Bond denied for suspect in Guttierez case

Published: Jan. 6, 2022 at 5:48 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 14, 2022 at 11:09 AM EST
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LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - The suspect in the 1986 Jessica Guttierez kidnapping case has been denied bond by a judge.

McDowell was extradited from Wake County Detention Center following his arrest in North Carolina. He is now being held at the Lexington County Detention Center.

4-year-old Jessica “Jessie” Gutierrez was kidnapped from her home in Lexington on June 6, 1986 and was never seen again.

Thomas McDowell, 61, a North Carolina man has now been arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and killing Gutierrez, according to the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.

McDowell is charged with murder, kidnapping and first-degree burglary, according to arrest warrants.

The Lexington County Sheriff’s Department says McDowell lived in Lexington in 1986, and was arrested at his home by the Wake Forest Police Department on Thursday.

In September 2021 the FBI and SLED joined the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department to continue the search for Jessica. After the search, no other information was released.

Gutierrez’s mother spoke in a previous interview and shared the love she had for her daughter.

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“This is where I loved my children with my whole heart and soul,” said Debra Smith, Jessie’s mother. “Home is where your heart is, and if you’re not safe at home, where are you gonna be safe at?”

Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon says a fresh look was taken in September when FBI special agents and analysts with the Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team came to Lexington.

“Because of the work we did, coming together as a team, we were able to sort and connect more pieces of the puzzle about what happened to Jessica all those years ago,” Koon said.

More than 3,500 case file pages were reviewed in September, according to Koon. Ten FBI field offices were involved in the reexamination of the case last year.

FBI Columbia Special Agent-in-Charge Susan Ferensic says the arrest was able to be made because of state, federal partners, and citizens of the community coming together for the investigation.

“Regardless of how long a child is missing, we will never stop searching for answers, and we hope that this arrest is a step toward healing for the Gutierrez family,” Ferensic said.

Koon said the case would be prosecuted by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, which has held the case since February 2015.

“We look forward to working with all the agencies involved to get justice for Jessica’s family and, hopefully, bring her home. They’ve been waiting a long time and we’re glad to be a part of another step in the process,” Koon said.

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McDowell was denied bond at the Wake County Detention Center and was due in court again on Friday.

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