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Former Oregon Man Arrested for 1996 Murder of Kathy Clifton

The television show “The Jane Doe Murders”, documented the lengthy process of how Kathy was identified.

Clifton murder
68-year old Brian Clifton is charged with 1st degree murder of his wife, Kathy Thomas Clifton, in 1996.
Photo: Polk County Sheriff

(POLK COUNTY, Ore.) - On September 1, 1996, the skeletonized remains of an adult female were found in the hills overlooking the Mill Creek area in rural Polk County, Oregon. Investigators determined the woman’s death was a homicide as the body was wrapped up in a tarp and bound with rope.

Many efforts were made over the years to help identify the female. From doing sketches, CT scans, 3D rendered images and even a real sculpture was made using the actual skull to help put a face to the unidentified female.

Even with all the efforts made, the woman remained unidentified until 2019. A new DNA technique was used in an attempt to put a name to her remains.

DNA Profile Reveals Identity After 23 Years

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 Ms. McClary assisted Polk County in identifying the woman over a 10 month research process.

The remains were determined to be that of Kathy Thomas Clifton, born in Oklahoma in 1953.

Kathy Thomas’s life story is remarkable, yet tragic. She 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, Kathy's father gave her up for adoption to Aileen Buxton.

Kathy grew up and 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.

Where Did Kathy Go?

Brian and Kathy lived in the Salem area. Kathy’s last contact was in March 1996 when she reported a hit and run accident to Salem Police.

After that, nothing. There were no missing persons reports made about Kathy in 1996, nor was any record of divorce for Kathy and Brian.

The remains of a woman were found less than six months later in Polk County, but no one knew Kathy was gone.

After the DNA profile identified the remains as Kathy Thomas in 2019, detectives discovered that Brian Clifton married another woman about one month after the remains had been found and the new couple quickly 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 a several month period.

On August 12, 2021, the Polk County Grand Jury heard the case and indicted Brian Clifton for the murder of Kathy Clifton.

The next day, August 13, 2021, Brian Clifton was located and taken into custody by the local agency where Brian was living. After the arrest, Polk County Detectives interviewed Brian and he admitted to his involvement in the murder of Kathy.

TV Show Helps Brings Justice and Closure

Brian Clifton has been extradited to Oregon where he will be prosecuted for the 1996 murder of Kathy Thomas Clifton.

The television show “The Jane Doe Murders”, documented the lengthy process of how Kathy was identified and the finding of her children and sister.

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.

On August 13, 2021, Polk County Detectives met with Kathy’s adult children and Kathy’s sister to let them know their mother/sister was not forgotten, and that after 25 years, Kathy is finally getting the justice she deserves.

68-year old Brian Clifton was arraigned for the charge of Murder in the 1st degree on September 7, 2021. He is currently lodged in the Polk County Jail and being held without bail.

Source: Polk Co. Sheriff's Office


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