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Oregon man, 68, is arrested for the cold-case murder of his wife 25 years after remains were found

PICTURED: Kathy Thomas, whose remains were found in the rural hills of Oregon in 1996

Twenty-five years after a woman’s unidentified skeletal remains were found in the rural hills of Oregon, police have arrested her husband in connection with her cold case murder.   

On Tuesday, Brian Clifton, 68, was arraigned on first-degree murder in Polk County,  for the 1996 murder of his wife Kathy Thomas.  

No missing persons reports were filed for Kathy in 1996, nor was there any record of a divorce from Brian – despite him remarrying – so no one suspected she had died.  

According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Kathy’s remains were discovered on September 1, 1996, bound with rope and wrapped in tarp in the hills overlooking the Mill Creek area. 

The cause of her death in addition to a motive remain unclear.

Although detectives determined the woman had died as a result of a homicide, they were unable to confirm her identity at the time.  

Throughout the years, detectives attempted to identify Clifton through sketches, CT scans, 3D rendered images, and recreated skulls, but came up short.

Finally in 2019, with the assistance of a new DNA technique, detectives were finally able to put a face to the unidentified female.  

Yolanda McClary, who is a retired Crime Scene Investigator with the Las Vegas Metro Police Department, contacted Polk County Sheriffs and explained she was working on developing a new TV show to financially assist agencies in identifying unidentified remains in cold cases. 

Over a 10-month research period, McClary assisted Polk County in identifying Clifton remains with the help of genealogists.  

On Tuesday, Brian Clifton, 68, (pictured) was arraigned on first-degree murder in Polk County, for the 1996 murder of his wife Kathy Thomas

On Tuesday, Brian Clifton, 68, (pictured) was arraigned on first-degree murder in Polk County, for the 1996 murder of his wife Kathy Thomas

In 2019, with the assistance of a new DNA technique, detectives were finally able to put a face to the unidentified female as Kathy Thomas

In 2019, with the assistance of a new DNA technique, detectives were finally able to put a face to the unidentified female as Kathy Thomas 

Titled ‘The Jane Doe Murders’, McClary’s television series documented the lengthy process of how Kathy was identified, in addition to finding of her children and sister, who were unaware Kathy died in 1996.   

Born to Leo and Jessie Thomas from Oklahoma, Kathy was the youngest of three girls. After her parents divorced, Leo brought Kathy to Southern Oregon when she was five, and he gave her up for adoption to Aileen Buxton.  

She had three children from her first two marriages, but lost custody to them when visiting them in Oklahoma. After she returned to Oregon, Kathy married Clifton in 1984, where they lived in the Salem area for the majority of their marriage.  

Merely three years before their marriage, Clifton finished serving time in prison for killing a female employee at a Portland motel who he accused of robbing him. 

Throughout the years, detectives attempted to identify Clifton through sketches, CT scans, 3D rendered images, and recreated skulls, but came up short

Throughout the years, detectives attempted to identify Clifton through sketches, CT scans, 3D rendered images, and recreated skulls, but came up short

Clifton was indicted by a grand jury shortly after and is currently being held in the Polk County Jail without bail

Clifton was indicted by a grand jury shortly after and is currently being held in the Polk County Jail without bail

In 1973, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, but was released on parole in 1981.   

Kathy was last heard from in March 1996, when she reported a hit-and-run accident to Salem Police. 

Less than six months later, her remains were discovered in Polk County.   

Detectives eventually discovered Brian had remarried another woman and relocated to another state just one month after Kathy’s remains were discovered.

With the help of local, state and federal partners, authorities managed to locate Brian in December 2020.    

Clifton was taken into custody on August 13, 2021, shortly after admitting his involvement to Kathy’s murder. 

He was indicted by a grand jury shortly after and is currently being held in the Polk County Jail without bail.


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