LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (TCD) — A 63-year-old man will spend the rest of his life in prison for abducting and killing his ex-girlfriend’s young daughter nearly 37 years ago.
The Lexington County Sheriff’s Office announced Feb. 8 that a judge sentenced Thomas McDowell to life in prison for first-degree burglary, kidnapping, and murder in connection with the disappearance and death of 4-year-old Jessica Gutierrez, who went missing from her South Lake Drive home in June 1986 and has never been found.
McDowell was handed two concurrent life sentences after a jury convicted him of the charges, WACH-TV reports.
According to the sheriff’s office, on June 6, 1986, Gutierrez’s mother woke up and noticed her daughter had disappeared. She reportedly asked her other children about her whereabouts and searched around the home but couldn’t find her. The girl’s mother contacted law enforcement, and they began an investigation. Officials searched for her on foot and from the air, but “no one ever saw her again.”
Subsequent investigation revealed that on June 6, 1986, early in the morning, someone had reportedly entered their house through a window, kidnapped the girl, and went out the front door.
More than three decades after Gutierrez’s disappearance, in September 2021, FBI special agents and analysts assigned to its specialized Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team and prosecutors with the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office came to Lexington to reexamine the case.
Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said, “[South Carolina Law Enforcement Division] agents also joined us in reviewing initial reports and interviewing more than 125 people.”
He continued, “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.”
Officials identified McDowell as the primary suspect, and in January 2022, Wake Forest Police arrested him at his home 20 miles north of Raleigh, North Carolina.
According to the sheriff’s office, “Prosecutors said McDowell dated Jessica’s mother, Debra, for a short time in 1986.”
Since his 2022 arrest, McDowell has been held in the Lexington County Detention Center but will be transported to the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
After the trial, Gutierrez’s mother told WACH, “I hope that he confesses to where her body is. I already have a place prepared for her, where she can be reunited with the rest of her family. I’m ready to bring my baby home.”
- Man sentenced to life in 1986 cold-case child abduction, murder – Lexington County Sheriff’s Office
- Suspect arrested in 1986 child kidnapping, killing, 1/6/2022 – Lexington County Sheriff’s Office
- Lexington County Jail Records
- Double Whammy: 2 life sentences for 1986 murderer of 4-year-old – WACH
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