March 8, 1998 in City

Mystery Woman Thinks She Came From Portland Doctors Determined She Has Disassociative Amnesia

Associated Press
 

A mystery woman who wandered into a Northern California hospital in January thinks she comes from Portland, but attempts to identify her have stalled.

The woman is classified as “unidentified living.”

She showed up in a Redding, Calif., hospital emergency room at 11:35 p.m. on Jan. 20, and told hospital workers and police she thinks she comes from Portland and has an aunt named Catherine.

She carried a purse and a small bag, which contained an empty wallet, a hairdryer and a change of clothes, police said.

Doctors have hypnotized her, and hospital staffers have shown her maps of Oregon hoping something will jog her memory.

She believes her married name is Janet Roberts and her maiden name is Janet White. She didn’t hesitate when asked her birth date: Aug. 14, 1957. She hasn’t wavered on those details.

But checks of birth and motor vehicle records in Oregon have come up empty. The woman’s fingerprints are not on file, and police have run a comparison check in the national database of missing persons with no close matches.

The 40-year-old woman remembers certain characteristics of Portland and Oregon: correctly pronouncing the Willamette River (wi-LA-met); identifying the name of Portland’s transit system, Tri-Met; and talking generally about “a big book store” in Portland (that would be Powell’s Books).

Doctors determined the woman is suffering from disassociative amnesia, and probably lost her memory during a traumatic event.

The condition is rare, they say.

“What generally happens is there’s a trauma that’s overwhelming to a person. As a defense, they subconsciously tend to forget what happened. Often, they forget things prior to the trauma,” said Dr. Steven Shotz, a clinical psychologist treating the woman at the Shasta Psychiatric Hospital in Redding.

The woman has been placed under hypnosis and interviewed under the influence of Valium, two methods commonly used to try to restore memory, Shotz said. “Janet was able to recall being on a plane and witnessing a fire on the wing, which forced an immediate landing of the plane. That’s our best guess of what provoked this,” Shotz said. “She’s a very charming, sweet woman. She tells a very believable, very logical story. Of course, in any case like this, you have to corroborate everything.”

Authorities are considering using dental X-rays to try to identify her.

© Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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