PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — “How, why, who? A 17-year-old girl murdered? Why, why would somebody do that?”
Leslie Brophy has so many questions, made almost impossible to answer because so much time has gone by since her cousin disappeared. Still, she is hoping someone will be moved to phone in a critical tip, by sharing her memories of Sandy Morden, now that she’s been finally identified after 40 years.
The remains, held by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office since 1980, were known as the “Fly Creek Jane Doe.” But genetic genealogy helped Detective Lindsay Schultz learn the woman’s name — Sandra “Sandy” Renee Morden — earlier this year.
Sandy, born in 1962, was the daughter of Andrew “Andy” Bain Morden and Kathryn Irene Morden, who divorced in the early 1970s. Sandy lived with her father, moving around Clark County and Portland. She went to Binnesmead Middle School (now called Harrison Park) from 1974 to 1975 and Gaiser Middle School from 1975 to 1976, then Wilson High School in Portland in 1976 and 1977.
Leslie Brophy only has a handful of pictures of her younger cousin Sandy and her uncle Andy, mostly from Thanksgiving 1974.
One of those photographs gives perhaps the best idea of what Sandy looked like before she disappeared sometime after May 1977.
Leslie also has a picture showing the trailer Sandy and her father lived in near Amboy, Washington. She said she remembers Andy being gone for two weeks at a time to work on tug boats. Sandy would be left alone, except for her dog — a St. Bernard mix named Barfy.
One day, Andy came home to find Sandy missing. Leslie said Barfy was still inside the RV and had destroyed it, perhaps in his desperation to escape.
Leslie said her uncle hired a private investigator but Sandy had vanished. The family assumed Sandy left to live with her mother who Leslie described as “not mom material at all.”
“Sandy’s mom abandoned her and apparently a previous family. Lindsay discovered before she married my Uncle Andy she had a relationship with someone down in San Francisco and had three children, and left them to go become a movie star in Hollywood,” Brophy said.
On February 24, 1980, three years after Sandy had disappeared, two men found a body near the bridge at Fly Creek while they were panning for gold. The area is very remote — about 20 miles south of Mount St. Helens.
Detectives said the pair found the remains in the turnout along the road and the person had been dead a long time.
In an article published by The Columbian shortly after the body was found, detectives talked about her extensive dental work in the hopes it would ring a bell with someone. All investigators knew was the victim was in her mid-to-late teens and she was murdered.
Detectives tried releasing composite sketches over the years but no one linked the case of the girl found near Fly Creek to Sandy Morden.
Leslie said the remains were “more skeletal with long brown hair” when they were found and detectives thought the body belonged to someone of Hispanic or Indian descent instead of someone of Northern European heritage.
A breakthrough came when Detective Schultz worked with Parabon Nanolabs to come up with a composite using DNA from a tooth.
Parabon compared her DNA profile to other people in public databases to find likely family members. Leslie had her DNA profile tested and shared publicly two years ago.
About three months ago, she got a call out of the blue from Detective Schultz.
“Within seconds she said, ‘You’re calling about my cousin Sandy?'” said Schultz.
The Fly Creek Jane Doe remains were finally identified. But the circumstances of Sandy’s death remain a mystery.
Leslie said she has considered the possibility a serial killer took her cousin’s life.
Detectives also looked at suspected serial killer Warren Forrest, because he would leave his victims in remote parts of Clark County. They ruled him out because he was already behind bars when Sandy went missing.
Leslie is one of the few people left who remember Sandy. Her mother, Kathryn Irene Morden, died in San Francisco in 1988 and her dad died in Ilwaco, Washington in 1999 after retiring there.
The young woman’s parents died 20 years ago without knowing Sandy had been found.
“We don’t have a clue, we really don’t have a clue,” Leslie said. “It would be wonderful if somebody knew something.”
Detectives want to hear from any friends, neighbors, coworkers or anyone who knew the Morden family, especially in the 1970s. If you know anything, contact Det. Schultz at email@example.com or call 360.397.2036. Tips can also be reported to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office at 360.397.2211.