Real Name: Jessica Suzanne Gutierrez
Location: Lexington, South Carolina
Date: June 5, 1986
Date of Birth: December 3, 1981
Weight: 32 pounds
Marital Status: Single
Characteristics: Caucasian female with brown hair and brown eyes. She has a scar on the top of her forehead and a brown birthmark on her left butt cheek.
Details: On the night of June 5, 1986, four-year-old Jessica Gutierrez was asleep in her bedroom with her two sisters when she was abducted. It is believed that the unknown intruder(s) had broken into the house through the living room window. The next morning, her mother, Debra, discovered the scene. Curtains had been ripped off the windows, papers were thrown across the bedroom floor, and the front door was open. Jessica's six-year-old sister claimed that she was taken by a man with a "magic hat". She was never seen again. Her family believes that she may have been abducted by a close friend of theirs. Despite this, this case remains unsolved.
Suspects: The family friend that is believed to be the abductor was a twenty-seven-year-old man who had served time in North Carolina for auto theft and rape. The crime occurred just a few weeks after Jessica's disappearance. After his arrest, his fingerprints were matched to prints found on the outside frame of her bedroom window. Debra also found fibers in his car that she says were linked to Jessica.
In 1987, the suspect told another inmate that he had kidnapped and murdered a young girl and dumped her body in a landfill in Lexington County. He said he would confess to police if given immunity for the crime. However, immunity was denied, and he did not confess to them. Interestingly, he stated that he was wearing a cowboy hat when he abducted the child. This matched her sister's description of the abductor. He has never been publicly identified or charged in this case.
Jessica's father was a suspect at one point; however, he was able to prove that he was in California at the time of her disappearance and was cleared. Debra's ex-boyfriend was also looked into as a possible suspect. She recalled him and the family friend being acquainted with each other, although they denied this.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the January 24, 1990 episode along with four other missing child cases: Tara Calico, Leticia Hernandez, David Borer, and Malakia Logan.
Results: Unresolved. When Jessica's sister was an adult, she was reinterviewed by police. She told them that she remembered seeing Jessica being lifted out of her bed by a man. He apparently did this without waking her. She was afraid to tell anyone about it at the time. It is uncertain whether or not she identified him; however, police believe that he was the family friend. He is now considered the prime suspect in this case.
In 2007, Debra publicly accused investigators of mishandling this case. When she got into an argument with Sheriff Metts, he allegedly threatened to stop investigating it completely. Interestingly, Metts was later arrested on corruption charges. She hoped that new investigators would be put on this case. The non-profit "Unfinished Files" picked up the investigation, working directly with Debra in hopes of finding Jessica.
In September 2021, local police and the FBI worked together to reinvestigate this case. As a result, on January 6, 2022, sixty-one-year-old Thomas Eric McDowell was arrested and charged with her kidnapping and murder, along with burglary. He had previously served time on rape and burglary charges. A fingerprint found in the Gutierrez home was matched to him. A witness (believed to be her sister) identified him as the kidnapper from a photo lineup. He had also made statements to others that he had kidnapped and killed her. It is believed (but not confirmed) that he is the family friend identified by Debra.
Sadly, Jessica's body has not yet been found.
- Jessica Gutierrez on the Charley Project
- Jessica Gutierrez on the Doe Network
- Jessica Gutierrez on NamUs
- Jessica Gutierrez on the NCMEC website
- 4-year-old missing from Lexington home - June 7, 1986
- Metts questions abduction suspect - September 2, 1986
- Metts "optimistic" in child search - April 1, 1987
- Investigators enlist media in missing girl search - November 1, 1989
- A child is still missing and her mother waits - December 3, 1989
- Missing girl's mother questions conversation with Sheriff Metts - November 24, 2007
- 21-year-old case could move to court with solicitor's approval - November 27, 2007
- Missing From South Carolina: Jessica Gutierrez - May 6, 2011
- Vigil held for Lexington County girl missing for nearly 30 years - June 6, 2015
- 4-year-old Jessica Gutierrez kidnapped from her bedroom in 1986 - August 25, 2017
- No charges in 1986 Lexington SC missing child cold case - December 18, 2017
- Community searches for evidence in 34-year-old Lexington cold case - October 10, 2020
- Case of missing Lexington girl remains open 35 years later - June 7, 2021
- Federal agents arrive in Lexington County to investigate 1986 kidnapping of 4-year-old - September 14, 2021
- Wake Forest, NC, man charged in 1986 death of Jessica Gutierrez, 4, in Lexington, SC - January 7, 2022
- Alleged NC kidnapper's print found where Lexington girl was taken in 1986, SC police say - January 7, 2022
- The Unfinished Files Website