George 'Skip' Zelaya's remains claimed by family

Posted at 3:59 PM, Mar 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-18 18:42:08-04

A somber walk is broken up by the crunching of leaves.

There's seemingly a pathway that's already been traveled leading to an area riddled with cinder blocks and other items discarded in the remote wooded area.

It was among this "dumping" ground that the skeletal remains of George "Skip" Zelaya were found, ending questions an 11 year search. 

The 61-year-old father of five went missing on January 13, 2005.

"This is where my dad died," said Kathleen Zelaya, one of George's daughters, while trembling and crying.

Kathleen, two of her siblings and her sister-in-law flew in to claim his remains.

"We truly believe there was some foul play.  I don't believe that are father took his life," Kathleen said.

Finding answers will not be easy.

The family met with Citrus County investigators and were told their father's cause of death remains undetermined.

"It is going to be a mystery for the rest of our lives that we have to live with," Kathleen said.

Finding their father's remains didn't bring closure, just more questions.


Zelaya, of 5711 Sea Otter Path, was last seen Jan. 13, 2005, when he left his home in the early morning, according to investigators.

At the time, he was divorced but still living with his ex-wife Paula.

Paula Zelaya, who still resides in Homosassa, spoke to ABC Action News over the phone last month.

According to Zelaya, she and George were on good terms and stayed living together for financial reasons.  She says she left out to go bowling and when she returned, George was gone along with his car.

George's car was found abandoned in a Publix parking lot of U.S. 19 five days later, roughly six miles from his home.

"George would never have walked that far," said Zelaya.

Zelaya explained George was not in the best health and suffered from cluster headaches.

"I really loved him," she said.


On Jan. 25, 2005, George's brother, Joseph, allegedly received two envelopes in the mail.

Inside one envelope was George's driver's license and a check card.

The second envelope, according to Howarth, contained three checks, along with a note that read: "After you cash this there should be about 1,300.00 left use the card pin … or use the checks. Remember, you're on the account too. Sorry. Skip."

"The last words said, 'Sorry. Skip. And, I don't know how to take that," Howarth said.

ABC Action News was unable to talk with Joseph because has since passed away.

On January 26, 2005, Paula Zelaya says a friend of hers contacted Joseph and informed Joseph that she had received an envelope with an audio tape. The tape allegedly contained recordings of conversations Paula had over the telephone with her friends about other men.

"He was always recording me on the phone," Paula Zelaya explained.

ABC Action News requested a copy of the letter and the audio tapes from investigators but were told they cannot be released as this is still considered an on-going investigation.


On February 23, 2005, Jessica Lunsford was snatched from her Homosassa bed, raped and then buried alive.

The 9-year-old's body was found three weeks later wrapped in garbage bags, her hands bound with wire.

Convicted sex offender John Couey would be arrested and later convicted in the case.

Jessica had been buried at the home of Couey's half-sister, who lived within sight of the Lunsford home.

Howarth felt her father's case was put to the side.

Paula Zelaya recalls coming home and investigators searching a wooded area and creek by her home.  She thought with all the police presence George had been found.  It turned out, investigators were searching for Lunsford.

Howarth is left to wonder, if the area her father was found had been searched for Lunsford, how was his body not found back then?

"That is one of my questions.  Where did you all search?  If they did search that area, and he wasn't there, then I am more sure, myself, that it would be homicide, thinking that somebody then put him there," Howarth questioned.


The siblings were able to see their father one last time.

Workers at the funeral home laid his bones, all intact, out in a casket for them to view.

"It was very shocking and a hard thing to see him, just his skeleton," said Susan Zelaya.

The remains were cremated and they're taking them back to Maryland on Friday.

"We get to take him home," Kathleen said while choking back tears.