The search continues for a missing Texas realtor and mother of two who has not been seen since just before Hurricane Harvey devastated the greater Houston area.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Crystal McDowell went missing last Friday, August 25, after driving to pick up her two young children from her ex-husband’s home. In the following days, the hurricane would ravage southeast Texas, bringing unprecedented flooding and taking dozens of lives.
It’s possible that emergency conditions may have hampered the early days of the missing person investigation.
McDowell’s boyfriend Paul Hargrave, who said the two had been dating for only about a month before she vanished, said in an interview with CrimeOnline that some law enforcement agents themselves were trapped by the storm conditions, making it difficult to focus on searching for her. But he says he believes police are doing everything they can.
“It’s been a roller coaster of emotions,” Hargrave says.
The jewelry store owner, 37, confirmed an earlier report that McDowell had been living with her ex-husband and two children while her home was being renovated, and that she had her own room there. But he said that his own relationship with Crystal had accelerated in the week before her disappearance, and that she had been spending more time at his place.
Crystal spent the night at Hargrave’s house in Baytown the Thursday before she disappeared, and Hargrave says she left early Friday morning to go pick up her children.
But Crystal never made it to her ex-husband’s home. Her black Mercedes was later found partially submerged in water in a Motel 6 parking lot, which Hargrave said is a short distance away from both his place of work and her ex’s home.
Crystal’s uncle, Jeff Walters, confirmed to CrimeOnline that police had detained two people who were found inside the car. He said he had no idea who they were, and was not sure if they had been questioned and released or were still in custody.
Multiple attempts to reach the Baytown Police Department were not successful, and CrimeOnline is awaiting a response from the Chambers County Police Department.
Hargrave shared text messages between him and Crystal from August 25, including one in which she wrote that traffic conditions were easy, and that she might take her kids out for the day if they wanted to go somewhere. As the image shows, she did not respond to or appear to have received any text messages from Hargrave after Friday morning. Messages he sent in the afternoon were not returned, and did not show a read receipt.
The missing woman’s boyfriend says he is well aware of what it means that he was the last person to see Crystal, and that he has been proactive with the police in offering his cooperation. As of Monday, he had not obtained an attorney.
“I’m the last person who saw her and all eyes are on me,” Hargrave says.
The boyfriend told CrimeOnline that he went straight to work not long after Crystal left that Friday morning, and worked a long shift at his store that day. He said security cameras near his home and at the store would corroborate this, and that police were at the store on Labor Day downloading surveillance footage to confirm his alibi. CrimeOnline was unable to reach the police to confirm this, and Walters told us he knew nothing about it, and that he does not know Hargrave very well.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Walters, who works with his niece at a real estate agency, first reported her missing on the Saturday after she was last seen. He told CBS News that Crystal’s ex-husband showed him a text message from Crystal in which she said she was taking their children to go to Dallas and ride out the storm.
“He showed me a message on his phone where she said she was going to get the kids and go to Dallas. I have reservations about believing that she sent that message,” Walters told CBS News, adding, “I have strong feelings about what’s happened but I’d rather not voice them right now.”
When asked to elaborate on that text message, Walters confirmed that he had seen the message himself but declined to say anything further.
“I’m letting the police handle it,” he said.
Crystal’s husband did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hargrave told CrimeOnline that he has been in contact with Walters since Crystal disappeared, and that he tracked down her family and a work colleague when he became worried about her. Because they had not been together for long, Hargrave did not know any of Crystal’s family or friends very well, but said he figured they might know why she stopped responding to messages.
He also says that Crystal never mentioned to him the possibility of taking the children to Dallas, and that he can’t imagine why she would have taken off by herself without telling anyone.
“If she was going anywhere she would have told me,” he says.
“Things were going phenomenal with us, she loved her kids, she loved her job, she loved her family. … I can’t imagine why she would just leave.”
Both Walters and Hargrave say they believe Crystal was a victim of some kind of foul play.
“What we want is her home, but if not we want whoever did it to be punished,” Walters said, adding, “Someone knows where she is.”
Hargrave says he is trying to remain hopeful, but has doubts about a happy ending.
“Someone did something to her,” he said.
Feature photo: Facebook