This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
Patricia Otto loved being a mother to her two daughters, Suzanne and Natalie. “I don’t remember much about my mother, but I know how much she loved my sister and I,” said Suzanne. “She always made sure we were safe and being taken care of.”
Patricia, known as Patty, was reported missing from Lewiston, Idaho on September 2, 1976. Her body has never been recovered and there have been no arrests in her case. Patty was last seen on August 31, 1976, by her husband and two daughters. There are lots of questions about the night of Patty’s disappearance, Suzanne still believes what she saw that night wasn’t a bad dream. Patty and her husband had been having problems for a couple of years leading up to her disappearance and even had split up for a few months. On that August 31 night, Suzanne remembers seeing her parents in an argument. She was just 3 years old.
Suzanne’s father never reported Patty missing; her parents and sister did. Police questioned her husband, but with little to no evidence, he was never charged. He did spend four years in jail, but not for Patty’s disappearance. He had hired someone to kill the police chief and some other officers, and although the plot never materialized, he still served time for the crime. Recently, however, there has been some interest in a Jane Doe victim who could be Patty. Although the development is new, the Jane Doe body was discovered just two years after Patty’s disappearance.
Patty was born in Lewiston, Idaho on August 4, 1952. She was 18 when she married an older man who was 35 at the time of their marriage. They lived in a house on a hill with their two children, and Patty was always refurbishing the house. She loved to decorate and make the house look different. “She took our living room couch and completely re-did it,” said Suzanne. “It looked very modern, something ahead of its time. “
Along with decorating, Patty loved baking. She made all the cakes for her family members’ birthdays and holidays. But nothing meant more to her than her children. She never left them with someone she did not trust. “My mom would drop us off at her sister’s house if she had to run errands,” said Suzanne. “My dad had a drinking problem, and she didn’t trust him with us.”
Suzanne and her sister, Natalie, were raised by their grandparents on her father’s side. Their father died a few years after getting out of prison, and their grandparents adopted the sisters. Suzanne never gave up hope of finding out for certain what happened to her mother.
One night in June 2021 she was on Facebook and was startled to see a sketch of a Jane Doe that looked like herself – a petite woman, with blonde hair and hazel eyes. Confused and conflicted with what she had seen, she reached out to the administrators of the page and sought answers. According to Suzanne, “I ran into an article on Facebook about an unclaimed missing person and saw what looked to be myself,” said Suzanne. “I was startled because this picture looked just like me.” Suzanne did some research into the matter. “After digging, it turns out this body was found close to where my mother went missing just two years before” she said. This has given her hope that her mother’s disappearance could be solved.
The body had been found in a woodsy Oregon forest, about three hours away from where Patty had gone missing. The body was found wearing similar clothes Patty was last seen wearing – red pants and a white top. Two elk hunters and an 8-year-old boy stumbled upon the makeshift gravesite and called the police.
There still has not been an answer about why no one checked whether the body was Patty Otto, but Suzanne’s best guess is simple miscommunication. With the many police departments involved, and the body being over state lines, all it took was one mistake for the identification to be missed.
Oddly enough, the 8-year-old boy who was elk hunting with his grandfather and father is now Suzanne’s father-in-law. The 8-year-old went on to have his own family and had a son. The son and Suzanne got married not knowing her father-in-law could be the one who found her mother. After Suzanne did some research into who found the body, she immediately called her husband and discovered the unlikely coincidence.
After Patty went missing, Suzanne grew up without a mother, and then without a father. She struggled with the idea that her mom may have abandoned her, but always fell back on how much she loved her kids. Feeling resentment and sadness, she still always had hoped her mom would walk back into the house one day. But Suzanne agrees with the police – the evidence against her father is undeniably hard to ignore. Since her father has died, there will be no justice, but she holds out hope for closure.
“It was hard, because I knew my mom loved me and my sister so much, but without knowing what truly happened, I would get stuck in my head,” said Suzanne. “It got a lot easier as I grew up, but not having my mom will always hurt and bother me.”
Patty will be remembered for her beautiful face and loving personality. She got her hair done once a week, and always kept it blonde. She and her sister Alice were very close, and the last time they spoke, Patty was making her a birthday cake for her upcoming birthday. Patty’s last purchase was Avon makeup, because she loved looking fancy.
“She was beautiful on the inside and out. Her hair was gorgeous,” a high school friend wrote on Facebook.
If you have any information on the disappearance of Patricia “Patty” Otto, please contact the Lewiston Police Department at 208-746-0171.
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