El Dorado County Sheriff: 23-year-old skeletal remains identified as drowning victim, returned to family

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Oleg Zheleznikov (Courtesy: El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office)

FOLSOM (KTXL) — Skeletal remains found in 2015 at Folsom Lake were identified as belonging to a 1996 drowning victim and have been returned to the victim’s daughter, according to the El Dorado County Sheriff’s office.

After a multiyear investigation, spanning numerous government agencies, including the FBI and California State Parks, the remains have been identified as Oleg Zheleznikov, a Russian national citizen, according to investigators.

The remains were found in November 2015 by a family walking along the Folsom Lake waterfront, investigators said.  The remains were made visible because of the historic drought that caused Folsom Lake levels to be at record lows, according to officials.

Deputies said they contacted an anthropology team at California State University, Chico, who came and collected the remains for evaluation. The team was able to give a general description of the person, a white adult man, and noted the dental work could be used to identify the remains, investigators said.

Investigators then brought the remains to the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office to be reviewed by a forensic odontologist who found that the dental work was not likely done in the United States.

Investigators connected the known facts to a tip from a local citizen about a possible drowning in Folsom Lake in the mid-1990s.

On June 21, 1996, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office was asked by the California State Parks to search for 29-year-old Oleg Zheleznikov.  Investigators said that Zheleznikov, along with two other Russian nationals, a translator and the boat’s captain, had gone sailing on Folsom Lake.

Zheleznikov had reportedly jumped into the water to swim while the sails were still up. By the time the boat was able to turn around and get back to Zheleznikov, he had disappeared beneath the surface, according to officials.

The Sheriff’s Dive Team said they searched for Zheleznikov in water depths around 100 feet deep but were unable to locate him. Undersheriff Randy Peshon, a sergeant at the time and one of the divers, later described how murky the water had been with zero visibility.

Two decades later, detectives said they were able to find the original state park ranger who filed the report, the translator and the boat captain. Their investigation confirmed that the area the skeleton remains were found was the same general area that Zheleznikov had last been seen.

Investigators also found out that Zheleznikov was married at the time of his disappearance and had an eight-year-old daughter in Russia. To track her down for a DNA match, deputies contacted the FBI Sacramento Division, who passed the request to the FBI’s Legat in Moscow, Russia, deputies said.

The Legat worked with Interpol and Russian authorities to identify Zheleznikov’s daughter, 31-year-old Yulia Rusina, and obtain a DNA sample for comparison. The remains were positively identified in June 2018 as Oleg Zheleznikov, officials said.

The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office worked with the FBI Sacramento Division Victim Specialist to provide Rusina a secure flight and hotel accommodations to come to America and recover her father’s remains, officials said.

Rusina flew into San Francisco on Saturday, Oct. 5, and was picked up by FBI representatives and El Dorado County deputies, including Deputy Gutsu and his wife, who are both fluent in Russian and had connected with Rusina on Facebook.

On Monday, Oct. 7,  Rusina picked up her father’s urn from Green Valley Mortuary and met with the sheriff, as well as El Dorado County and FBI staff who had been involved in the investigation.

On Wednesday, Rusina flew back to Russia, returning Zheleznikov to his home and his family.

Yulia Rusina flew into San Francisco on Saturday, October 5, and was picked up by FBI representatives and El Dorado County deputies. Photo courtesy of El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office

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