CHAMBERS COUNTY, Texas - Crystal Seratte McDowell’s friends never believed that Hurricane Harvey was responsible for her disappearance, despite the fact that she vanished as the storm bore down on the Texas coast.
Their fears were confirmed on Saturday, when Texas Rangers and detectives with the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office found McDowell’s body in a wooded area in the western part of the county.
McDowell, a 37-year-old Baytown Realtor and mother of two small children, had been slain. Her cause of death has not been made public.
Her ex-husband, Steven Wayne McDowell, has been charged with first-degree murder, Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said in a statement. Steven McDowell, 37, is being held in the county jail.
Hawthorne said that Steven McDowell’s arrest was based on circumstantial evidence, interviews with family and friends and a “very forthcoming” interview with McDowell himself, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Crystal McDowell’s friend, Morgan Raimondi, told the Chronicle that she knew immediately upon learning her friend was missing that she would likely be found dead.
“When Steve decided that, if he couldn’t have her, nobody else could, he also made the decision for her children, her family and her friends,” Raimondi said. “He took her away from all of us because of his one selfish act.”
Crystal McDowell was last seen or heard from on Aug. 25, when she told her new boyfriend that she was heading to Steve McDowell’s home to pick up their children, ages 8 and 5, the Chronicle reported. Her divorce had been made final months before, but she had been living at her ex-husband’s home near Mont Belvieu while work was being done on her own home in Baytown.
Her family reported her missing the next day when she failed to return with the children.
Friends and family said that Crystal McDowell was content in the days before her disappearance. In a Facebook post she wrote two days before she vanished, she expressed that happiness.
“I’ve never been happier in my whole life than I am right now,” she wrote. “God is so good.”
Photos McDowell posted the day before she disappeared also showed her smiling and happy.
Hawthorne said the fact that the hurricane blew through the area on the same day Crystal McDowell vanished hindered the search for her.
“That was when the storm was happening, that Saturday night,” Hawthorne said. “And then, obviously, it engulfed all of us Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.”
Amid the aftermath of the storm, Crystal McDowell’s partially submerged car was found in a motel parking lot near Interstate 10, the Chronicle reported. Detectives investigated her disappearance and identified several people of interest, including her boyfriend, an uncle and Steven McDowell.
Meanwhile, Crystal McDowell’s family hired a private investigator, Carla Edwards of Unlimited Investigations & Research Services, to help find her. Texas EquuSearch also got involved in the search.
Edwards told the Chronicle that the late start of her investigation was not ideal.
“The first 48 hours is the most crucial, and we started four days past the 48 hours,” Edwards said.
EquuSearch had about 40 volunteers, on foot and using ATVs, searching for Crystal McDowell, but it was law enforcement officials who ultimately found her body, the Chronicle reported.
Family and friends mourned her death on social media.
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