A man who strangled his ex-wife on the eve of Hurricane Harvey, in hopes the natural disaster would destroy the evidence, appeared defeated and anguished in court on Tuesday.
Prosecutors have accused 44-year-old Steven McDowell of strangling his ex-wife, Crystal Seratte McDowell, 37, with their 5- and 8-year-old children in the next room.
Click2Houston reported Wednesday that footage of the ex-husband and father’s Tuesday court appearance depicted a teary-eyed McDowell, who prosecutors believe put more planning into his crime than meets the eye.
McDowell told police that he and his wife had been divorced since June, but that she had been staying with him while her home was being remodeled. However, three week before the incident, Crystal Seratte McDowell began dating a new man, Paul Hargrave. She had come to McDowell’s home on Aug. 25, the day before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, to pick up the kids, after which she vanished.
Hargrave says the time of the murder is no coincidence.
“I believe he knew exactly what he was doing. I think he knew the storm was coming in and this would help cover his tracks,” Hargrave said.
“I think I had a lot to do with his decision to do this and I can’t help but feel responsible for that.”
The suspect in the murder was initially less clear cut, as neighbor Doris Bell told police that the couple had remained close since the divorce.
“He was a great father,” Bell said. “He had the kids all the time.”
On Saturday, Chambers County Sheriff’s Office told ABC NEWS 13, that it had developed a list of nine people of interest in formulating their investigation.
However, when McDowell was interviewed, he broke down and admitted to the strangling, telling police where he had dumped the body in Chambers County’s Woodlands neighborhood.
“He is a little emotional, but he said very little,” Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said.
“He has been 100 percent cooperative. He was a person of interest, as were others, and every person involved, including Mr. McDowell, has been very cooperative.”
Following Aug. 25, Crystal’s uncle reported her missing after she missed several business appointments. She had said she was going to pick up her kids to take them to a storm shelter in Dallas. McDowell initially claimed she never showed up.
Four days after vanishing, the victim’s Mercedes was found submerged in flood water in the parking lot of a Motel 6.
It was recognized by someone who had seen her family’s frantic social media appeals to find her.
Her remains were discovered more than 20 miles away from her vehicle. A black bag containing her business paperwork was also found at McDowell’s home, police said.
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