An autopsy has found no evidence that a mentally ill Medford woman who disappeared on a hot August afternoon in 2005 died at the hands of another, police say.
"There was no evidence of foul play," said Jackson County sheriff's Detective Eric Fox.
Rachel Rice, a 46-year-old diagnosed schizophrenic, was last seen walking barefoot on Old Stage Road on Aug. 2, 2005. Rice was a lifelong Rogue Valley resident, a former honor student, and the mother of two who struggled with a 20-year battle with mental illness, said her daughter, Lindsey Rice-Meilicke.
Rice had a history of running away from foster homes, and even her family, because her disease sometimes caused her to believe she was in danger, she said.
On Jan. 5, a miner reported finding what he thought were human remains in a remote area that could be hiked into only from the 3000 block of Old Military Road. Authorities surveyed the scene and collected the remains the next day. A deputy medical examiner was able to confirm Rice's identity through dental records.
Because of her propensity for running away and reluctance to take her medications, Rice was denied a place in the local foster care system. She had been attempting to live on her own for the first time in almost 10 years, Rice-Meilicke said.
With no direct care available, Rice had to manage her own medication. Keeping track of more than a dozen prescriptions in four or five daily doses was a feat that was beyond her mother's capabilities, she added.
A day before disappearing into the woods, Rachel Rice had her four front teeth pulled by a Medford dentist. She had spent the night trying to remove them herself with a hammer because she was hearing voices in her apartment and thought the crowns in her teeth might have tracking devices, Rice-Meilicke said.
On the day she disappeared, still biting on a towel, Rice made her way to a friend's home off Old Military Road. The friend gave Rice shoes, a straw hat, a clean shirt, a bottle of water and some chocolate.
But Rice refused a ride to her father's home several miles away on Snowy Butte Lane and continued walking. Minutes later, the friend drove the route Rice should have taken, but Rice had disappeared into the landscape.
Fox has been the detective on the case since Rice went missing. Rice's remains were above ground and "not in an area where someone could have driven to," he said.
Based on the information detectives had on Rice's mental health, the evidence at the scene, and the autopsy report, "we can conclude she got where she was (found) on her own," Fox said.
Rice-Meilicke, who was 25 when her mother went missing, said she knew the remains were her mother's as soon as the media began reporting the find. Rice had disappeared on a blistering hot summer's day. Likely dehydrated, overheated and in pain, she probably had died of exposure, Rice-Meilicke said.
This week's call only confirmed her suspicions, she said.
"(Fox) told me that they found no evidence of any foul play and have ruled cause of death as being uncertain. Which means they will never know any further details," she said, adding her mother's remains have been released to a local funeral home.
Rice-Meilicke is planning a celebration of life for her mom and said she will continue to advocate on behalf Jackson County's mentally ill population.
"It's what my mom would have wanted," she said.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.