Tippy Dhaliwal and Jeannette Marine vividly remember the May 1992 day they arrived home from a visit with their grandparents to find their mother wasn’t there as they expected she would be.
“We weren’t even been fully in the house when Tippy, she grabs my hand and she says, ‘Something’s not right,’” Marine, who was 10 at the time, said on a recent CBS 48 Hours segment.
The sisters, both adults now, are still grieving the loss of their mother, Phonthip Boonack Ott — known as “Phon” — who they would never see again. Her body was found by a fisherman in the Sacramento River about a week after she disappeared, and their stepfather, Dennis Ott, was sentenced to 25 years to life after being convicted of her murder.
Now Ott, who has maintained his innocence for the last 25 years, will be up for parole again later this year — and Phon’s daughters say they will do everything in their power to prevent the man they are convinced murdered their mother from walking free.
Ott, who was a member of the Coast Guard when his wife disappeared, was convicted by a jury in 1992 in the absence of little direct physical evidence — like DNA or a murder weapon– but an abundance of incriminating circumstantial evidence linking him to the crime: Ott’s body was dumped in the water in a nylon duffel bag believed to be available only to members of the Coast Guard — though the area of the bag that would have contained a distinctive marking was cut out. Ott had evaded police questioning and had displayed marks on his neck that Phon’s stepfather told 48 Hours he thought came from rope burn as Ott dragged Phon to the river. It was Phon’s stepfather, and not her husband, who filed a missing persons report.
Further, the marriage was in shambles: Phon’s daughters had witnessed angry, occasionally physical, altercations, and Phon had reportedly asked for a restraining order and filed for a divorce just days before she disappeared. Ott told 48 Hours he believes the younger sister’s testimony that she had witnessed him put his hands around her mother’s neck that did him in. He stopped short of accusing her of lying about it, but suggested her memory was at best confused, and denied the incident.
“I had nothing to do with her disappearance and death,” Ott told 48 Hours.
Ott claims he has been a model prisoner and insists he is in no way a danger to society. His most recent parole request, in September 2015, was denied; and his next hearing has reportedly been moved up to October 17.
Phonthip’s daughters say they will continue to fight it.” Our mother doesn’t get a second chance,” Tippy told CBS. “Why should he?”
And now, the sisters have another battle to fight. Tippy was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer in 2015, and this summer doctors told her it had spread to her pelvis area.
“She has to get through it. I can’t be without her. She’s all I have left,” Jeanette told 48 Hours. “And she’ll beat it like she always does.”
Photo: YouTube/48 Hours Screenshot