ID PATRICIA LEE OTTO: Missing from Lewiston, ID - 2 Sep 1976 - Age 24

394DFID - Patricia Lee Otto


Left: Otto circa 1976; Right: Age-Progression by Wesley Neville

Name: Patricia Lee Otto
Case Classification: Endangered Missing
Missing Since: September 2, 1976
Location Last Seen: Lewiston, Nez Perce County, Idaho

Physical Description

Date of Birth: August 4, 1952
Age: 24 yrs old
Race: White
Gender: Female
Height: 5'3"
Weight: 140 lbs
Hair Color: Blonde
Eye Color: Hazel
Nickname/Alias: Patty
Distinguishing Marks/Features: Scar on back


Dentals: Available
Fingerprints: Not Available
DNA: Available

Clothing & Personal Items

Clothing: Unknown
Jewelry: Unknown
Additional Personal Items: Unknown

Circumstances of Disappearance

Otto was last seen in Idaho on September 2, 1976. She was reported missing on October 8, 1976. She disappeared after having a fight with her husband who was long suspected of having a hand in her death. He died several years later without being cleared of suspicion or charged with her death.

Investigating Agency(s)

Agency Name: Lewiston Police Department
Agency Contact Person: Chief Christopher Ankeny
Agency Phone Number: 208-746-0171
Agency E-Mail:
Agency Case Number: C91654

NCIC Case Number: M007993243
NamUs Case Number: 2064

Information Source(s)

Idaho Missing Persons Clearinghouse
Lewiston Morning Tribune

MEDIA - PATRICIA LEE OTTO: Missing from Lewiston, ID - 2 Sep 1976 - Age 24
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She left behind her rings​

May 19, 2014

It was a warm summer night, Aug. 31, 1976, when Patty Otto disappeared.

No trace has been found since, except for her wedding rings, which were discovered in a pocket of her husband's suit and eventually turned over to his attorney.
They also have since disappeared.

Of all the missing persons cases in the 1970s and '80s, this may be the one that haunts Lewiston's law enforcement community the least because most are convinced her husband killed her.

Ralph Otto, 18 years older than his 24-year-old wife, was the primary suspect, recently retired Lewiston Police Capt. Tom Greene said. "There was no indication anybody else was involved."

Otto was never charged with her death. He died of natural causes while being held in the Clearwater County Jail on an unrelated charge a few years later. But belief in his guilt intensified when he attempted less than a year after Patty's death to hire someone to kill a Lewiston police officer, Duane Ailor, who was pushing hard to find evidence against him.

His conviction on that charge was overturned in 1981 because Idaho didn't have a law on the books saying hiring someone to pull the trigger was the equivalent of attempted murder. That has since changed, but at the time, it meant Otto was a free man until shortly before his death.

"After Ralph died, it's just kind of gone away," Greene said of the case.

That wasn't true for Patty's family, especially her two daughters who were 5 and 3 when their mother disappeared.

And it's not true for one officer, Tom Saleen. Saleen was maybe the first policeman to arrive at the Otto home off of 29th Street at Lewiston's eastern edge to investigate a missing person report filed by Patty's sister. The neighborhood was sparsely populated then. The house stood by itself. Saleen remembers a wet tarp on the ground where it had just been sprayed off. A shovel leaned against a wall. It wasn't enough to get a search warrant, and Saleen doubts that there would have been much to find.

Ralph was intelligent, everyone seems to agree.

His sister, who raised the two little girls, remained almost certain he was innocent, as did the older of the children, Natalie. Suzanne, as an adult going through her own marital problems, said in a past interview that she grew less sure with the years.

According to various accounts, Ralph believed Patty was cheating on him. The night she disappeared, she arrived home late from visiting her parents. She and Ralph argued and he told family and police she stormed out of the house, taking nothing, leaving her daughters in their beds.

The next day he took the girls to one of Patty's sisters, saying he was going to look for her. It was the sister, Alice Mills of Lewiston, who called police.

The family has said good things and bad about the investigation that followed. It was treated for too long as a missing persons case, they believe.

As it progressed, there wasn't enough evidence to get warrants to search the house and other land that Ralph had access to, Saleen said. Only when someone told police years later about a "secret room" in the house were they able to get a warrant. Behind paneling in the basement they found a small area, a few feet square, containing two jet pumps that had been reported stolen from Valley Boat and Motor, but nothing else.

Patty's oldest sibling, Vickie Schaffer of Coeur d'Alene, believes she may know where Patty finally came to rest - someplace near Winchester. She and her husband would drive that way going to Elk City, she said, and she always had bad feelings in a certain place. "So we quit going that way."

The family consulted with psychics, each of whom told them in separate meetings that Patty was dead and they could see water and wet wood. It fit with the Winchester Lake area, Schaffer said.

Part of the problem, Saleen said, was he couldn't find enough gaps in Ralph's alibis for him to have gone far from Lewiston, perhaps not even to the land he had access to near Weippe or Goat Island on the Clearwater River.

Cops say every officer has a case that defines his or her career. This was Saleen's.

A few years ago, he sat with a reporter on the street looking at what had been the Otto home and recited from memory the more than three-decades-old case number, names, dates, facts, suspicions.

He was given Patty's driver's license a couple days after she disappeared, he said, and for eight years, until the day he retired, it set face up in his desk drawer "so that I'd see it every time I opened the drawer, so I'd think about how to solve it."

Even after he left the department, he would call occasionally with suggestions for follow-up.

He wanted to solve the case and find Patty for her parents, Tom and Ardys (Toots) O'Malley and for the two little girls, one of whom died in 2006 with her husband, son and her son's friend when carbon monoxide flooded the boat in which they were sleeping.

The case remains alive to Saleen, and if there was ever to be a break, he would be among the first called, Lewiston Capt. Roger Lanier said.
It's a small, close-knit department in many ways, and people who have left are living archives with the kind of knowledge that is all but impossible to type into reports.

Soon, said Lanier of the group of unsolved and missing persons cases 30 to 40 years old, "there will be no employees here from when these cases started, but there will be employees who have done extensive review. They are familiar with the cases."

On all the missing persons cases, including Patty Otto, the department will get occasional notifications from the National Crime Information Center when remains are found.

They always follow up, hoping someday to find something that will provide closure for family, and also to the officers who have pursued every clue, no matter how old.

Walla Walla woman believes Finley Creek Jane Doe is her mom​

Suzanne Timms was looking at a Facebook page that lists missing persons when she thought she saw someone familiar — herself.

“I said, ‘Why am I there? I’m not a missing person,’” the Walla Walla, Washington, woman said.

A moment later Timms became convinced that the picture, which she first saw in July, was not of herself but of her mother, Patty Otto, who has been missing since Sept. 1, 1976. What Timms saw was not a photograph but an image created in May by a forensic artist in Massachusetts, Anthony Redgrave, the operator of Redgrave Research Forensic Services. Redgrave was assisting a local group trying to identify a woman found in a shallow grave 10 miles northwest of Elgin in August 1978.

“I am certain she is my mother,” she said.

Timms is sure of Finley Creek Jane Doe’s identity not only because of the forensic image but also the red pants and white blouse a medical examiner’s report photo shows she was wearing.

“That was exactly what my mom had on the last time I saw her,” Timms said.

A Sept. 8, 1976, story in the Lewiston-Morning Tribune also said that Otto was wearing red pants and a white blouse before she disappeared from Lewiston.

Other similarities include the light brown or blond hair the article described, the same color Timms’ mom had. Size is another common characteristic. Finley Creek Jane Doe’s estimated height was 5 feet, 2 inches to 5 feet, 4 inches, the same height as Timms’ mother.

Timms now wants to get DNA to verify that Finley Creek Jane Doe is her mother, which might prove challenging — Timms said Finley Creek Jane Doe was cremated in 1990 because her case had been closed by the state.

Still, Timms is not giving up hope. She knows precisely where Finley Creek Jane Doe was found because her father-in-law, then a child, was with the two hunters, including his father, when they found her in 1978. He has taken Timms to the precise site and they have searched the area for human bone fragments, but none have been found.

She hopes to return later with dogs trained to pick up the scent of human bones. Timms also hopes to be aided by someone trained in the science of scatter analysis who might be able to determine how the bones were spread out.

Another avenue that may be pursued involves attempting to get what are believed to be the ashes of Finley Creek Jane Doe.

It is not known for certain where the ashes of Finley Creek Jane Doe are because they were never returned to La Grande after being sent to Walla Walla to be cremated, Timms said. However, Timms believes her ashes may be those at a mortuary in Walla Walla in a box marked miscellaneous. She said that a Canadian company will be attempting to get DNA from the cremains in the box.

Walla Walla women found Facebook post of her missing mom, brining her one step closer to finding her body​

Patricia Lee Otto has been missing for more than four decades, last seen in Lewiston, Idaho on August 31, 1976. Her daughter, Suzanne Timms, has been investigating her mom's disappearance since her adulthood.

"Because my whole life, my dad and his side of the family told me that she left but she would not have left me." said Timms.

Q6 COLD CASE: ‘The Little Witness’​

It was August of 1976 when a 24-year-old mother of two seemingly vanished from her LC Valley home. Reports indicate Patricia "Patty" Otto was last seen wearing red slacks and a white top.

She left behind two young daughters.

“We were told she took off on her own,” her youngest daughter Suzanne Timms told KHQ.

Summer will mark 46 years since Patty’s many loved ones have last seen her. Lewiston police said Tuesday her case is classified as a missing person’s investigation. Suzanne is adamant it should be officially changed to a homicide.

Lewiston missing person cold case: Patty Otto Part 1
It's been four decades since Lewiston resident, Patty Otto, vanished from her home.

"I'm seeking answers because I was told that my mother left as a child," she said. "And I know now with this new information that she didn't leave me. I want the truth."

On August 31, 1976, Suzanne was three years old. Her sister Natalie was 5. Her mother, Patty, 24, and her father Ralph, 42, were upstairs fighting.

Suzanne said she went to check on her mother and crept up the stairs.

"And I look through the cracks and I saw my father assault my mother, and I saw her hit him back," she said. "And then I saw him pick her up and put his hands around her neck and carry her out of my sight."

She ran back downstairs and told her sister.

"I was scared and she (Natalie) was trying to reassure and comfort me," Suzanne recalled.

That was the last time she saw her mother.

"For years I was told that didn't happen, that was a bad dream," she said.

Suzanne remembers her father acting strange.

"A couple of months after she disappeared, my dad started having hallucinations," she said. "He called a friend saying that patty had come back out of her grave here at the house and she was coming after him."
Lewiston missing person cold case: Patty Otto Part 2
Suzanne Timms has a binder full of documents, and family photos she and her late sister, Natalie, collected over the years in search of answers on what happened the night their mother, Patty Otto, disappeared.

And while he was serving time for the charge of Attempted Murder for trying to hire a hitman to kill a Lewiston Police Captain who was in charge of Patty Otto's missing person case, a woman's body was found buried in the woods in Portland. Oregon on July 28, 1978.

The description of the body was similar to Patty Otto's.

Through her research. Suzanne also obtained several notes between the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office and the Lewiston Police Department.

On August 10, 1978, an all-points bulletin was issued by MCSO about the Jane Doe found in the woods.

On August 28, 1978, Lewiston Police prepared to send Patty Otto's dental records for comparison.

On August 29, 1978, a local newspaper in Northeast Oregon reported that the skeletal remains of an unidentified woman is found near Elgin, Oregon at Finley Creek. The actual discovery was made on August 27.

The Finley Creek Jane Doe was wearing red polyester pants. Suzanne's grandmother told police that Patty Otto was last seen wearing red polyester pants and a white blouse.

On August 30, 1978, LPD continued its efforts to help MCSO either identify or rule out missing women and sent Patty Otto's X-rays to Portland, Oregon.

On September 8, 1978, the detective working Patty Otto's case received a message that a "Dr. Brady of Portland" had called. The message read: "The X-rays do not match those of the body found out of La Grande".

But according to what Suzanne could find, Union County authorities in Northeast Oregon did not issue an all-points bulletin about the Finley Creek Jane Doe until September 13. She also has not found any record of LPD sending X-rays or dental records to Union County authorities.

The Jane Doe found buried in the woods in Portland, Oregon was eventually positively identified and she was not Patty Otto.

"If this was to be a perfect case, I would submit my DNA to that body's DNA that would perfect because there would be no doubt about it if there was a relation there," she said of the Finley Creek Jane Doe.

"However, we can't do that because the State of Oregon disposed of the body in 1990," she explained. "Not just the body, but the clothing that would be saturated with DNA. I don't have any of that."
Carl K once told me (long time back) that a lot of does found in southern California won't ever be identified because they were also disposed of. It's really sad that they didn't bury them. :(

Family of missing woman still seeking answers​

The daughter of a missing North Idaho woman wants answers.

Suzanne Timms, a 48-year-old Walla Walla nurse, has lost both of her parents, her sister and a son. The string of tragedies began in 1976, when her mother, Patricia Otto of Lewiston, suddenly vanished.

Timms would like the Lewiston Police Department to work with Oregon authorities to help identify a woman who was found in 1978 by hunters at Finley Creek in Union County. She believes the unidentified woman is her mother.

“Not only did the Jane Doe match my mother’s physical description, she was literally wearing the same red pants and white blouse my mom was wearing the night she disappeared,” Timms said.

Oregon police closed that case in 1990, but Timms wants it reopened. Unfortunately, the evidence was destroyed and the body was cremated, she said. However, the teeth from the autopsy photos are clearly similar to Patty’s driver’s license photo.

Timms has a Facebook page called “Patty’s Voice” that outlines her research and the complicated story behind her mother’s disappearance. She is hoping someone who visits the Facebook page, sees recent media reports or listens to podcasts such as the first season season from “The Reporter’s Notebook” will come forward with new information that helps solve the case.

“This is the year we’re going to have closure,” Timms said with confidence. “I’m done saying I have a missing mother.”

Karen Hendren
Updated: APR 25, 2023 / 04:25 PM CDT

(NewsNation) — For more than 40 years, Suzanne Timms believed her mother left the family for another man, but memories of the night she disappeared has left Timms searching for answers.

When Timms was just three years old, she witnessed a violent argument between her parents. She never saw her mother again, and her father said her mother left them.

But just two years ago, Timms found an image of a Jane Doe online that felt like looking in a mirror.

“She saw in a newspaper article, one of the names of the hunters who’d found her and she recognized the name as her husband’s grandpa. So she said, ‘I think my father-in-law was there when they found the body of the Finley Creek Jane Doe,'” said Mel Jederberg, with the Finley Creek Jane Doe task force. “Within the week, he went out to the site and said, ‘Yeah I went right to it. There’s more growth there but I remember it like it was yesterday.'”

Timms believes Finley Creek Jane Doe is her missing mother, but she has no body. Oregon state police closed the case in 1990, sending the remains of Finley Creek Jane Doe to be cremated. A few remains were never found, including her hands, an arm and a pelvic bone.

In the last two years, cadaver dogs have caught a scent near the grave site and Timms is hoping to find the resources to sift through the woods for that missing DNA.

“Nobody anywhere has been able to extract DNA from the cremains,” Jederberg said.

Timms fears she’s running out of time.

“We’re at the point where I’m just begging someone who has to have the information to solve this case because otherwise it leaves me with what? The hope that I think I’ve found her? I think I’m not the only one who needs closure. Her parents are gone, my sister’s gone, but I’m still here,” Timms said.

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