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Woman vanished in 1984. Hair strand just helped identify her body, California cops say

The last time Claudette Jean Zebolsky Powers spoke with her family was when her father died in September 1984.

Powers then vanished, and for the next near four decades, her family wondered what happened to her, according to a May 23 news release from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

Now, remains found in 1986 have been identified as Powers, the sheriff’s department said.

It’s really hard … It’s really hard on her kids too,” Laura Freese, Powers’ youngest sister, said in a video statement from the sheriff’s department. “I wish what happened to her didn’t happen, but God needed her more than we did.”

Who Killed Claudette Powers? - San Diego County Sheriff's Department from San Diego County Sheriff on Vimeo.

Remains were found 37 years ago near the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation in Warner Springs campsites, the sheriff’s department said.

Over the decades, the sheriff’s department said it turned to the public for help, but the remains were never identified. Photo from San Diego County Sheriff's Department
Over the decades, the sheriff’s department said it turned to the public for help, but the remains were never identified. Photo from San Diego County Sheriff's Department

Despite detectives working the case over the decades, reviewing missing person reports and asking for the public to help identify the victims, the remains were never identified, the sheriff’s department said.

Then, in February 2022, the sheriff’s department said it turned to investigative genetic genealogy.

Genetic genealogy uses DNA testing coupled with “traditional genealogical methods” to create “family history profiles,” according to the Library of Congress. With genealogical DNA testing, researchers can determine if and how people are biologically related.

Powers, born in Coldwater, Michigan, moved to San Diego County from Washington state in 1983, deputies said. Photo from San Diego County Sheriff’s Department
Powers, born in Coldwater, Michigan, moved to San Diego County from Washington state in 1983, deputies said. Photo from San Diego County Sheriff’s Department

By using a DNA profile created from hair taken from the remains, as well as additional investigative research, the sheriff’s office said detectives identified a potential relative.

This eventually led them to Powers’ daughters, sister and mother, deputies said.

A DNA sample helped confirm the remains belonged to Powers, according to the sheriff’s office.

Though Powers’ remains have been identified, the sheriff’s office said it is still looking for answers about her death.

“Somebody knows what happened. A neighbor, anybody that knew her knows what happened,” Freese said in the release. “If you are still alive and you knew my sister and you knew what happened to her, please come forward. Please, we need closure.”

Claudette Jean Zebolsky Powers last spoke with family when her father died in 1984, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department said. San Diego Sheriff’s Department
Claudette Jean Zebolsky Powers last spoke with family when her father died in 1984, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department said. San Diego Sheriff’s Department

Powers was born in Coldwater, Michigan, and moved to San Diego County from Washington in 1983 after separating from her husband a couple years prior, deputies said.

“Claudette likely lived in the San Diego or Escondido area until her murder on or near February 1986,” the sheriff’s department said.

Powers may have been employed at a local restaurant, deputies said.

Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff’s department at 888-580-8477.

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