Once all the doors and windows at home are locked, most of us feel secure at home. Call me paranoid, but before I go to sleep, I always double check my doors. If you have a security system, that provides even more security. Many years ago, I saw a story about a child abduction from out of Lexington, South Carolina. Honestly, I never thought anyone would be arrested for it. While looking through various articles, I learned a suspect was finally arrested almost 40 years after the abduction. 

Jessica Gutierrez, 4, was sleeping in her Lexington, South Carolina mobile home with her two sisters on June 5, 1986. During the night of June 5 and the morning of June 6, an intruder entered the mobile home through the living room. Before entering Jessica's bedroom, the unknown intruder removed the living room screen and curtains. The intruder then abducted Jessica from her bed and carried her out through the front door. 

It is nearly impossible for me to imagine the horror Jessica's mother Debra felt when she entered her daughter's bedroom and found Jessica missing. Rebecca, Jessica's six-year-old sister, told her mother what happened. According to her, "the man with the magic hat and beard" kidnapped her sister. Rebecca said Jessica remained asleep while being abducted. Rebecca also said she was too paralyzed with fear to tell her mother. 

Debra accused her ex-boyfriend of abducting Jessica. But he denied it. Police investigated him and Jessica’s father, who was in California. No charges were filed against either man. Jessica has never been seen again and her body has never been found. I have seen pictures of this precious child with her dark hair and smile for many years. She could be anyone’s child or grandchild. I have always hoped that law enforcement would locate Jessica and return her to her family. Perhaps someone abducted her and raised her as their own. It was always my belief that the abductor would be a relative or someone known to the family. Jessica's abductor must have known Jessica's whereabouts and where to enter the mobile home without being detected. 

The case has finally made some progress. Last month, authorities arrested Thomas Eric McDowell, who had previously served time in prison for rape. It appears he knew the family. He had also left a fingerprint on Jessica’s bedroom window. And since Debra cleaned the window regularly, there would be no reason for McDowell’s fingerprint to be on the window. 

An inmate claimed McDowell confessed to him that he had killed Jessica and buried her in a landfill. He also said when he entered her home, he wore a cowboy hat. The Lexington County Sheriff’s Department is charging McDowell with murder, kidnapping and first-degree burglary. 

Debra Gutierrez is still alive and has waited many years for answers. She has experienced many mental problems over her daughter’s disappearance. It’s understandable. She lost her daughter so many years ago and has wondered what happened to her. 

Unfortunately, she will have to wait for the trial to find out additional answers. Apparently, McDowell hasn’t admitted to the crime and hasn’t mentioned what he did to Jessica. The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office is handling McDowell’s prosecution.

As a parent and grandparent, I cannot understand how Debra Gutierrez has managed to survive without knowing what happened to her child. I am sure it has been difficult for her to live all these years with an empty chair at the dinner table. For the sake of Debra Gutierrez, I hope McDowell will finally give Debra some answers and tell her the truth about what happened to Jessica. 

Marc is a longtime resident of Clermont County and an avid reader. Contact him through his website at www.themarcabe.com or through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Catchmykiller. Marc also has a podcast called Catch my Killer, where he interviews family members seeking justice for their murdered loved ones. You can listen at www.catchmykiller.com.