PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After 25 years, the husband of a woman whose remains were found September 1, 1996, was charged with her murder after being extradited to Polk County to stand trial.
Brian Clifton, 68, faced a judge on a first-degree murder charge and was ordered to be held without bail in the Polk County Jail in connection with the slaying of his wife Kathy Clifton.
Brian Clifton was convicted of killing a woman in Portland in the 1970s. Detectives told KOIN 6 News he was sentenced to life in prison but was released after serving just 7 years.
This time, they said, they hope the punishment fits the crime.
Help from a TV network
For decades, investigators used forensics experts’ sketches, sculptures and CT scans to try to identify her, but weren’t able to do it until 2019 after a DNA profile was developed from the remains and genealogists working with a TV show, “The Jane Doe Murders” on Oxygen, identified Kathy Clifton.
Polk County homicide detective John Williams knew of Yolanda McClary from watching the real-life crime TV series, Cold Justice. McClary, who is retired from the Las Vegas Police Department, investigated more than 50 cold case murders during her 3 years on the show. When she started a new project with NBC, she reached out to Williams and his team.
“NBC was willing to fund 10 cases and they put up a lot of money because this is not cheap. The DNA work alone is so expensive to do it right,” McClary told KOIN 6 News. “This case started with a woman in her 50s wrapped in a tarp in the woods and I said she didn’t wrap herself in that tarp. So who killed her?”
In 2019, with resources from the TV network, McClary, her team plus Williams and his team were able to identify the remains of Kathy Clifton after 23 years.
“It’s one of those cases I thought we would never solve because where do you go when you can’t find out who this person is,” Williams said.
McClary said the effort “was like this huge crusade to figure out everything about Kathy.”
Investigators with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office said Kathy Clifton’s remains were found wrapped up in a tarp and bound with rope in the hills overlooking the Mill Creek area in rural Polk County. Kathy Clifton, who had lived in the Salem area for most of her marriage with Brian, was last heard from in March 1996 when she reported a hit-and-run crash to Salem police.
Authorities said there were no missing person reports made about her in 1996, nor was there a record of divorce between her and her husband. Detectives learned Brian Clifton married another woman about a month after Kathy’s remains were found and moved out of Oregon.
Williams said they found Clifton living in Oklahoma and questioned him several times before getting a search warrant for his DNA.
“He basically told us if that DNA shows it’s me then I’m guilty and I’ll tell you then what happened,” Williams said. “Well then we came in in August and said, ‘There you go, buddy, read it.’ And he read it, every page, and within 20 minutes he started telling us he killed her.”
Williams said Clifton didn’t kill Kathy where the body was found. He placed her there. “It was a violent homicide. We’re not releasing the actual instrument” of how she died, he said.
Bird hunters later found the skull and detectives later found the body.
Authorities say Brian Clifton admitted to his involvement in her murder last month after a grand jury handed down an indictment for the murder of Kathy Clifton.
Clifton was extradited to Oregon last month and was arraigned for murder on Tuesday.