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Man charged with murder of 4-year-old girl abducted from SC home in 1986

Jessica Gutierrez’s body has not been found

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An arrest came more than 35 years after a young girl went missing from her South Carolina home while her family slept.

Thomas Eric McDowell, 61, was arrested on January 6 at his home in Wake Forest, North Carolina, for the kidnapping and death of four-year-old Jessica Gutierrez.

He is charged with murder, kidnapping and first degree burglary, the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release.

According to the arrest warrants, the girl’s body has not been found.

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“I’m glad God brought me to see it,” Jessica’s mom Debra Gutierrez said in Raleigh The news and the observer . “I prayed that he would help me get through this, and we’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

Gutierrez woke up on June 6, 1986 to find that Jessica was not in her room and that a window was open. Another girl told her that a man “with the magic hat and the beard took her last night.”

Man charged with murder of 4-year-old girl abducted from SC home in 1986
Thomas McDowell is accused of kidnapping and murdering a four-year-old girl while her family slept in their South Carolina home. Photo by document /Lexington County Sheriff’s Office

Investigators have worked for decades without success to locate a suspect. The case was also reviewed in 2008 and 2015.

Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said investigators looked at the case in a new light in September. Special agents from the FBI and analysts from the Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team were recruited and helped review the reports and interview 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,” Koon said.

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McDowell was living in Lexington County at the time of Jessica’s disappearance.

“This arrest is due in part to the many years of dedicated investigative work by local, state and federal partners, as well as the determination of citizens who have never forgotten Jessica,” said Susan Ferensic, FBI Special Agent. Columbia.