture," Kephart said.

One of the most significant identifying features about this girl is her teeth and the known evidence of a toothache with aspirin.

"How important can dental records and teeth be in a homicide case in terms of either identification or solving it?" asked Whitney.

"It can be extremely important. Forensically this is one of the things used performa to identify a person," Kephart said.

But without a match, it would be impossible. One aspect stumps Kephart, which he believes makes finding a motive to take this girl's life even more obscure.

"Are you surprised that there was no evidence of sexual assault?" asked Whitney.

"That is very surprising," Kephart said. "What would be the purpose of your anger or vendetta of some type? I'm speculating. Maybe a cause of doing this? That and the way that she died are two of the most curious things in this case."

Wilkins said she seemed comfortable with the man she was with. That doesn't surprise the former police chief.

"What's the likelihood that the man she was seen with is involved in this?" asked Whitney.

"I would say that more often than not, it is highly likely. Victims of homicides more often than not are victims of known persons, relatives, significant others," he said.

Two years later, in 1984, detectives thought they solved the case. The girl was identified as Melody Cutlip, a Florida girl who had run away in 1980. A forensic expert matched bite marks of Valentine Sally to dental records of Melody Cutlip. But Melody returned home alive to her family in 1986. Kephart said the misidentification was a huge case misstep.

"It is the fault of the expert presenting something that was flawed, and the agency not vetting that person to conclude that it should be followed up on," he said.

This is a cold case, yet the Coconino County Sheriff's Office, the investigating agency, declined to sit down for an interview about Valentine Sally.

"This one is too cold for them to devote the resources that could better be devoted to successful prosecution of somebody they can take off the street by arresting them. Does that make sense?" Kephart said.

"So you don't believe that they probably have a detective working on this case right now?" asked Whitney.

"No," he said.

"What makes this the most difficult?" asked Whitney.

"Time. With the passage of time, memories and forensics and these kinds of things are taken from us," Kephart said.

The girl with no name found a place in Wilkins' heart. The last person to see her alive didn't want her to be laid to rest as just a number, adding to a long list of missing persons.

"We took up a benefit for her so we could get her a headstone. And we took it up to Williams, and we had a regular funeral for her there," said Wilkins. Wilkins even had the headstone engraved: Valentine Sally.

"I would be willing to get another headstone and put it up there if we could find out who she was," Wilkins said.

The how and why she died may always be a mystery. But Wilkins can only hope in her lifetime, the question that's never left her heart and mind will be answered. Who is Valentine Sally?

"Some mother is out there somewhere. There's somebody who had to turn her in as a lost girl. Somebody is bound to have missed her. But it's been a long time," Wilkins said.

 

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