Mystery surrounds drowning death of wife of prominent Idaho lawmaker

Jul 8 2011 - 9:37am

McCALL, Idaho -- Police are awaiting the results of a toxicology test as they continue to investigate the drowning death of Mary Jo Roberts.

Roberts, the wife of Idaho House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts of Donnelly, went missing last Friday. Her body was recovered the next day from the North Fork of the Payette River, about six miles south of McCall.

Police Chief Jerry Summers said his department received a call Friday afternoon about an abandoned vehicle parked near the river. There were some personal items lying beside the car, including a blanket and shoes.

"After running the plates we knew who it was registered to, but not who was driving," he said. "I called Ken and he said it should have been Mary Jo."

Roberts told him it wasn't unusual for his wife to go for walks along the river.

"The area around the car had some high brush and downed limbs," Summers said. "We followed the path -- really they were more game trails -- to see if someone had walked along them, but felt it was unlikely. So we searched the river. We saw an unshoed footprint in the dirt heading towards the river. A search dog hit on the footprint and went from there to the water's edge."

The bank in that area "isn't terribly steep," but the river was running high and fast, he said. There were no signs of foul play.

Searchers looked for Roberts the rest of that day and the following morning. Her body was discovered in a logjam downstream.

The 49-year-old woman was born in Cascade and raised in Donnelly. Friends from childhood, she and her husband married on June 30, 1985. They have three college-age daughters, Johanna, Kendra and Christine, and two grandchildren.

Family friend Brett Morris told the McCall Star-News that Roberts was "one of those people who walk into the room and brighten the place up. She loved to see new things and appreciated new sights." She was an active member of the Donnelly Bible Church, where she taught Sunday school.

Summers said it could take three or four weeks before test results are available.

"As with any circumstances like this, the rumors are flying and we're tracking them all down," he said. "The most telling thing for us will be the toxicology report. There's no indication of alcohol, but she was on a prescription medication, which we weren't able to find."

Services for Roberts will be conducted at 2 p.m. Saturday at Donnelly Bible Church.

To see more of the Lewiston Tribune, go to

(c) 2011, Lewiston Tribune, Idaho

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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