38 years later, search for missing Sparks girl continues

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SPARKS, Nev. (KOLO) In 1978, 16-year-old Sandra Kay Butler was living with her mother in an apartment at Fourth and Greenbrae in Sparks. She'd moved here from California and was attending Reed High School.

June 23, her mother left for work. She got a call later that day from Sandra asking permission to ride her bike to the Reno Rodeo. Her mother said yes and never saw Sandra again.

Sandra was listed as a missing person, possibly a runaway, though those who knew her would dispute that possibility.

Over the years, the case was handed through a succession of officers, typically those new to the detectives division at the Sparks Police Department.

In 2007 it was assigned to Ken Gallop. Something about the case set a hook in the rookie detective.

"I have two daughters and I can't imagine that one of them would go missing and I would never know what happened to them," he says. "I took it personally."

There wasn't a good deal to work with. Today's protocol in the case of a missing child is much different.

"Today we'd throw resources at it right away. We'd want to canvass that neighborhood. We want to talk with people. We want to search and look in those places where the child was last seen, use the media, disseminate all this information."

Back then none of that happened. Information which might have been gathered, leads that might have been developed were not.

Gallop has been able to update the foundation of the case; her family's DNA is now in the national database as are better dental records, but he also needs help from those who remember the Sparks of 1978 and might remember her.

Stories like this are his best chance of reaching those people and getting them to come forward.

"Somebody who went to school with her. Somebody who hung out with her or rode bikes with her."

Sparks was a different community back then, Smaller. The kind of place where it wouldn't have been unusual for a young teenager to ride her bike across town through neighborhoods on her way to the fairgrounds.

There were nearby, even across the street at the Greenbrae Bowling Alley and Shopping Center, places where kids of her age often gathered. She might have been known there, even stopped there that day.

It's routine for an investigator to look here and elsewhere at other cases looking for common patterns. And inevitably, that leads to a frightening possibility.

Serial murderers Gerald Gallego and his wife Charlene were known to have been in the area around that time and, at least once, had trolled the fairgrounds for young victims.

"There were two people who were victimized around that same time that he was held responsible for."

Gallego was convicted of murders of 14-year-old Brenda Judd and 13-year-old Sandra Colley and others in California in what came to be known as the Sex Slave Murders.

He died of rectal cancer awaiting his execution. His wife turned state's evidence and served a 16-year sentence, and is now living in California under a new name. Gallop has been unable to interview her, but he continues to pursue that possibility and a host of others.

He's not passing this case on to the next guy and, he says, it's important that it continue.

"It is our obligation, not only as a police department, but as a community to get some answers for this family. They don't know what happened to their daughter."

Anyone with any information should contact Ken Gallop at the Sparks Police Department at (775) 353-2241 or Secret Witness at (775) 322-4900.

No case is too cold. In fact the investigators who work them sometimes bristle at the mention of that term and even the smallest detail can solve them.