A North Carolina man was arrested Thursday in connection with the kidnapping and murder of a 4-year-old girl in Lexington County, South Carolina, more than three decades ago, according to the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office.
Thomas Eric McDowell, 61, was charged with murder, kidnapping and first degree robbery in the disappearance and death of Jessica Gutiérrez.
Gutiérrez disappeared from his home after 11:30 p.m. on June 5, 1986, according to a missing persons poster distributed by the sheriff’s office and the FBI.
Later, authorities identified McDowell’s fingerprint, based on a redacted arrest warrant. It’s unclear where authorities found the fingerprint or when it was identified as belonging to McDowell.
In the same arrest warrant, authorities said McDowell was later identified in a lineup of photos and told other people that he had abducted and killed the girl.
The sheriff’s office said the girl was never seen again and her body was never found.
Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said that after “reviewing the case again” last year, special agents from the FBI and the state attorney’s office visited the area. South Carolina law enforcement officers helped interview more than 125 people.
A video featuring an emotional interview with Jessica’s mother, Debra, also circulated when the case was reopened.
But it is unclear what development in the case led to McDowell’s arrest, and a sheriffl spokesman, who provided the arrest warrants and other information, did not respond to this question when asked by Citizen Free Press.
“If you’re not safe at home, where are you going to be safe?” The girl’s mother, Debra Gutiérrez, asked in an interview last year with law enforcement officials. The mother said she “suffered a mental breakdown” after her daughter disappeared.
McDowell lived in Lexington County in 1986. The Wake Forest Police Department arrested him at his home Thursday morning, 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 prosecuted by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office.
Citizen Free Press has contacted the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office for additional information and is awaiting comment.
At a hearing this Friday afternoon in Raleigh, North Carolina, McDowell, represented by a public defender, was held without bail until extradited to South Carolina.
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