Man Charged With 1986 Kidnapping And Murder Of 4-Year-Old Girl

Lexington Sheriff County's Department | Facebook

George Francis Lee

A North Carolina man has been arrested and charged for the unsolved disappearance of then 4-year-old Jessica Gutierrez in 1986, People reports.

On January 6, a man named Thomas McDowell was taken into custody by authorities, who say that McDowell lived in Lexington County, S.C during the time of Gutierrez's disappearance.

A Shocking Development

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After being taken into custody, McDowell was officially charged with murder in relation to Jessica Gutierrez's disappearance. Jessica was never found after being reported missing, and authorities believe that she is dead.

On top of the murder charge, McDowell also faces charges for kidnapping and burglary of the first degree.

The disappearance and suspected killing has been unsolved for decades, leaving Jessica's family unaware of their daughter's location and condition.

"I'm glad God brought me to see it," Jessica's mother said to The News & Observer. "I prayed he would bring me through it, and we've waited for this a long time."

The 1986 Kidnapping

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children |

The authorities investigating Jessica's case believe that she was originally abducted from the family home in Lexington. The kidnapping occurred after midnight on June 6th.

Though a massive search was undertaken, Jessica's whereabouts, as well as the reason for her disappearance continue to be unknown.

According to The News & Observer, Jessica's sister was reported to say that [the man] "with the magic hat and the beard took her last night."

'A Fresh Look'

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After decades of remaining unsolved, the case was re-examined by authorities. With fresh eyes, the investigators, FBI agents and other specialists studied the case in September 2021. Those involved in the investigation were pooled from the Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team, and prosecutors from the South Carolina Attorney General's Office.

Over 3,500 case files were looked at and more than 125 people were interviewed in regards to the case, Sheriff for Lexington County Jay Koon said.

"Because of the work we did, coming together as a team, we were able to sort and connect more pieces of the puzzle about what happened to Jessica all those years ago," Koon said, as reported by People.

The Decade-Long Wait For A Suspect

Lexington Sheriff County's Department | Facebook

According to authorities, McDowell lived in the same region as Jessica during the time she disappeared.

The key piece of evidence leading to McDowell's arrest appears to be a finger print that was recently found to belong to the suspect, as found in a warrant obtain by People.

Without this newly discovered information our office would not be able to prosecute this case," South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said.

Currently, McDowell has been taken to his South Carolina, his state of residence and awaits trial.

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