San Diego County detectives use DNA to identify 1986 Warner Springs murder victim

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Claudette Powers has been missing for 37 years. Now, detectives have identified her remains and are trying to find out who killed her.

“She was my big sister. I mean, I looked up to her,” said Laura Freese, Claudette’s sister.

Powers grew up on a farm in Michigan with four sisters. Freese is the youngest of them; she says they were all pretty close.

“I just remember all that times, like have cookouts, or hog roasts on holidays or play baseball or softball out on the front yards,” Freese said.

Around 1983, Claudette moved to San Diego on her own. She was 21 years old. A few years later, she went missing.

“It was really hard,” Freese said. “I would ask my mom all the time, ‘Have you tried to find Claudette anymore?’”

In 1986, a couple found a woman’s body near a campsite on Los Coyotes Indian Reservation in Warner Springs. Detectives ruled it a homicide and worked the case for years, but could never identify the victim.

“She had no ID, no one reported her missing,” said Lisa Brennan, a homicide detective with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department. “The case went cold.”

In 2023, the sheriff’s homicide unit was able to identify that woman as Claudette Powers, all thanks to one piece of hair.

“He went back through the case. He found a hair that hadn’t been tested,” Brennan said. “He sent the hair off. We were able to get a DNA profile that we loaded up into GEDmatch.”

GEDmatch is a genealogy website that locates distant relatives. Then, detectives researched census records and obituaries to create a family tree. They were able to contact Claudette’s daughters, sister and mother.

“There’s a bit of… now we know where she’s at, or what happened to her, but there’s a new trauma of she was murdered,” said Sgt. Tim Chantler, a supervisor for the Cold Case Team.

Detectives are still trying to find Claudette’s killer. They believe she may have lived on Fig Street in Escondido, and worked at a restaurant nearby. They’re asking anyone with information to call the homicide unit at (858) 285-6330.

This is the seventh time the homicide unit has used investigative genetic genealogy to solve or identify remains in a cold case.

They’re now using it to identify a man’s body that was found near Claudette’s. They believe his case is connected to hers. If you’re missing a loved one, detectives ask that you put your DNA profile into GEDmatch.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.