NC man arrested in 1986 kidnapping, murder of 4-year-old girl

A North Carolina man has been arrested in the killing of 4-year-old girl who was snatched from her South Carolina home in the middle of the night 35 years ago.

January 9, 2021

A North Carolina man has been arrested in the killing of 4-year-old girl who was snatched from her South Carolina home in the middle of the night 35 years ago.

Thomas Eric McDowell, 61, was charged on Thursday with murder, kidnapping and burglary in the decades-old disappearance of little Jessica Gutierrez.

Authorities previously said that someone had abducted Jessica after breaking into her family's home in Lexington, South Carolina, through a window in the early hours of June 6, 1986.

At the time, Jessica's 6-year-old sister told their mother that the "man in the magic hat" had taken the younger girl.

Despite extensive searches over the next three decades, no trace of Jessica has ever been found. 

Thomas Eric McDowell was taken into custody at his home in Wake Forest, North Carolina on Thursday and charged with kidnapping, murder and first-degree burglary.

Authorities said they finally got a break in the case after the FBI joined the probe last September — and investigators spent months reviewing over 3,500 case files and interviewing more than 125 people.

They haven't disclosed what eventually led them to McDowell, or what evidence allegedly tied him to the girl's case.

Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said only that McDowell had been living in Lexington when Jessica was abducted. 

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Evidence Assistant - Blaine, MN
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