In the late hours of June 5, 1986, Jessica Gutierrez was sleeping in a bedroom in her family’s mobile home in Lexington, South Carolina with her two sisters.
Sometime between 11:30 p.m. that evening and 9:00 a.m. on June 6, an unknown intruder or intruders broke into the home. The screen and curtains were apparently taken down by the intruder(s) who entered through the living room window. After taking Jessica from the bedroom, the kidnappers exited the house through the front door.
On June 6, Jessica’s mother found the crime scene and learned of her disappearance. Rebecca, Jessica’s sister, age 6, claimed Jessica had been taken by “the man with the magic hat and the beard.” She has not been seen or heard from since.
Rebecca, who is now an adult, recalls seeing a man carry Jessica away after lifting her out of bed. She claimed that the man managed to accomplish this without arousing Jessica. Rebecca was too terrified by what she saw to tell anyone until Jessica went missing the following morning.
Debra, Jessica’s mother, had split up with her boyfriend a few days prior to Jessica going missing because of his drinking and what she deemed to be possessive behaviour. Jessica was allegedly kidnapped, according to Debra’s ex-boyfriend, who denied knowing where she was. Police repeatedly questioned the man, but no charges were ever filed. As he was residing in California at the time of Jessica’s kidnapping, Jessica’s father was eliminated as a potential suspect in the investigation.
Thomas Eric McDowell, a family friend who was 27 years old in 1986 and had served time in a North Carolina prison for rape, has been a long-time suspect in Jessica’s kidnapping. His print was discovered on Jessica’s bedroom window. Debra claimed to have cleaned the windows every night, but there was only one fingerprint on the window.
McDowell is accused of having confided to a cellmate in 1987 that he had kidnapped a girl in Lexington County and disposed of her body in a local landfill. He mentioned that when he was abducted, he was donning a tall cowboy hat. When police confronted McDowell about his statements, he offered to confess in exchange for immunity from prosecution for the crime after his cellmate informed authorities. Immunity was rejected, and McDowell remained silent after that.
In connection with Jessica’s disappearance, McDowell was accused of murder, kidnapping, and first-degree burglary in January 2022. Along with this case summary, there is a picture of him. The information the authorities have made public regarding the evidence against him is limited.
Debra still believes her ex-boyfriend is somehow involved in the case. The ex-boyfriend and McDowell denied knowing each other, but Debra says they met each other at a gathering several months before Jessica disappeared.
Jessica’s remains have never been found, but foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.