POLK COUNTY, OR (KPTV) - A 68-year-old man has been charged with first-degree murder 25 years after his wife's remains were found in rural Polk County. 

According to the Polk County Sheriff's Office, the woman's remains were found Sept. 1, 1996, in the hills overlooking the Mill Creek area. Her body was wrapped in a tarp and bound with rope. She remained unidentified until 2019, when a retired crime scene investigator in Nevada helped detectives develop a DNA profile and identify her over a 10-month research process. 

The victim was Kathy Thomas, who was last heard from in March 1996 when she reported a hit-and-run accident to Salem Police. Her remains were found less than six months later. No one had reported her missing. 

Investigators later learned that Kathy was born in 1953 and moved to Oregon as a child. Her father gave her up for adoption in Southern Oregon. Kathy had three children in her first two marriages, but later lost custody of them when visiting Oklahoma. Detectives said she returned to Oregon and married Brian Clifton in 1984. The couple lived in the Salem area for most of their marriage, and there were no records showing the couple had divorced. 

The television show “The Jane Doe Murders" documented how Kathy was identified and the finding of her children and sister, who had no idea Kathy had died in 1996. Kathy’s children had never met their aunt even though they only lived an hour away from each other. They were introduced during the filming of the documentary and remain close to this day.

Photo of skull provided by Polk County Sheriff's Office

Photo of skull provided by Polk County Sheriff's Office 

Detectives later learned that Brian Clifton married another woman about one month after the remains were found and moved out of Oregon. Investigators found Brian Clifton living out of state in December 2020 and questioned him multiple times over several months. A Polk County grand jury charged Brian Clifton with Kathy's murder on Aug. 12 of this year. 

The next day, Brian Clifton was arrested out of state and reportedly admitted to his involvement in her death. The 68-year-old was arraigned on a first-degree murder charge Tuesday (Sept. 7) and is being held in the Polk County Jail without bail. 

"Polk County detectives met with Kathy’s adult children and Kathy’s sister and let them know we had never forgotten about their mother/sister and that after 25 years, Kathy is finally getting the justice she deserves," the sheriff's office said. 

Copyright 2021 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. 

Recommended for you