Missing woman found in Sitka

Posted: Wednesday, July 16, 1997

July 16, 1997

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Wednesday, July 16, 1997Missing woman found in Sitka

Last modified at 2:54 p.m. on Wednesday, July 16, 1997



SEATTLE - For 12 years, no one knew where newspaper reporter Jody Roberts had gone. Not her co-workers, not her parents, not the police.

Some had given her up for dead.

So when Roberts turned up alive and well in Sitka Tuesday, her family and former colleagues were shocked and relieved.

``This is the best news. This is just wonderful,'' Marilyn Roberts said from Lake Oswego, Ore., still overwhelmed after an emotional phone conversation with her daughter.

``Everyone at The News Tribune feels a tremendous feeling of relief to know that Jody Roberts is alive,'' said Tom Osborne, senior editor at the Tacoma newspaper. ``For 12 years we've all wondered what happened to a wonderful colleague and a good reporter. We would love to know more, but we're happy today just to know that Jody's alive.''

Roberts reportedly is married to a commercial fisherman and has twin girls ages 3 and 5.

Her mother said Roberts has amnesia and doesn't recall anything before 1985.

``She didn't know she was a reporter. She didn't know when her birthday was,'' Roberts told KSTW-TV.

Monday was Jody Roberts' 39th birthday. She thought she was 35.

She also didn't know she had parents and siblings, and a two-hour phone conversation failed to jog her memory, Marilyn Roberts said, adding that the cause of the memory loss is still unknown.

Dr. Gary Tucker, head of the University of Washington Medical School's Department of Psychiatry, said Tuesday that a 12-year case of amnesia would be ``highly unusual.''

People who suffer memory loss might go through a few states and ``suddenly appear in a different place and slowly over a couple of days or weeks, start to integrate'' their memories, he said.

A University of Washington colleague of Tucker's, Dr. Vernon Neppe, said amnesia related to an organic condition, such as Alzheimer's disease, would be unlikely to last 12 years - and there would be other symptoms.

Amnesia related to a psychiatric problem, such as multiple personality disorder, also would involve other symptoms, he said. And it is unlikely such an individual would take such purposeful actions as clearing a bank account, or be able maintain a new life as a different person for 12 years, Neppe said.

Jody Roberts contends her earliest recollection is of being at a shopping mall in Colorado in 1985 - after she had left Tacoma.

``How did she get to Colorado? And why did she go to Colorado?'' Neppe said. ``There are aspects there that are difficult to fit in.''

But he noted, ``I think it's important that one doesn't reach conclusions based on tiny amounts of fact. A case such as this should be properly evaluated before one makes a comment.''

Roberts' family accepts her claim that she remembers nothing beyond 12 years ago.

``She's just overwhelmed with the fact that she's just found her family. She doesn't remember anybody. She doesn't know us. She doesn't realize who she was and what she did, and she's just in shock,'' said her sister, Anne Corning, of Beaverton, Ore.

In the years she had been missing, Roberts reportedly became a waitress and put herself through the University of Denver, where she studied Russian, among other things, Corning told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

She also apparently spent some time in hospitals, where authorities were unable to confirm her identity.

Doctors at hospitals in Denver told her ``whatever happened to you was like a near-death experience. It was so dangerous you blocked out everything,'' Corning said, recalling her sister's words.

She has lived in Alaska since 1989 and used the name Jane Dee before her marriage, according to The News Tribune.

She also has set up her own Internet web-page design company called Pongo Computer Works, Corning told the newspaper.

She told investigators she had not been aware anyone was looking for her, King County sheriff's spokeswoman Joanne Elledge said Tuesday.

On July 7, King County police got the tip from her former co-worker, who now lives in Washington state and saw her photograph in recent news stories about the old case, which was reopened in January as a homicide investigation.

``She recognized her and called us and said, `I worked with her in another state,'?'' Elledge said.

The tipster provided a photograph of her former co-worker, and ``it looked just like Jody,'' Elledge said.

Roberts' family was shown the photo and confirmed the identification.

Roberts, then 27, failed to appear for an assignment at Pacific Lutheran University on May 20, 1985, and vanished.

Some thought her tough reporting - including stories about corruption in government and investigations into the Green River serial killer - may have played a role.

A fired Pierce County sheriff's deputy alleged in December 1996 in court documents for an unrelated lawsuit that then-captain Mark French had threatened Roberts in March 1985 over a story about alleged cocaine usage by French.

French, who was confirmed as the county's new sheriff last week, said he didn't threaten Roberts, though he did ask her not to write about the allegations and if she did, to interview him before publication.

In January, the case was reopened as a homicide investigation by the sheriff's office after an intern noticed it was unsolved while going through old files.

The accusation against French resurfaced when he came under consideration for the sheriff's job. He asked King County police to handle the investigation earlier this month after learning his own deputies were looking into his possible connection with Roberts.

French said he's elated Roberts has been found. ``I always knew that I would be vindicated,'' he said.

French said he hopes Roberts' reappearance will repair any damage to the credibility of his department.

Copyright © 1996, 1997 Southeastern Newspaper Corp.

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