1986 San Diego Campsite Jane Doe Identified After 3 Decades

Though identified, her cold case remains unsolved

Megan Ashley

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On February 16th, 1986, hikers along the Pacific Crest Trail made a grizzly discovery at the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation. The partially decomposed body of a woman lay at the edge of the campsite. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Office was immediately dispatched to the scene and began their investigation. Moments later, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office received a call that would change everything.

Fourteen miles from where the partially decomposing remains of the woman, a man was found in a similar condition. Both victims were wearing thick jackets and layers of clothing. The similarities were too apparent to ignore, and investigators knew they had to identify both bodies before their killers could be captured. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Office has withheld a lot of information in both of these cases. The manner of death of the man found fourteen miles away has never been released to preserve the investigation’s integrity.

Investigators struggled to make any headway in either case; there was very little evidence, and the evidence the SDCSO did have was being withheld. Her murder floated through the media for weeks before interest fizzled out. For decades, her case would go untouched, but the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office knew there was a family out there looking for their loved one.

In 2023, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office turned to genetic genealogy. A sample of the woman’s hair was submitted for analysis on websites such as 23andMe and GEDMatch. According to CBS, “Using this [DNA analysis] as well as census records and other public information, detectives were able to build family trees and track down relatives.” Investigators had now penetrated the family tree, and all they had to do was find the missing link.

Shortly after her DNA was submitted, the woman found partially decomposed at the edge of Lake Erie was identified as Claudette Jean Zebolsky Powers. The mother of two would have been twenty-four years old when she was brutally murdered.

Detectives pieced together what they knew of her life before she disappeared. In the early 1980s, Claudette left her Michigan home and moved to Washington with her husband. In 1983, Claudette filed for divorce and found a property in San Diego County for herself and her daughters. However 1984, tragedy struck the Powers…

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