Man arrested for kidnapping and murder of 4-year-old girl 35 years ago

Lexington, South Carolina: 4-year-old Jessica Gutierrez went missing in June 6, 1986 and has not been seen since. Her body has never been recovered.


On that morning, Jessica's mother woke up and found her daughter missing. None of the other children in the home knew where Jessica was, so the investigation began; first family gathered to search for the missing girl and then later that day, law enforcement was notified and began their investigation.


It was determined that during the night someone had entered the residence through a window, abducted Jessica, and left through the front door.


In September, more than 3,500 pages of case files were reviewed.


"We took a fresh look at this case in September when FBI special agents and analysis assigned to its specialized Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team and prosecutors with the South Carolina Attorney General's Office came to Lexington," Lexington County Jay Koon stated in a news release. "SLED agents also joined us in reviewing initial reports and interviewing more than 125 people. 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."


Now, 61-year-old Thomas Eric McDowell has been charged with one count each of murder, kidnapping and first-degree burglary. He is being held in the Wake County Detention Center pending extradition.


Attorney General Alan Wilson stated on Twitter after the arrest that, "Our work is beginning. The South Carolina Attorney General's office has the hardest working prosecutors who are ready."


ABC11 quoted FBI Columbia Special Agent in Charge Susan Ferensic and saying, "This arrest is due in part to the many years of dedicated investigative work by local, state and federal partners, as well as the resolve of citizens who have never forgotten Jessica. Regardless of how long a child is missing, we will never stop searching for answers, and we hope that this arrest is a step toward healing for the Gutierrez family."