THE UNFINISHED: Lexington investigator reveals details of solving cold case of missing child
LEXINGTON, SC (WOLO) — After more than three decades, a cold case has been solved this week with an arrest made for the kidnapping and murder of Lexington County 4-year-old Jessica Gutierrez.
Though it happened back in 1986, a project called The Unfinished helped get it reinvestigated and after law enforcement took over in September. Their efforts along with law enforcement led to the arrest of 61-year-old Thomas Eric McDowell.
“You can know somebody did something. You can think they did it. You can have all this stuff, but if you can’t prosecute it in court, you only get one chance at it,” said private investigator Brian Setree, who is retired after years with the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.
More than 100 interviews have been conducted during the investigation but the case ran cold for years.
The Unfinished started in 2017 to investigate these kinds of cases for families at no charge.
“Maybe take [law enforcement] a little nugget of something they didn’t have. Once they take on the case or pick it back up, we stay out of the way, Setree said. “If a loved one has a law enforcement type question, then we can answer it.”
His thousands of hours of work into the case included interviews and genealogy work.
“The person that ultimately was arrested yesterday had a long history of violence in his family,” Setree said.
Setree says it also led them and law enforcement in York and Lexington Counties to search for Jessica’s body. While no remains were found, it did provide hope for Jessica’s mother Deborah after dozens of people showed up for one search.
“Her mom was in tears and so grateful that everyone showed up. It was just an amazing day,” said Jennifer Setree, private investigator alongside her husband.
“We really feel like that jump started the passion of the case and got it back going again,” Brian adds. “It was always something there. It was just something that needed some more work.
Working with Lexington law enforcement, the Setrees were able to provide Jessica’s mother with some sense of justice. It gives the private investigators hope that other unfinished cases can be solved in the future.
“I have a little saying that ‘it’s in the box’. It’s usually in the box and it got overlooked,” Brian said.
“Our goal as ‘The Unfinished’ is to help families heal and to bring those answers home to families,” Jessica concludes.