Jessica Gutierrez: North Carolina man arrested and charged in 1986 kidnapping and murder of 4-year-old SC girl

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Thomas Eric McDowell, 61, has been charged with murder, kidnapping and first-degree burglary in the disappearance and death of Jessica Gutierrez.

Gutierrez disappeared from her home sometime after 11:30 p.m. on June 5, 1986, according to missing persons posters distributed by the sheriff’s office and the FBI.

Authorities later determined McDowell’s fingerprints, according to an edited warrant. It is unclear where authorities found the fingerprint or when it was confirmed to belong to McDowell.

In the same warrant, authorities said McDowell, who was later found in a set of photos, told others that he kidnapped and killed the girl.

The sheriff’s office said the girl was never seen again and her body was never found.

Agents from the FBI and the state attorney’s office visited the area, Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said last year after “revisiting the case.” South Carolina law enforcement officers helped interview more than 125 people. A video of an emotional interview with Jessica’s mother Debra was also circulated when the case was reopened.

But it was unclear what developments in the case led to McDowell’s arrest, and the sheriff’s spokesman, who provided the warrant and other information, did not provide an answer to that question when pressed by CNN.

“If you’re not safe at home, where are you going to be safe?” asked the girl’s mother, Debra Gutierrez, in an interview with law enforcement officers last year. The mother said she had a “nervous breakdown” following her daughter’s disappearance.

McDowell lived in Lexington County in 1986. On Thursday morning, the Wake Forest Police Department arrested him at his home about 20 miles north of Raleigh.He is being held at the Wake County Detention Center, according to the sheriff’s office, which also said the case will be South Carolina Attorney General’s Office.

CNN has reached out to the South Carolina Attorney General’s office for more information and is awaiting comment.

McDowell, represented by a public defender, was ordered without bail at a hearing Friday afternoon in Raleigh, North Carolina, until he is extradited to South Carolina.





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