This was also aired on ID not too long ago, in an episode called “Into Thin Air” on 48 hours.
There is a multitude of information out there already on the case,
but wanted to try to compile it all in one post.
Timeline: Jean Zapata Case
Zapata’s Husband Was Arrested In August 2006
The investigation into what happened Jean Zapata was dormant for years. The 36-year-old Madison woman and mother of three disappeared in 1976, but the case only returned to the spotlight in December 2004.
Here is a timeline in the investigation:
December 2004: Cadaver Dogs Search Former Home
Two cadaver dogs searching the basement of Jean Zapata’s former home and indicated hits of human remains. A human hair was taken from the site, police said.
August 2005: Cadaver Dogs Search Storage Locker
Two cadaver dogs separately indicated hits of decomposing human remains at a Sun Prairie storage locker that Eugene Zapata had rented.
August 2005: Cadaver Dogs Search Juneau County Lot
Police also used cadaver dogs to search a 4-acre lot owned by Eugene Zapata in Juneau County.
December 2005: Police Call Case “Foul Play”
Madison police officially called the case “foul play” and named Eugene Zapata their one and only suspect.
February 2006: Eugene Zapata Denies Connection To Wife’s Disappearance
In a telephone interview with WISC-TV from Henderson, Nev., Eugene Zapata denied any connection to his wife’s disappearance.
March 2006: Police Search Juneau County Landfill
Madison police conducted a week-long search of the Juneau County land-fill near Mauston. They said that they are searching for Jean Zapata’s remains and containers that they believe belonged to Eugene Zapata.
August 2006: Eugene Zapata Arrested For Murder
Authorities in Nevada arrested Eugene Zapata for murder in connection to his wife’s disappearance.
Courtesy of Charley Project
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: October 11, 1976 from Madison, Wisconsin
Classification: Endangered Missing
Age: 36 years old
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian female. Jeanette’s nickname is Jean.
Clothing/Jewelry Description: A striped top and blue corduroy pants.
Details of Disappearance
Jeanette was last seen at her home in the 5700 block of Indian Trace in east Madison, Wisconsin on October 11, 1976. She saw her three children off to school that day and vanished sometime afterwards. A coworker reported her missing two days later. She left behind her purse, money, new car, coat and other clothing; only a .30-06 rifle was missing from the home. Her employer reported her missing. Jeanette’s loved ones stated it is uncharacteristic of her to leave without warning or to abandon her children.
Jeanette was in the process of a divorce from her husband, Eugene “Gene” Zapata, at the time of her disappearance, and she was seeing another man. A photograph of Eugene is posted below this case summary. He had hired a private detective to follow her a month before she disappeared. She had a restraining order against him; he was only allowed in her house for two hours every Saturday. Eugene admitted to arguing with Jeanette about visitations with the children, he did not work for two days after Jeanette vanished and he gave conflicting statements as to where he was during that time. In 2004, police searched the home the couple had shared, and cadaver dogs detected the scent of human remains in the crawl space, and found some human hair, but no other evidence.
In 2005, investigators called Eugene, who had remarried and moved to Nevada in 1997, and questioned him. The following day, Eugene cleared out a storage locker which he had rented in 2001. Police searched the locker with cadaver dogs a short time later. The dogs again detected the scent of human remains, and they also indicated the presence of human remains in the attic and crawl space of the Zapata residence, and in a vehicle Eugene rented during a visit to Wisconsin in 2004. During his trip to Wisconsin, he purchased trash bags and cleaning supplies and visited the Juneau County Solid Waste Landfill; records indicate he dropped off items weighing 60 pounds. A search of the landfill turned up no clues, but the cadaver dogs again indicated the odor of human decomposition.
In August 2006, Eugene was charged with first-degree murder in connection with Jeanette’s presumed death. Authorities stated most of their evidence was circumstantial and they have not recovered Jeanette’s body, but they believe they can prove her husband stalked and murdered her. Eugene maintains his innocence in Jeanette’s case and his lawyers stated the evidence against him is weak. He is awaiting trial.
Jeanette was employed as a flight instructor at the Frickelton School of Aeronautics in Truax Field, Wisconsin in 1976. She got her pilot’s license in 1954 at age sixteen; she was the youngest person in the state to get a pilot’s license and was possibly the only female flight instructor in the area in 1976. Foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.