A Texas sheriff leading the investigation into the disappearance of a successful realtor and mother of two has said he suspects foul play is behind Crystal McDowell’s disappearance two weeks ago.
The 38-year-old woman vanished in a town outside of Houston, Texas, on August 25, just before Hurricane Harvey devastated the area.
She was last seen on surveillance footage taken from her new boyfriend’s home walking to her car and driving away. The boyfriend, Paul Hargrave, told CrimeOnline she was headed to her ex-husband’s home to pick up her children. He said he went to work at the jewelry store he owns shortly after Crystal left, and worked there all day and into the evening.
Crystal never made it to her ex-husband’s home, where she had been living, reportedly in a separate room, while her own home was being renovated. Days after the storm hit, her black Mercedes was found partially submerged in water outside a Motel 6 a few minutes from the exit she would have taken to get to her ex’s house.
“It’s my belief as the sheriff that there was foul play,” Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne told Chron.com. “I think that she would have surfaced because she has two lovely children and she seemed be falling for another man – and I feel she would have surfaced.”
“I hate to use the term presumed dead because there are two children, so I hope that we find her alive and well,” the sheriff said. “But I don’t feel real confident about it.”
ABC News obtained surveillance footage from the morning Crystal disappeared. It shows her walking out of Paul Hargrave’s home to her car in his driveway.
“That morning, we woke up about around 6:30, we got ready, I jumped in the shower and she got dressed and I remember her coming in and saying, ‘Alright, I’m taking off,’” Hargrave told ABC News.
In the video, Crystal appears to be wearing black, but early missing person reports said she was wearing a pink to purple dress. Hargrave told CrimeOnline he could not recall with absolute certainty what color dress she was wearing that Friday morning, and said he believes the infrared cameras that recorded Crystal inside his home may have given the appearance that the dress was pink or purple. He said he would trust the color shown in the footage taken outside his home, as there was plenty of daylight.
Hargrave shared his last text message exchange with Crystal with CrimeOnline. In it, Crystal tells him that the traffic is easy and that she may take her children out for the day. She also shared a photo of a billboard displaying her real estate business, which Hargrave said he put up for her. He told CrimeOnline he owns the billboard and typically uses it to advertise his business.
Hargrave told CrimeOnline on Friday that he believes a conclusion is coming soon.
“I think the police are very close to finding Crystal,” he said, explaining that he believes investigators have narrowed in on an industrial area for reasons they are not disclosing, and have been searching there for days.
“They must have something credible,” he said.
Multiple messages to the Chambers County Sheriff and the Bayshore Police have not been returned, and Crystal’s ex-husband Steve McDowell has not responded to a request for an interview.
Sheriff Hawthorne told Chron.com that the ex-husband “is not any more of a suspect than the other persons on our persons of interest list.”
“Because of Crystal and her lifestyle that she led we have had lots of people come forward,” Hawthorne said. “She was well-liked and had lots of friends.”
Feature photo: Facebook