SAN DIEGO — Intensive analysis of genetic evidence has enabled investigators to identify a woman's remains found in Warner Springs 37 years ago as those of a presumed homicide victim who had gone missing in the mid-1980s, authorities reported Tuesday.
Through DNA testing and investigative genetic genealogy, detectives with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department determined that the body discovered near a campsite on Los Coyotes Indian Reservation on Feb. 16, 1986, was that of Claudette Powers, who had disappeared in September 1984 at age 22.
"It took 37 years to identify who she was, to solve that mystery. Now we have to reconstruct her whole life. Where she lived, where she worked, and who she knew? Was she dating anybody? Who were her friends? That's where we're starting, a brand new mystery now, as opposed to the one we just solved," said Sgt. Tim Chantler.
The remains of another murder victim were found in the same general area around the same time, according to the regional law enforcement agency. The slain man remains unidentified, and investigators believe the two cases may be connected.
Authorities have withheld the cause or causes of the victims' deaths.
Powers, a Michigan native, moved to San Diego County in 1983 or 1984, according to sheriff's officials. She is believed to have lived in San Diego or Escondido, possibly residing on Fig Street in the latter city and working at a neighborhood restaurant just before her suspicious death.
Over the following decades, detectives kept working the case, regularly reviewing missing-person reports and seeking the public's help in identifying the two victims.
In February of last year, with the leads in the case remaining elusive, the sheriff's Cold Case Team turned to investigative genetic genealogy, in which crime-scene DNA profiles are uploaded to consumer genealogy websites in hopes of locating family members of victims or perpetrators.
In addition to comparing genetic markers obtained from a sample of Powers' hair to online DNA profiles, investigators conducted research via census records, obituaries, and other publicly accessible information, eventually tracking down a person believed to be a relative of the victim.
The process eventually led investigators to Powers' daughters, sister, and mother. A DNA sample confirmed the family match, allowing for the identification of Powers' remains.
Having been able at last to lay Powers to rest and get confirmation about the nature of her death, the victim's family hopes that someone with knowledge of what led to the murder will break their silence and help fill in some of the missing parts of the story -- including who may have killed her.
"It's been tough on our family," said Powers' youngest sister, Laura Freese. "Somebody knows what happened. A neighbor -- anybody that knew her knows what happened. If you ... knew my sister and (know) what happened to her, please come forward. Please, we need closure."
In light of the break in the investigation, the Sheriff's Department has put out a new call for help from the public in determining who killed Powers -- and, possibly, the unidentified male victim.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call San Diego County Crime Stoppers at 888-580-8477 or contact the agency online at sdcrimestoppers.org. Tipsters may remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.
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