Male body found at same campground remains unidentified, may be related
East County News Service
May 23, 2023 (Warner Springs) — A body found near campsites on the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation in Warner Springs on Feb. 16, 1986 has been identified through genetic genealogy as Claudette Jean Zebolsky Powers.
A second murder victim, a man, was found around the same time nearby. His body has not been identified. There is a possibility these two cases are connected, according to the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.
The Sheriff’s homicide unit used DNA testing and Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG) to identify the remains, calling this a “major breakthrough” in the case.
Friends and family have been wondering what happened to her for over three decades.
Powers was born on January 13, 1962 in Coldwater, Michigan. She lived with her husband in Washington State in the early 1980s until she left him and moved to San Diego County around 1983 or 1984. She likely lived in the San Diego or Escondido area until her murder on or near February 1986. She may have lived on or near Fig Street in Escondido and may have worked at a restaurant nearby. Her family last heard from her in Sept. 1984, when her father passed away.
With the mystery of her disappearance solved, Claudette’s family was finally able to mourn her death and lay her to rest. Now, they are hopeful someone will step up to help provide a tip that will lead to an answer and arrest.
Laura Freeze, younger sister of Powers, issued a video statement which says in part, ”It’s really hard. It’s really hard on her kids, too.” She is asking anyone who knew Claudette Powers in the 1980s to please contact the Sheriff’s department. “Somebody knows what happened…If you knew what happened to her, please come forward, please. We need closure.”
Over the years, detectives kept working the case. They reviewed missing person reports and sought the public’s assistance to help identify the victims, but the remains were not identified.
In February 2022, the Sheriff's Cold Case Team comprised of detectives, analysts and the Sheriff’s Regional Crime Lab turned to Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG) to find leads in the case. The Sheriff's Homicide Unit only utilizes investigative genetic genealogy when all other methods have been exhausted.
IGG has emerged as a highly effective tool in identifying unknown criminal suspects and the remains of either a victim or perpetrator. DNA left at the crime scene is uploaded to consumer genealogy websites to locate family members of victims or suspects.
The Sheriff’s Department uses publicly searchable genealogy websites that grant law enforcement access to their data. Only people who consent to participate with law enforcement are visible to detectives.
In this case, a DNA profile obtained from a sample of Claudette's hair was compared to available profiles on commercial websites. Extensive research was also done on census records, obituaries and other publicly accessible information to meticulously build family trees. Once family relationships emerged, detectives were able to track down an individual believed to be a relative of Claudette.
When speaking with relatives, detectives identify themselves, tell the person what they are investigating, explain the process and ask for their assistance. This process eventually led investigators to Claudette's daughters, sister and mother. A DNA sample confirmed the match and the remains were positively identified as Claudette Jean Zebolsky Powers.
Take another look at Claudette’s photos. Does she look familiar to you? Do you have old photos that resemble her?
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Unit and San Diego County Crime Stoppers are asking for information to help solve this case. Your anonymous tip may provide answers to questions Claudette’s family have been asking for more than three decades.
Call the Sheriff’s Homicide Unit at (858) 285-6330. You can remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477. You could be eligible for up to a $1,000 reward for information that leads to a felony arrest.
This is the seventh time the Sheriff's Homicide Unit has used investigative genetic genealogy to solve or identify remains in a cold case.
- Orbin Holloway
- Teresa Solecki
- Michelle Louise Wyatt
- Laurie Dianne Potter
- Diane Lynn Dahn
- Claire Holman