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Family of missing woman still seeking answers

May 27, 2022 Updated Fri., May 27, 2022 at 10:43 p.m.

Patty Otto’s graduation photo is one of the few keepsakes her three siblings – from left, Vickie Schaffer, Tom O’Malley Jr. and Alice Mills – have since she disappeared 32 years ago.  (Steve Hanks/Lewiston Tribune)
Patty Otto’s graduation photo is one of the few keepsakes her three siblings – from left, Vickie Schaffer, Tom O’Malley Jr. and Alice Mills – have since she disappeared 32 years ago. (Steve Hanks/Lewiston Tribune)
By Kerri Sandaine Lewiston Tribune

The daughter of a missing Lewiston 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, suddenly vanished.

Timms was 3 years old at the time. After years of searching for the truth, she believes her father, Ralph Otto, was responsible for her mother’s death.

“I believe he was overcome with anxiety and guilt for murdering her, and increased his drinking to accommodate those emotions,” Timms said.

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.

Ralph Otto died in 1983 from cardiac arrest while in police custody in Clearwater County, according to Timms. Her older sister, Natalie, died from carbon monoxide poisoning on a boat in 2006. Four people lost their lives in the Dworshak Reservoir accident near Orofino.

“My sister was my source of comfort and strength. When she passed in 2006 over the Memorial Day weekend with her husband and son, I was more than devastated. I didn’t think life could hurt any more, but unfortunately, I learned it could.”

Timms’ 17-year-old son died by suicide in 2013 in Walla Walla. His death is something she will never get over, but she’s focusing on the loss of her mother, in hopes of finding peace.

“I want people to understand that’s why my mom’s case has stayed untouched for so long. I am trying to heal, but I can’t ignore this any longer,” Timms said. “Having closure will help heal a wound that has been open since I was only 3.”

Ralph Otto was never charged with his 24-year-old wife’s death. But belief in his guilt among law enforcement intensified when less than a year after Patty’s death he attempted 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.

His sister, who raised Timms and her sister, remained almost certain Ralph Otto was innocent. Timms began having doubts as she aged and remembers reporting a strangulation assault in her home.

“I grew up being told my mother walked away from my sister and I that night, even though I reported a physical altercation and knew my father was responsible,” Timms said. “I was only 3, and I believed the lies until I saw my own image in an unidentified person poster from Oregon. Now I know what I witnessed that night was my father in a rage, strangling my beautiful mother. I want Lewiston and my family to hear the truth. I am no longer a naive 3-year-old child who can be manipulated.”

Timms has a Facebook page called “Patty’s Voice” that outlines her research and the 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 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.”

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