Brian Clifton arraignment

Brian Clifton appears in custody at his arraignment in Polk County Circuit Court on Tuesday. He is charged with first-degree murder in a 25-year-old cold case death of his wife Kathy Clifton. He is being held at Polk County Jail on no bail. 

DALLAS – A man was arrested in a 25-year-old cold case involving a woman whose remains were found in Polk County in 1996.

On Tuesday, Sept. 7 Brian Clifton, a former Oregon resident, was arraigned in Polk County Circuit Court on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Kathy Clifton.

Kathy Clifton’s skeletal remains were found on Sept. 1, 1996, in the hills overlooking the Mill Creek area in rural Polk County. Investigators determined the her death was a homicide as the body was wrapped up in a tarp and bound with rope, but were unable to identify her.

Many efforts were made over the years to help identify Clifton. From doing sketches, CT scans, to 3D rendered images and even a sculpture was made using the actual skull, to help put a face to the unidentified female. She remained unidentified until 2019. A new DNA technique was used in an attempt to put a name to her remains.

Polk County Detectives were contacted by Yolanda McClary, who is a retired crime scene investigator with the Las Vegas Metro Police Department and was working on developing a new TV show to financially assist agencies in identifying unidentified remains in cold cases.

In 2019, a DNA profile was developed from the remains and genealogists working with McClary assisted Polk County in identifying the woman over a 10-month research process. The remains were determined to be that of Kathy Thomas, born in Oklahoma in 1953.

Kathy was the youngest of three girls born to Leo and Jessie Thomas from Oklahoma. After Leo and Jessie divorced, Leo brought Kathy to Southern Oregon at the age of five and he gave her up for adoption to Aileen Buxton. Kathy had three children in her first two marriages, but ended up losing custody of them when visiting Oklahoma and they were adopted to other families in Oklahoma.

Kathy returned to Oregon and married Brian Clifton in 1984. The couple lived in the Salem area for most of their marriage and Kathy’s last contact was in March 1996 when she reported a hit-and-run accident to Salem Police. Her remains were found less than six months later in Polk County. There were no missing persons reports made about Kathy in 1996, nor was any record of divorce for Kathy and Brian.

Oxygen's television show “The Jane Doe Murders” documented the lengthy process of how Kathy was identified and the finding of her children and sister, who had no idea Kathy had died in 1996. In an extraordinary turn of events through the identification process, 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.

Detectives learned that Brian Clifton married another woman about one month after the remains were found and moved out of Oregon.

Through a collaborative effort between local, state and federal partners, detectives were able to locate Brian Clifton in another state in December 2020 and interviewed him regarding what happened to Kathy. Detectives questioned Brian multiple times during a series of interviews over several months.

On Aug. 12 the Polk County Grand Jury heard the case and indicted Brian Clifton for the murder of Kathy Clifton. The next day Brian Clifton was located and he was taken into custody by the local agency where he was living.

After the arrest, Polk County detectives interviewed Brian and he admitted to his involvement in the murder of Kathy. Brian Clifton will be extradited to Oregon, where he will be prosecuted for the murder of Kathy in 1996.

On Aug. 13, Polk County detectives met with Kathy’s adult children and Kathy’s sister and let them know that they had been able to identify her remains, and had a suspect in her death.

For more on this story, see the Sept. 15 I-O.

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