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Wake Forest man charged in 1986 kidnapping, murder of 4-year-old girl

A Wake Forest man was charged in connection to the abduction and murder of a 4-year-old South Carolina girl over three decades ago.

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LEXINGTON, S.C. — A decades-old cold case from South Carolina is closer to being solved with the arrest of a Wake Forest man.

Thomas McDowell is charged with the 1986 kidnapping and murder of a 4-year-old girl.

He managed to go on about his life, staying under the radar. Then, Thursday morning, all that changed: He was in handcuffs and led to jail.

Friday he appeared in a Wake County courtroom.

He was quiet in court, much like he was quiet in his neighborhood on White Street in Wake Forest.

McDowell, 61 years old, lived in his house alone. Steve Sterling runs a business two doors down.

"As far as I know, he went to work all the time," said Sterling. "Day in and day out. He kind of kept to himself."

Sterling said he did carpentry work.

On Thursday morning, Wake Forest police showed up at McDowell's house and arrested him.

For murder.

Of a 4-year-old girl.

From decades ago.

Neighbors were blindsided.

It was June 6th, 1986. A small community called Red Bank, South Carolina, some 15 miles west of Columbia.

Thomas Eric McDowell, 61, was charged with murder, kidnapping and first-degree burglary in the 1986 death of Jessica Gutierrez. 

A little girl named Jessica Gutierrez was kidnapped from her bed.

Search teams looked for days on the ground, from the air.


The case went cold.

But then, this past September, investigators took a fresh look at the mystery, interviewing more than 125 people, reviewing more than 35-hundred case file pages.

In a written statement, Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said this renewed investigation solved the case, but he did not say what evidence led to McDowell.

McDowell is now charged with the child's murder, along with burglary and kidnapping.

McDowell was living in Lexington County, South Carolina, at the time of Jessica's disappearance.

Records show the following year, 1987, he was convicted in North Carolina of rape and served several years in prison.

McDowell's neighbors hope the child's family will finally get answers.

And some peace.


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