Suspect arrested in 1986 child-murder cold-case in South Carolina

Authorities began re-investigating the case in September.

Updated: January 8, 2022 - 5:05pm

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A North Carolina man has been arrested for the murder of a young girl in South Carolina in 1986, a huge development in a case that has sat unsolved for well over three decades.

Police this week arrested Raleigh resident Thomas Eric McDowell and charged him with “murder, kidnapping and first-degree burglary in connection to the disappearance and death of 4-year-old Jessica Gutierrez in June 1986,” according to a press release from the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.

FBI agents and South Carolina officials “took a fresh look at this case in September,” the sheriff’s department said; officials “review[ed] initial reports and interview[ed] more than 125 people” during the renewed effort. 

“More than 3,500 case file pages were reviewed” as part of the relaunched investigation, leading authorities to arrest McDowell on Thursday. 

“This arrest is due in part to the many years of dedicated investigative work by local, state and federal partners, as well as the resolve of citizens who have never forgotten Jessica,” FBI Columbia Special Agent in Charge Susan Ferensic said in the press release.