Skip to main content

Convicted Killer Now Charged with Murdering His Wife in 1996 Cold Case

Kathy Thomas in photo, and Brian Clifton

Kathy Thomas, and Brian Clifton

Last Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of a slain woman’s remains being found in rural Oregon. Now local deputies say they know exactly who is responsible for her death. The killer was her husband, who did not report the victim missing and soon remarried, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Brian Lee Clifton, 68, is being held on a count of murder for allegedly killing Kathy Thomas. The couple married in Oregon in 1984 and lived in the area of Salem for most of that time, deputies said. Some three years before their marriage, Clifton had finished serving a little less than a decade in prison for killing a female motel employee he had accused of robbing him. From a 1975 ruling, in which the Supreme Court of Oregon rejected his appeal:

[D]efendant then broke down and cried and confessed to the killing, saying that he went to rob the motel and killed an innocent person. A detailed confession was then “taped,” and also transcribed and signed.

He was convicted in 1973, sentenced to life in prison, but was released on parole in 1981.

The last time anyone heard from Thomas was when she reported a hit-and-run accident to local police in March 1996, deputies said.

“Her remains were found less than six months later in Polk County,” deputies said. They described the discovery spot as the hills overlooking the Mill Creek area.

But investigators did not know who she was. They credit retired Las Vegas police crime scene investigator Yolanda McClary¬†with helping them figure out Thomas’s identity years later. McClary profiled the unsolved case in the recent Oxygen show “The Jane Doe Murders.”

“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,” deputies wrote. “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, born in Oklahoma in 1953.”

Thomas had previously lost custody in Oklahoma of her children in her first two marriages, and she herself had been adopted in Oregon as a child. Her family did not know she died in 1996, authorities said.

As for Clifton, he ended up living in another state, and he allegedly confessed after a Polk County grand jury indicted him and authorities arrested him. He had never divorced Thomas, and he went on to remarry a month after investigators found the remains, authorities said.

He was arraigned Tuesday for a count of murder. Jail records show no attorney of record.

[Images via Polk County Sheriff’s Office]

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime: