Who is Jane Doe?

The latest ‘Out From the Void’ essay on missing people looks at the connections between Patty Otto, who has been missing since 1976, and the remains of Finley Creek Jane Doe 

 Finley Creek Jane Doe

On Sunday, August 27, 1978, two hunters stumbled upon the skeletal remains of a woman — possibly a woman and a fetus — in brush near their campsite in Union County, a remote part of eastern Oregon near Elgin, a town north of La Grande, and approximately 140 miles from Lewiston, Idaho. 

According to an article published two days later in a La Grande newspaper, The Observer, “Oregon State Police investigators today were still carefully unearthing human remains from a shallow grave found by hunters Sunday morning near Finley Creek Road, about 10 miles northwest of Elgin.”

The article continues, “Two hunters from Milton-Freewater, Ron Swinger and Lee Parr, found the grave on a brushy, wooded hill about 200 yards from Finley Cow Camp, a roadside hunters’ campsite.”

This woman, now commonly referred to as Finley Creek Jane Doe, remains unidentified to this day. 

What we know about her — based on media reports, legal documents and reports from law enforcement agencies — varies, depending on the source, but most sources indicate she was between 15 and 25 years old at her time of death. She has been described as having sandy brown hair, being 5 feet1 inch to 5 feet 3 inches tall, and weighing around 115 to 125 pounds. 

Some reports say she “may have been pregnant” when she died. According to NamUs, the federally run National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, she was definitely pregnant and “likely in her 6th-8th month of pregnancy.”

NamUs indicates she probably died between 1970 and 1975; only a partial skeleton was found, with “one or both hands not recovered.” 

According to the Facebook page “Finley Creek Jane Doe – Elgin, OR” dedicated to discovering her identity, “A white halter or bra style top, red Catalina pants (size 15/16) which showed evidence of possible length alteration, ankle-high lace up shoes, remnants of clothing that consisted of red & white cloth, additional white clothes with small red hearts, zippers & pieces of nylon cord were found with the Doe’s remains.”

It is unknown how she died, but many sources refer to her as a homicide victim.

Authorities claim to have ruled out that Jane Doe could be the following women, all of whom are still missing:


Benita Gay Chamberlin, missing under mysterious circumstances from Eugene since 1978.

Teresa Lyn Fittin, missing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, since 1975 and presumed to have been murdered by her boyfriend.

Laura Lee Asynithe Flink, missing from Aberdeen, Washington, since 1969 and presumed to have been murdered in a custody dispute.


Melanie Dee Flynn, missing from Lexington, Kentucky, since 1977 and believed to have been killed by a corrupt police officer with whom she had developed an intimate relationship.

Rita Lorraine Jolly, missing since 1973 from West Linn, Oregon, and was widely believed to be a victim of serial killer Ted Bundy. However, an advocate for Jolly says the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office does not believe she was a Bundy victim. Bundy was asked specifically about her and denied involvement with her case.

Laurie Lynn Partridge, missing under mysterious circumstances from Spokane, Washington, since 1974 and presumed to be the victim of foul play.

Patricia Lee Otto, missing from Lewiston, Idaho, since 1976 and presumed to have been murdered by her estranged husband.

Astonishingly, the case of Finley Creek Jane Doe was closed in 1990. 

The case was not solved. It was just closed.

According to a July 9, 1990, “Information Report” from Oregon State Police regarding Jane Doe, where she is referred to merely as a female found in a “shallow grave”: 

“Evidence was seized and processed. It could not be determined how the victim died nor was the victim ever identified. 

The case was discussed with the Union County District Attorney. Because of the age of the case, he has authorized the destruction of the evidence. 

Case closed.”

It is perplexing that the authorities would choose not only to close the case of an unidentified and probably pregnant young woman — and presumed homicide victim — but also to destroy all evidence that might help identify her in the future. 

A woman named Suzanne Timms, a registered nurse in Washington who is the only surviving child of Patricia Lee Otto, believes the authorities dropped the ball in this case and that she knows the identity of Finley Creek Jane Doe.

“No one deserves to be discarded without a name, or death certificate!” Timms recently wrote to me regarding Jane Doe. “This potentially pregnant young woman deserves more from the state of Oregon.” 

Timms’ amateur detective work takes us down a torturous road of domestic violence, intrigue, small town dysfunction and law enforcement incompetency.


Patricia Lee Otto

Patricia Lee Otto (“Patty”), who has been missing from Lewiston, Idaho, since Sept. 2, 1976, was born on August 4, 1952. 

According to her daughter, Timms, “Mom and her siblings were all born and raised in Lewiston. She has two sisters and one brother, all still living and wanting closure. Her father was a Lewiston firefighter and her mother worked in a bank and at the wood mill accounting office. She lived just up the street from my father’s family home that eventually my father purchased when his father died very young, age 40.”

Timms continues, “Mom was babysitting for my father’s live-in girlfriend in 1968, when she was 16. By 1970, he moved his girlfriend out and married my mother.”

Patty and Ralph Otto wedding day. Faith Tabernacle Church, Lewiston Idaho 1970.

Timms’ older sister Natalie (who died in an accident in 2006) was born in 1971, and Suzanne Timms was born in 1973.

According to Timms, the girls spent most of their childhood in the custody of other family members, due to their mother being missing and their father’s severe alcoholism, repeated stints of incarceration and early death.

Timms recalls having memories as a child — memories of her father, Ralph Otto, strangling her mother and dragging her out of the house on the night she disappeared; memories she was told were just a bad dream.

Ralph Otto told authorities that on the night Patty Otto went missing, he got into an argument with her at their home; she left angrily and never returned. 

Patty Otto left behind not only her children, but also her car and practically all of her belongings. 

According to The Charley Project, a database of cold case missing persons files, “The Ottos’ marriage was difficult, and Patricia had left on her own before, taking the children with her. She filed for divorce in the spring of 1976, but later reconciled with her husband. They were fighting at the time of her disappearance because he believed she was unfaithful to him. After her disappearance, Ralph told their two young daughters that their mother had abandoned them.”

Naturally, in the aftermath of her disappearance, Ralph Otto — who was 18 years older than Patty and was known to be abusive towards her — was widely suspected by the authorities and the community to be responsible for Patty’s disappearance and presumed murder.

Less than a year after she vanished, Ralph Otto was convicted of hiring a contract killer to murder the lead investigator in Patty’s disappearance. However, the verdict was overturned on a technicality in 1981.

According to a 2014 article from The Lewiston-Tribune, Ralph Otto’s conviction was overturned “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.”

He died of a medical issue in Clearwater County Jail, where he was locked up on a theft charge, in Orofino, Idaho, on Sept. 8, 1983. He was 48 years old at the time.

Up until his death, Ralph Otto denied being responsible for Patty’s disappearance, and he denied killing her. However, according to Timms, he made statements incriminating himself after her disappearance, including statements indicating if he did harm her, he may not remember doing so, because of his heavy drinking and abuse of prescription drugs. 

Timms says, “Growing up no one talked about my mom at all! They didn’t have proof dad was responsible so they all just avoided the topic. My adopted family supported my dad’s story that she just abandoned us and my mom’s family had been forbidden to speak about her, or they would lose visitation. As adults, I can’t explain why Patty’s family didn’t pull me or Natalie aside and tell us about her.”

It was not until they reached adulthood that Suzanne and Natalie were able to learn more about who their mother was. 

Suzanne Timms continues, “I have learned who she really was through this investigation, and now I hear how dedicated, attentive and loving she was! She was proud of her home and loved decorating and gardening. She learned how to upholster and had just redone our living room couch! That’s impressive! She baked and had made plans to make her sister a birthday cake, when she stopped in, just hours before she disappeared.”

Suzanne Timms has no doubts that her father killed her mother. She believes he killed her, likely in a heavily intoxicated state, and that one or more friends helped him hide her body. 

For Suzanne, the real task is to find out where her mother’s body was hidden. And she believes she knows the answer.

Finley Creek Jane Doe drawing

Putting the pieces together

On June 8, 2021, Suzanne Timms was perusing the internet when she came across an image on Facebook that shook her to the core: It was a sketch of Finley Creek Jane Doe (created by forensic artist Anthony Redgrave), from the Finley Creek Jane Doe Facebook page, which she initially thought was a sketch of herself, given their shocking resemblance. Then she realized the sketch not only resembled her but also her mother, Patty Otto.

The similarities between Finley Creek Jane Doe and Patty Otto seemed too numerous to be a coincidence. Their age and physical descriptions — including the clothes that were found on Jane Doe and the clothes Patty was last seen wearing — were virtually identical. Finley Creek Jane Doe’s body was found approximately two years after Patty Otto went missing, in a location that was an approximately two hour drive from where Patty was last seen alive. 

Bizarrely, through her research, Timms learned that the hunters who found Finley Creek Jane Doe were the father and grandfather of her current husband, Gary Timms, who grew up believing that his father and grandfather had discovered the remains of a person who got lost and they assumed had been identified. 

Timms speculated that perhaps Jane Doe was ruled out as her mother in part because Jane Doe was pregnant and Patty Otto was not known to be pregnant when she disappeared. However, Timms — from personal experience — knew that it is possible for a woman to be far along in her pregnancy without showing. 

She also learned later — from a man named Randy, a friend of Patty’s from high school who was romantically involved with her when Patty and Ralph Otto were separated, not long before she disappeared — that Randy could have been the father, which may have further incensed Ralph Otto and motivated him to kill her. Ralph was aware of their relationship and is on record threatening both Patty and Randy with violence after learning about it.

Even if it was possible that Patty Otto was pregnant when she disappeared, there were other issues to address. For example, according to NamUs, Patty was somehow ruled out as being Finley Creek Jane Doe.

But how? According to Timms, through her own extensive research, she learned that authorities ruled out her mother as being Finley Creek Jane Doe based on dental records. Her mother, they claimed, did not have wisdom teeth and Jane Doe did. However, Suzanne was able to acquire her mother’s dental records, which show clearly that she had all four of her wisdom teeth.

How could the authorities have made such a huge mistake? Timms believes the Oregon authorities, who were handling the bodies of multiple unidentified females (“Jane Does”) across numerous jurisdictions around the same time, mistakenly compared the dental remains of another Jane Doe — not Finley Creek Jane Doe — to those of her mother, or that the dental records of another missing woman were compared to Finley Creek Jane Doe’s. 

According to a 2022, article from The Observer:

“Timms believes her mother was murdered in Lewiston by her father and then taken to Finley Creek where he buried her in a shallow grave.

“The OSP’s autopsy records for the Finley Creek Jane Doe, however, do not match those of Patty Otto.

“Timms believes the discrepancy is due to an error made by the OSP’s medical examiner while doing examinations of the skeletal remains of two Jane Does in his office at about the same time in 1978. She suspects he assigned his reports to the wrong remains, because his report for the second Jane Doe matches her mother’s autopsy photos and dental records.”

Timms says she believes Oregon authorities mishandled the Finley Creek case and, whether it was intentional or not, that by destroying her remains they shield themselves from accountability for their negligence (the act of destroying evidence — in what is, by their own admission, an unsolved homicide — is itself profoundly irresponsible). Finley Creek Jane Doe’s remains were cremated in 1990 when the case was closed and ended up in a mortuary in Walla Walla, Washington, and cannot be tested for DNA,

If Oregon authorities from a previous era mismatched bodies, mishandled evidence and came to false conclusions in the case of Finley Creek Jane Doe, what other cases might they have bungled?

While the authorities have never acknowledged any wrongdoing in the case, Timms believes the current OSP leadership wants to do the right thing.

In 2022, OSP conducted a search of the Finley Creek area hoping to locate more remains that might be used to positively identify Jane Doe (Timms says, “Her arm and pelvic bone are out there somewhere in that forest”). Unfortunately, their search was unsuccessful. 

Timms and supporters have also conducted searches themselves. “The team was at the grave site three times, twice with cadaver dogs in 2021,” she says. Sadly, they also failed to locate additional remains.

Because Finley Creek Jane Doe’s remains were destroyed, the only hope of conclusively determining if she is, in fact, Patricia Otto, may come from finding additional skeletal remains in Union County. 

Timms is hopeful that future search efforts — which cannot be conducted regularly due to weather, limited accessibility and limited resources — will be more fruitful.

Timms has made it her mission to prove Finley Creek Jane Doe is her mother. Naturally, she feels an obligation to her mother — who she blamed for many years for abandoning her and her sister before learning  about her disappearance and learning what really happened — and to her sister, Natalie, who died tragically without knowing what happened to their mother.

But for Timms, something more profound seems to be at work. Whether it is the strange coincidence that the grandfather and father of her future husband might have discovered her mother’s remains, or that Finley Creek Jane Doe’s cremated remains would somehow end up in Walla Walla, Washington, which, coincidentally, has been her home since 1999 (nine years after the remains she believes are her mother were transferred there), Timms feels as if she is being called upon. 

Timms says, “I think she wants me to find her.”

This article has only scratched the surface of the stories of Finley Creek Jane Doe and Patricia Lee Otto. For more information visit: Finley Creek Jane Doe – Elgin, OR and Patty’s Voice.


This story has been updated to indicate Rita Jolly was believed to be a victim of Ted Bundy.

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