SAN DIEGO — A 37-year-old cold case has been reopened after DNA testing and investigative genetic genealogy identified one of two victims found in the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation in Warner Springs in 1986.
The body of Claudette Jean Zebolsky Powers was found by hikers near a campsite. A man roughly the same age — between 25 and 30 — was found in the same general area a couple of months later. Their identities were never discovered, and the case went cold.
“This was a campground that’s kind of out there,” San Diego County Sheriff’s Homicide Detective Lisa Brannan, who works on cold cases, told FOX 5 on Wednesday. “There were no cameras, there was nobody around, so all they can do is take back the body, have an autopsy and try to figure that out. Nobody ever reported her missing.”
Powers was one of five sisters. She was estranged from her husband and left two daughters behind. According to her family, they last communicated in 1984, and no one heard from her since. The family believed she was living in Escondido and working as a waitress.
“It was really hard,” her sister, Laura Freese, told FOX 5. “It’s really hard on her kids, too.”
They had no idea she was dead, and in San Diego County, the evidence lay dormant until new investigative technology gave the case new life. Using one single hair, investigators were able to build a DNA profile to try and find a genealogical match.
“If you belong to Ancestry or 23andMe or any ancestry website, you’re able to take your DNA profile and put it into GEDmatch. So when we could put her profile into GEDmatch, we’re able to see who she’s related to,” Brannan said.
“I’m just glad that we have found her and we can put her to rest,” Freese said. “My mom can pass on now when it comes time knowing that her oldest child has been found.”
Anyone with information is asked to 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.