Dead in a Desert: The Murder of Valentine Sally

In the early morning hours of Feb 3, 1982, a young girl with a toothache showed up at an old truck stop in the midst of a dusty Arizona desert. She was blonde, youthful, and beautiful; catching the eye of everyone around her. And she would soon be dead.

She was nicknamed Valentine Sally, after the day her body was discovered. But there was nothing romantic about her death.

On Feb 2, a university student claimed to have picked up a hitchhiking girl who matched her description. The girl was troubled and was escaping from a discordant family situation. She lived with friends and had the unfortunate profession of dishwasher, and was looking to hitchhike all the way to New Jersey. Sad to say, she wouldn’t make it.

That fateful morning at the truck stop was when she was last seen alive, and was most likely where she met her killer. Waitress Patty Wilkins said of her:

″She was a blonde, a pretty girl. I assumed she was about 16 or 17 years old. We’ve been in this little truck stop for 17 years and as a rule when a girl comes in off a truck and looks too young, we pull her off, the sheriff’s office comes along and they send her home.″

The old man wore a cowboy hat with a peacock feather on it

But this time, Patty would not report the teenage runaway to the sheriff. That’s because the girl was accompanied by a concerned old man in his 60s, dressed head to toe in cowboy gear. Some sources even claim she was accompanied by two men, and witnesses in the truck stop say they appeared almost familial.

The girl was in pain because her lower molar had been drilled for a root canal, and her mouth hurt too much to eat any food. She asked for aspirin instead. Whoever she was, this girl was definitely a homeless hitchhiker suffering something awful.

However, she was wearing a nice pair of designer jeans, as well as a candy-cane striped red and white sweater. She was around 5’5 and 120 lbs, a healthy weight for her size. The girl wore a 36C bra, had her ears pierced, and had a white handkerchief with her. To outsiders, she appeared well taken care of. She didn’t appear disheveled or poor, and could somehow afford dental care.

There were several scars on her feet and thighs, indicating either clumsiness or abuse.

The cozy pinstripe sweater

On Valentine’s Day, 11 days after she was seen at the truck stop, the girl was found dead near Interstate 40. There had been an accident by the highway, and authorities were looking for blown out car parts. Instead they saw a strawberry-blonde head face down in the sand.

Upon turning the body over, police discovered that most of her face had been eaten away by animals, as she had lain decomposing for almost 2 weeks in the arid and humid desert. Some animal had torn off and made away with her right ear.

She was lying under a cedar tree, about 25 ft from the main road. Her belt loops were nearly torn and her sweater pulled over her head, as her killer had dragged her corpse off of a truck by her clothes and flung her onto the ground.

The girl’s cause of death is unknown, but authorities suspect suffocation. Thankfully, she had not been sexually assaulted.

A rather creepy 1982 sketch of Valentine Sally

Police were unable to solve this perplexing case. They never found the creepy old truck driver(s) who accompanied Valentine Sally to the diner, and most assume that he was the killer and had gotten away with it. The 1970s and 1980s were an era of impunity for long-distance truck drivers who killed naive hitchhikers.

In 1984, Valentine Sally was misidentified as Melody Cutlip, a Floridian runaway, thanks to a moronic odontologist literally named Homer. Melody’s mother rejected the identification. Call it a mother’s intuition.

Homer mismatched the teeth of the two girls, and Melody returned to her parents’ home in 1986 alive and well, proving him wrong. Tragically, Melody would die in 1998 in a car accident, cutting her action-packed life short.

Valentine Sally lies in a grave wrongly marked “Melody Cutlip,” over 30 years after the world realized that was not even her. The only person that comes out of this ordeal with some humanity is the waitress Patty Wilkins, who last saw the blonde girl with the toothache alive.

Patty paid $168 in 1984 to have Valentine Sally buried in a decent grave. Adjusted for inflation, that is over $400. And that was on a truck stop waitress’ salary. Perhaps she felt haunted by the girl who left her diner, only to lose her life as well.

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