Thomas Eric McDowell, 61, was arrested by the Wake Forest Police Department in North Carolina, the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement. The FBI and State Law Enforcement Division joined the cold case in September, sparking a new investigation.
McDowell, who is being held in the Wake County Detention Center, lived in Lexington County in 1986, according to the sheriff’s department. The South Carolina Attorney General’s office will prosecute the case.
McDowell is listed on SLED’s sex offender registry for a 1987 sex offense conviction in North Carolina. He was a court date on Dec. 7, according to the Wake County inmate list.
Jessica’s mother Debra has waited more than three decades for answers about the kidnapping of her daughter.
Between 11 p.m. on June 5, 1986, and 9 a.m. the next day, an intruder entered Gutierrez’s home near the town of Lexington by breaking a living room window. The abductor removed Jessica from her bed and left through the front door.
An older sister, Rebecca, told authorities she remembered seeing a man lift Jessica out of her bed and carry her away.
“I’m just so consumed with this. I’m 35 years deep into this and I want my daughter back, and I don’t think I’m asking much,” Gutierrez said in a video issued last fall by the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.
Investigators from the FBI, SLED and the sheriff’s department interviewed more than 125 people and reviewed over 3,500 case file documents as part of the new investigation. Ten FBI field officers were involved in the reexamination, Lexington County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Capt. Adam Myrick said.
Agents from the FBI’s specialized Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team and prosecutors from the S.C. Attorney General’s office visited the town of Lexington in September as part of the multi-agency collaboration, Sheriff Jay Koon said in a statement.
“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.
Gutierrez’s kidnapping has been the subject of national coverage, including a 1990 episode of the television show “Unsolved Mysteries.”
“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.