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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  June 12, 2022 12:00am-1:00am PDT

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out there. and she would want us to be laughing and having fun. and not saying that you can cry all day you. still have to live life. >> that's all for this edition of dateline. i am natalie morales. thank you for watching! ngyou for watchi >> i'm craig melvin. >> i'm natalie morales. >> this is "dateline. " i knew she would never leave her kids in the middle of a hurricane so i always knew it wasn't going to be good. >> crystal was gone, and there were lots of reasons to worry. >> she had numerous lovers, membmen and women. >> you had the husband and boyfriend failing polys. >> on the same day. >> the answer would have to
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wait. >> hurricane harvey is moving in this direction and high water rescues. >> we're stuck in the house and immediately went to social media. >> what kind of things? >> pictures of her and her license plate. >> someone knew where she was, someone that liked to play games. >> he thought he was smarter than we were. >> willing to trade one night of freedom. >> he said i'm ready to talk. >> let me go home and tomorrow morning i'll tell you everything. >> in exchange for the terrible truth. >> if he couldn't have her, nobody could. crystal was a young mom and brought the search for crystal to a halt, but an investigatior brought a series of clues and as flood waters receded, he discovered the same deadly storm that slowed the investigation had
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also flushed out crystal's killer. here is dennis murphy with "before the storm. " >> the woman captured on security camera moving ghost like from one room to the next is 37-year-old crystal mcdowell, a real else state agent from baytown, texas, it's thursday, august 25th, 2017. at 7:35 a. m., crystal gets into her black mercedes coupe and backs out of the driveway. looks like she's on her way to work, but crystal never makes it to the office that day. texts, phone calls and emails go unanswered. when crystal's extended family gathers later that evening to watch a paper view boxing match, cousin jade cherry says they we aren't sure if they should be annoyed or concerned. >> it was the night of the
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my brother is like crystal is missing, but in my head, i'm like, what? like you don't think. find her. what do you mean? >> that doesn't make sense. >> he's like no, like, she's missing. no one has talked to her since 7:00 in the morning. i was like that doesn't mean anything. her phone is -- her phone could be broke. she's busy. >> crystal's aunt a local beautician was also dismissive when her son called to say crystal was missing. >> he calls me and said mom, mom, have you heard crystal is missing? i'm like whatever. i'm like she's not missing. so i text her and ask her, hey, babe, how are you? where you at? i waited and blew it off and started watching tv. tried to call her. no answer and that's when i started to worry. >> blessed with looks, smarts and charm, crystal was a favorite with real estate clients and co-workers. her main passion was her two children and the love she had for them was obvious to see. the love for her husband wasn't as strong. after ten years of
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marriage, crystal split with her husband but the remodel of her new home ended uptaking longer than the divorce. and this is where crystal's life story gets complicated. while she waited to get the keys of a place of her own, crystal continued to live with her new ex-husband. like i said, complicated. tell me about the divorce, jade. who wanted out? which one? >> crystal for sure. >> so she gave him his walking papers? >> yes. >> how did he take it? >> not well. >> so even though they're divorced, they're spending nights together? >> right. >> after 24 hours of silence, the family calls the chambers county sheriff's department. >> any time we get a call like that we take it serious. >> deputy cody was at the mcdowell house to see if crystal's ex-husband steve heard from her. >> his immediate response was did something happen? is there something i should know of? >> then mcdowell through him a curve. he said crystal had a new boyfriend and there were nights when crystal just never came home. an awkward tail for any recent ex-husband but not what mcdowell said but how.
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>> in a real kind of strange tone of voice and i'm just asking a general question. my instincts were really kicking off that whole moment. >> the husband had sort of a fi fishy story. >> mannerism. didn't appear to be acting normal per se. >> that's what deputy hammis asked for backup to figure out the mess. detective donnie walters got the call. >> the first thing i notice that bothered me is they were divorced for six months but yet, he's still wearing a wedding ring. why? that's not normal. not normal behavior. >> what was his demeanor like as you're talking to him? >> almost cocky. he put his self-out that he was a whole lot smarter than we were. >> and just like that, the search for crystal slingshoted from a simple well being check to a possible homicide which meant looping in d. a. cheryl
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lieck. early on in this investigation, hours into it when you went around the table with investigators, who did you think the suspect ex-husband. when i heard she was divorced but still living with an ex-husband and had a boyfriend, my first thought is the husband did it. >> those suspicions seemed less suspicious when they spoke to the boyfriend. >> he was corporative but had that era about him also. >> the husband has given suspicion and the new boyfriend even though they were both being very corporative, it was corporative to a point it was almost questionable. >> you wonder why they were being so helpful? >> yes, sir. >> so what was going on? it was
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certainly suspicious that crystal's ex-husband never reported crystal missing, but the boyfriend whose house crystal stayed at the night before she disappeared, the place where the surveillance videos were recorded, well, he never filed a missing person report, either. crystal's boyfriend did something else that attracted the attention of investigators. he gave those surveillance videos to the media before them. coming up. >> it's being played on cable tv before your guys have seen it? >> that is correct. >> bottom line is the jeweler is a prime suspect for me. >> and there could be many more. >> she had numerous lovers throughout her marriage, men and women. >> when "dateline" continues. from progressive, but there's no saving that casserole!" [ both laugh ] i just love that word "bundle." it's so fun. two things coming together like a force of nature, like it was really meant to be, y'know? yes, yes, i do.
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texas'bayou belt. it's a land of pump jacks and refineries the size of cities. fortunes ebb and flow with the price of crude and in august of 2017, the price per barrel was on the rise. banks were lending and houses were being flipped and luxury items like diamonds were in demand. baytown's oldest and biggest jewelry store robson's. paul hargrave managed the store and he was crystal's date the night before she went missing. >> seemed to be a causal dinner like any of us would have at a nice restaurant in houston. >> chambers county sheriff ryan hawthorne. >> her companion that night, a new boyfriend? >> yes, very knew bnew boyfrien >> well-known name, big jeweller. >> the store has been there for 50 plus years. >> so she's had dinner that
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night and then she goes home to spend the night at his place. >> that is correct. he told us the last time he had seen her is he was getting in the shower, and she had gotten dressed and left. >> that makes him the last person known to have seen her alive. >> correct. >> which puts him in an investigative jam. >> it puts him as a person of interest, that's for sure. >> but hargrave's investigative status was soon upgraded. remember that security camera footage of crystal leaving for work? those videos were recorded at hargrave's home. we know that because he gave us and other news organizations the footage but the sheriff said hargrave didn't give those videos to his investigators, didn't even tell them about it, not at first. >> they released some of the video and pictures to the national media before our detectives even had it. >> it's being played on cable
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tv before your guys have even seen it? >> that's correct. >> that didn't sit well with the sheriff. >> the bottom line was the jeweler was a prime suspect for me. >> but d. a. leak had the opposite take when it came to the surveillance footage. she thought the time stamped videos backed up the boyfriend's alibi. >> all that did is confirm what i thought, he didn't do it. >> you weren't looking at the boyfriend? >> no, he didn't is a motive. the motive rests with the ex-husband because any logical person is saying okay, they're divorced. she spends the night with new boyfriend and she comes home the next morning? and ex-husband is supposed to be okay with that? no, i don't care who you are, you're not okay with that. >> so the d. a. was looking hard at the husband while the sheriff was betting on the boyfriend. it had to be one or the other, right? well, maybe not. did i mention that crystal's life was complicated? >> her name is crystal because her parents named her after crystal meth. >> you're kidding? >> no. her parents both died when she was 11. they died within six months of each other from aids from drug use. at one
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point around 13 she was abducted by a man and he kept her hostage, kept her in a chicken coop. >> you're kidding. >> sexual assaulted her. >> how awful. >> she managed to escape and eventually ended up down here in boy to baytown with her grandmother and a paternal aunt. >> crystal eventually began living with jade's family and somehow clawed her way back from the abuse she suffered as a child which could explain the photos and videos crystal took with her own daughter. she may have wanted the world to see how much her own little girl was loved, wanted and protected. >> when i think of crystal, i think of loving. it was very, very loving and a hard worker, those are the two things i think of when i think of crystal.
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>> it was jade's parents that introduced crystal to her husband steve. >> my dad has been friends with steve since childhood friends forever since high school so i've always grown up around steve. >> tell me about steve, first. who is the guy you remember? >> like a big kid. >> like a big kid he loved his toys, video games and muscled ford mustangs. >> i remember the day she told me she met him. >> tell me that story. >> very smitten. i found somebody i love aunt cindy. he's perfect. he's funny. we talk a lot. i thought she met the man of her dreams. >> you met him. what did you think? >> the nicest, most kind hearted passionate person i ever met. >> all of us kids were there playing and goofy and silly and would go on trips and things like that. >> the trips were a job perk. shortly after her marriage to steve, crystal landed a flight attendant position with express jet and with her out going personality, kis l was soon an airline favorite. and that's
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when her life became even more complicated. >> she had numerous lovers throughout her marriage. men and women. >> she's very social and because she traveled all over the united states with express jet, she had flight attendant friends and pilots all over the country. there were a lot of players and a lot of different directions we found ourselves going in the first week. >> if she's been intimate with people there and there, do we have an angry husband, angry wife? >> that is correct. that is some of the avenue we were looking at is other angry spouses. >> crystal mcdowell had been missing two days by the time the chambers county sheriff's office uncovered promising leads to pursue. but suddenly, pursuing leads became next to impossible. as little baytown suffered a disaster of epic proportions. >> it was a biblical storm. it really was. i felt like i was on noah's ark.
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coming up. >> it just kept raining and kept raining. it changed everything. >> a hurricane puts a homicide case on hold but not forever. >> immediately, we went to social media. >> what kinds of things did you put on it? >> pictures of her, her license plate. >> when "dateline" continues.
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biblical, all words to describe hurricane harvey, meaning it was a storm like few had ever seen. harvey was not only massive but slow moving and once it hit usen and baytown, it weirdly just stopped. >> it just kept raining and kept raining, half of the county was going under water at 5:00 in the morning and we were already doing high-water rescues. >> it seemed like nobody was talking about a missing woman any longer. the community and everyone in it was fighting to survive. what was the scariest moment for you in harvey? >> when the water started coming down my walls in my house and it was overflowing and i was watching to see which way it was going to come in first, the front door or backdoor. i've never experience that before. it just never stopped.
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>> there were boats actually traveling the roads and the only communication we have is through our phones. thank god our phones were working. >> crystal's husband jade cherry was stranded in her mom's home with a pair of newborns. >> i have two screaming twins 4 months old half breastfeeding, half formula. i wasn't making milk, scared to run out of formula. >> the search for crystal was no longer a priority for the chambers county instruct the sheriff's office. >> i had no choice but to rescue citizens. >> you don't have the manpower and resources for an event like this. >> when you have this kind of storm and devastation, you can never have enough manpower. >> so jade picked up the slack. house bound with twins she did the only thing she could think of to find kcrystal. >> immediately, we went to social media. >> what did you put up? >> pictures of her, her license plate. >> because her car was missing. >> yes.
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>> nice car. >> beautiful black mercedes and we're posting and sharing and i'm repeatedly like keep sharing it, keep sharing it. >> jade was crowd sourcing the search for crystal and what do you know? >> i get a text from someone and it said hey, jade, i don't know if they found your cousin or her car yet but her car is at motel 6 off 146. i'm like how do you know that it's her car? do you have a picture of it? and she said my friend posted it on snapchat and was like wow, like, this mercedes is about to be flooded. i would be so mad if this was my car. >> jade's friend then forwarded this picture of the car. >> it's just the car and water and the water is right underneath the license plate. >> and it's crystal's. >> and it's crystal's car. the first thing i did was call my dad and tell my dad crystal's car is at motel 6 on 146. he said how do you know? his reaction is the same, this is
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her car. >> this is her car. >> with the roads and fields flooded, jade's family could only get to the motel 6 by boat, same with the detectives from the sheriffs deputy. >> we had a an airboat doing rescues to get up to the hotel. >> so this motel 6 is going under. >> it completely under. >> out on i-10. >> get in the airboat and sure enough, there is the car. >> finding crystal's car was a huge break, but one wrapped in a riddle. did crystal leave her mercedes at the motel 6 or did someone else? >> you can tell it had been happen hazardly parked. >> and the keys inside. >> yes. come and get it, i want somebody to take this car because something happened. >> this is a tasty prize.
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>> absolutely. >> steal me. >> absolutely. >> nobody seemed to have taken the bait. >> well, there was a couple that tried but the problem is the water was too high. >> crystal's car was later toeed to a garage where a csi team went through it. forensically what happened. did they come up with anything? >> nothing. >> that's when "dateline" posed a missing in america report but the story generated no usable leads. by the time the last remanence of the storm howled out of texas, a week had gone by with this county in shambles, the sheriff knew he needed an outside assist on the mcdowell case and put out a call for help. one answered by texas ranger steven jeter. >> what do you do? >> ground zero. went back in like nothing had been done before. >> on day one of this investigation, jeter had ex-husband mcdowell sitting in a chair for his first formal interview.
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>> i told him, hey, look, you're ex-husband. we're going to take your story and i got to rule you out as a suspect. >> so he's a co-rporative guy? >> oh, yeah, once you reached out to him very corporative. >> mcdowell told jeter the same story he told sheriff's deputies a week earlier. he hadn't seen crystal since thursday night when she left for the date. >> according to him, that was the last time he saw her last. >> you under estimate a texas ranger if you see an elite gun slinger in hat and boots. jeter has gone through extensive training how best to interview a suspect by reading behavior and body language. so tell me about his demeanor and what you're seeing as much as what he's saying to you, ranger. >> probably lack of concern or sincere concern for what we know as an ex-wife. i said hey, let's take a lie detector test. >> mcdowell said sure, he'd be
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happy to. >> and he failed. >> how badly did he flunk the poly? >> you couldn't fail any worse. >> which naturally would have made him the prime suspect except it didn't jive with everything else jeter was hearing about him. >> from the family members that he had been talking to, you know, they were all in steve's corner. they all thought that steve treated crystal right and was a good person for crystal. >> and all agreed that steven was an involved and loving dad. according to jeter, crystal's boyfriend paul hargrave was the one the family pointed fingers at. >> they didn't know anything about him so he was the boogie man. >> the boyfriend cooperated, handed over videos, cell phone and agreed to be strapped to the polygraph. and? >> failed miserably. >> he did, too? >> yes, sir. >> the husband and boyfriend failing the same polys. >> all in the same day. >> what the hell is going on? i couldn't believe it. i thought maybe they're in it together? so that really threw us off. really threw us off. >> the skies may have cleared
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but that didn't mean any new light was shed on the investigation. everything seemed just as dark and confusing as before. it looked as though the only way to solve this mystery was to find crystal or her body. coming up -- caught on camera, a rider in the storm. >> when we saw him riding a bike, we said that's what he did. >> when "dateline" continues. jaycee tried gain flings for the first time the other day and forgot where she was. you can always spot a first time gain flings user. ♪ got my hair got my head ♪ introducing new one a day multi+. a complete multivitamin plus an extra boost of support for your immunity, brain, and hair, skin & nails. new one a day multi+. you might have heard of carvana and that we sell cars online.
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happening. 31 members of the white supremacist group were -- on saturday. they were trying to stage a riot and idaho. they found sim cards, and at least one smoker and made. former president donald trump has endorsed katie, in a republican primary for the alabama senate. he originally backed mel brooks in the race, but pulled his support. they face off later this month. now back to dateline! welcome back to "dateline. " i'm natalie morales. after crystal mcdowell disappeared, incevestigatioors looked at
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crystal's new husband and her boyfriend operated with police and both agreed to take a lie detector test and both failed miserably. authorities were baffled but revealing clues would soon put the investigation into focus. once again, here is dennis murphy with "before the storm. " >> by tuesday, september the 5th, the sky was clear and the water down. with the break in weather, texans took to ripping up carpets, tearing out drywall and hauling flooded cars to the salvage yard but there was no break in the hunt for crystal. she'd been missing for 11 days and was now plresumed dead. body has become evidence. >> she tells her story from the grave. >> by tuesday, september the 5th, the sky was clear and the water down. with the break in weather, texans took to ripping up carpets, tearing out drywall and hauling flooded cars to the salvage yard but there was no break in the hunt for crystal. she'd been missing for 11 days and was now plresumed dead. body has become evidence. >> she tells her story from the grave. >> so you need remains. >> have to have remains. >> but where were they? if crystal's body had been dumped
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in one of these bayous, the reseeding flood waters would have certainly swept it out to the gulf of mexico. never theless, a call went out for volunteers for what many thought was a fruitsearch. texas equusearch took the lead. wednesday, september 9th more than 100 people worked grids by foot, atv and airboat but as light waned on that first day, equusearch tim miller wasn't hopeful. >> at this point, it doesn't look good. you know, it doesn't look good at all. >> while volunteers work the wetlands in search of kis cryst ranger jeter looked to solve the dilemma of the investigation. he had two men in the cross hairs, the ex-husband and new boyfriend. he needed to focus on one or the other. so you started to ask questions who has a camera around here. >> that's right. >> he had investigators check businesses near the motel 6 in search of surveillance footage. what did you come up with? >> fortunately, a lot of people
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had some. >> almost too much. hours upon hours of footage but buried deep within this investigative or detectives caught images of the man they believed killed crystal mcdowell. the first clip is this footage recorded saturday, august 26th at 6:37 a. m. the outer bands of hurricane harvey are starting to hit bayto baytown. near the top of your screen, you can see the taillights of crystal's mercedes as it's being backed into the motel 6 parking lot. >> we can see somebody walk from the car. >> five hours later, a different security camera at a gas station next to the motel shows this blue car pulling next to a pump. this one caught the eye of a watchful investigator because it's a rare mustang g. t. just like steven mcdowell's. he count have had a more distinctive car than a shelby. hard to miss that. >> without a doubt. >> the driver does something odd. rather than pumping gas, he walks towards the motel six. >> it appears to be looking at his wife's ditched car.
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>> investigators were not zerw n certain mcdowell ditched the car and did so with the expectation it would conveniently disappear. >> the thought ballooned nobody stole it yet. >> that's exactly what went through his head, oh [bleep] the scar is still here. >> if mcdowell was acting alone, once he left the car he would have been on foot miles from his house. >> for two weeks we said how did he do this? how did he get back home? >> to find out they pulled footage along the roads in the area and found this video of a man riding a bike in the driving rain along the i-10 feeder road. the video was time stamped at 7:05 a. m., 25 minutes after crystal's car was dropped off. and that's when the pieces all fell into place. >> when we were at his house, we saw a bicycle in the garage
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and the thing about this bike is it has unique mag wheels. >> jeter remembered mcdowell's alibi for that saturday morning was that he'd been shopping at this walmart across the freeway from thejeter had the security a footage bulled. a guy looking like steven mcdowell dressed in a sweatshirt with a hoodie up is paying cash for a bike with unique mag wheels minutes after crystal's mercedes was abandoned. >> when we saw him riding a bike, we said that's what he did. he walked across the interstate to walmart and bought the bike, a red bull and a pack of cigarettes. >> ironically, the storm that brought the investigation to a halt also led to its biggest break. the flood waters prevented crystal's car from being stolen, which in turn led detectives to focus on the surveillance cameras near the motel 6. had that not happened, they never would have found these videos of mcdowell. >> his plan fell apart with the rain. >> so he was a victim of
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hurricane harvey, too. >> in more ways than one. >> when confronted with all this evidence, mcdowell denies it was him. >> there is no doubt in my mind that's you. i want to show you that. >> mcdowell eventually admitted this footage at the gas station was him. but the walmart clips no way he said. by now investigators were convinced mcdowell was crystal's killer and for the boyfriend, an innocent man that had nothing to do with crystal's disappear ranls. d. a. leak by then had enough evidence to charge mcdowell with murder but she believed she needed one more piece of evidence to ensure a conviction. >> i wanted that body. >> why is that important? >> well, it's important for a lot of reasons. it's easier to try a murder trial when you've got a dead body. it just is.
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but, you know, she deserved to be found. you know? she deserved to be found. her kids deserved for her body to be found. her family deserved for her to be found. >> investigators all believed mcdowell knew where the body was but he staed fastly denied any involvement in crystal's disappearance. after an hour of getting nowhere, mcdowell was allowed to go home to his children but now, district attorney leak and ranger jeter had a whole new problem on their hands. >> i had found some folks that i had interviewed throughout the week that had said he'd actually talked about murder suicide sometime earlier. >> right after the divorce, mcdowell had reportedly threatened to destroy the entire family. >> it was like i'm going to kill myself. i'm going to kill the kids. >> you're going to be blamed for the ruining of my life. >> yes. >> now that he was once again under stress, leak worried mcdowell might finally decide to bring his whole world crumbling down around him. coming up, a prosecutor gets tough.
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>> tell him we're not letting him see his children until he takes us to the body. >> a gamble that pays off. >> he said i'm ready to talk. >> when "dateline" continues. dad, when is the future? um, oh wow. um, the future is, uh, what's ahead of us. i don't get it. yeah. maybe this will help. so now we're in the present. and now... we're in the future. the all-electric chevy bolt euv with available super cruise™ for hands-free driving. - dad. - yeah? do fish get thirsty? eh. find new answers. find new roads. chevrolet. ♪ got my hair got my head ♪ introducing new one a day multi+. a complete multivitamin plus an extra boost of support for your immunity, brain, and hair, skin & nails. new one a day multi+.
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himself. the distrit attorney turned to an old high school classmate for help. cindy was good enough to stay close. >> cindy said she felt duty bound to watch over the kids just 5 and 8 at the time as the rangers closed in on steven. >> i had told my husband i was going over there. he said it's not a good idea. i said i truly feel he's going to kill the kids and himself. >> what was your mission about this i've got to go to steve's idea. >> protect the kids. i knew if i can stay close, talk to him, that's what hair dress so ers do best. keep him calm. get him to confess. >> is he frightening you at that point? >> no, i carried a gun the whole time. >> when you were at his house? >> oh, yeah, i had a gun on me all the time. >> why? >> because i felt he would snap. the texas rangers were getting under his skin.
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>> even so, mcdowell returned for further questioning. >> you can see literally he's losing weight before your eyes. >> the rangers laid out all the evidence against him. the polygraph, the videos, the lies they caught him in but mcdowell held tight, would not confess. and by evening time leak was getting nervous. >> i just can't get these kids off my mind something is going to happen. >> so leak decided to put the kids into protective custody with child protective services. once the children were safely secure, leak sent a message to their dad. >> you tell limb that we're not letting him see his children until he take us to the body. i said i'm done. he's messing with us and i'm sick of it. he's not going to get away with
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i'm not telling you where zest at. sorry, you're not getting away with that. you killed her and don't have the right to do that and you don't have the ligright to leav her somewhere and nobody knows if she'll wash up somewhere and everyone wondering where is she? >> that night an exhausted mcdowell asked the rangers to present a counter offer to d. a. leak. >> he told holland let me go home and tomorrow morning i'll tell you everything. and i'll take you to where crystal is at. >> with that verbal agreement, the district attorney and ranger jeter allowed mcdowell to walk out of the sheriff's office knowing it was a risky decision. >> did you feel at all weird about letting him walk that night? >> i did. i felt like he's fixing to break because i thought he was going home for probably to take himself out. >> on the morning of saturday, september 9th, rangers jeter and holland went knocking on his door not sure what they'd find. but to jeter's surprise, mcdowell answered the door. >> he said i'm ready to talk. >> at 12:45 p. m., mcdowell was back in the chair and made good on his promise to talk. mcdowell said he knew crystal
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had a long string of affairs. >> and you've confronted her at different times about those affairs. >> yes. i confronted her. and she told me to stay out of her business. she said i'm not dominant enough in the bedroom is what she says. >> pretending to be sympathetic. ranger holland teased out the details of crystal's death. it was slow and brutal. >> were you fighting when that happened? >> yeah. >> is that when she told you she didn't love you anymore. >> yeah. >> and did you snap? did you mean to suffocate her? >> no. >> did it just happen? >> i did not mean to hurt her. i love her. >> and how did you suffocate her? >> squeezed her. put my arm around her like this. >> okay. like a choke hold or something? did she say anything when that was going on or did she fight or what happened? >> she said you're scaring me. >> how did you know she was no longer alive. >> she stopped moving. >> mcdowell said he then
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wrapped her in trash bags and hid her body in the trunk of the mercedes. he said he dumped her body the following morning but before he revealed where, mcdowell said he wanted a deal. >> he wents the death penalty off the table. >> what's the calculous your prosecutor has to go through. >> we don't find crystal without his help. >> flat not going to happen. >> it not going to happen. this isn't a forensic case or dna case. this is a who done it, we now know who done it now take me to where she's at. >> district attorney leak was on the same page. and with jeter as her go between, she agreed to forgo the death penalty. >> as long as you take us to the body we won't seek the death penalty. >> shortly thereafter he agreed i'll take you to crystal's location. >> they retraced mcdowell's route that led to the short narrow strip of black top needle road. >> heavily wooded. >> ranger, would you have ever gone down a road? >> no, that place was four to five foot under water two weeks earlier. >> at a seemingly random spot, mcdowell said stop, this is the place. jeter and holland set
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off on foot. >> within a short period of time we found what we believed to be the remains of crystal mcdowell. there wasn't much left of her. she was pretty much decomposed. >> steven mcdowell had not only confessed but given up the body. case closed, right? not in texas because a murder defendant can claim sudden passion that the victim somehow played a role in their own death by provoking the killer. and mcdowell wanted to make that argument before a jury hoping he could drastically reduce his sentence. >> i can tell a jury look, if you find this story of sudden passion, then the only thing, the maximum you can give him is 20. he can get out in as little as two. >> what worried district attorney leak was there were even some in law enforcement thought this was a sudden passion case. were you under
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courthouse pressure, law enforcement pressure from this take on the case this is a poor guy and he snapped and we're really in manslaughter country here and why are you guys going for the full ride? >> because i don't care how hen packed somebody might be or how much they say they are, which in my opinion, he was not, that was a ploy. still no excuse to kill anybody. >> a popular prosecutor who is also a single mom. leak built a reputation as a fierce advocate for women and children and on this case, she was going to be the voice of crystal mcdowell. >> she was begging him, please stop fighting with me. i've been in an unhappy marriage for ten years. please stop using
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the kids as pawns. you've used me long enough. please, please, please, i'm tired. i'm exhausted. i can't fight with you anymore. >> to leak, the killing of crystal mcdowell was a black and white case of premeditated murder and the big question, would all 12 members of a jury see it that way? coming up, two shockingly young witnesses take the stand. >> why did you bring the kids in? >> they wanted to talk about it. >> and the jury makes a they goin'with this? " when "dateline" continues. to severe eczema or atopic dermatitis under control? hide my skin? not me. by hitting eczema where it counts, dupixent helps heal your skin from within keeping you one step ahead of eczema. hide my skin? not me. and that means long-lasting clearer skin and fast itch relief for adults. with dupixent, you can show more skin with less eczema. hide my skin? not me. don't use if you're allergic to dupixent. serious allergic reactions can occur that can be severe.
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tell your doctor about new or worsening eye problems such as eye pain or vision changes, including blurred vision, joint aches and pain, or a parasitic infection. don't change or stop asthma medicines without talking to your doctor. when you help heal your skin from within, you can change how your skin looks and feels. and that's the kind of change you notice. talk to your eczema specialist about dupixent, a breakthrough eczema treatment. ♪ ♪ i'm the latest hashtag challenge. and everyone on social media is trying me. i'm trending so hard that “hashtag common sense” can't keep up. this is going to get tens and tens of views. ♪ ♪ ( car crashing ) ♪ ♪ but if you don't have the right auto insurance coverage, you could be left to pay for this... yourself. call a local agent or 1-888-allstate for a quote today. >> welcome back. part of a plea
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deal to show detectives where he hid her body. there was not much doubt he was a killer. but could prosecutors prove the murder was premeditated? they were ready to use anything in their arsenal. here's the conclusion of before the storm. >> after a year of court hearing and motions, steven mcdowell finally went on trial for the murder of his ex-wife crystal. in june 2019, d. a. cheryl llieck made sure she was well-armed with evidence depicting the extent to which mcdowell tried to cover up the crime. she showed the jury
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mcdowell's confession, the video of him dumping crystal's mercedes, and buying that bicycle at walmart and later checking on the car to see if had been stolen. but the video that really got the court's attention? pre-recorded testimony of crystal and steven's two children. >> why'd you bring the kids in? >> well, i didn't want to. >> tender age. >> i spoke to their guardian, and i said, "look, if -- if you don't think that this is gonna be somethin'that they can handle, i will absolutely not put them on the stand. it's just not worth it to me. " but, they wanted to talk about it. >> "it" being their mother's murder. the daughter, now 7, said she saw it happen. no cameras were allowed in court so we turn to the trial transcripts on the daughter's testimony. she told the court. "they were arguing about her going with another man, and she said that'i'm gonna take my -- my children with me, ' and then he pushed her on the bed and said,'no, you're not. ' and then he started putting his hands like that. " and the daughter demonstrated for the
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jury by putting her own hands over her nose and mouth. the daughter continued. >> "and she -- she tried to put her -- her hands up and her feet up and -- so dad wouldn't have -- have so much weight on her. and then he glanced at me, really mad at me, and then mom glanced at me and tried to say help, and then when he -- he was done. he told me to go in my room, don't tell anyone. " damning testimony from a child. the defense tried to undercut it, contending the daughter had heard about the killing from relatives and just made up a story to fill in the blanks. then, in rebuttal, the defense called their own star witness. .. steven mcdowell. when he was on the stand, did he do himself any good? >> mm-mm. no. >> who'd the jury meet? >> they met a conniving, manipulative crybaby. >> through his tears, mcdowell told an entirely new, and strange story about how he killed crystal, that it was nothing more than a freak
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accident. in the midst of their argument, he said, crystal got hysterical so he put her in a bear hug to calm her down. "i just wanted to hug her. " he told the court. "i just wanted to stop fighting. i wanted to quit going back and forth because it was going nowhere and i was frustrated and i was upset and i was mad. " his lawyer asked, "what happened next? " mcdowell reponded, "she became limp and she fell. " d. a. lieck couldn't believe what she was hearing. >> he hugged her to death. yeah, that's a new one on me. >> that had not been told before. >> no, and there's no way. and then we were actually lookin'it up on -- you know, we're googlin'it, you know, at -- at dinner that night, goin', "how do you hug somebody to death? " >> when the case went to the jury, lieck thought an outright acquittal seemed unlikely. but, a hung jury was a distinct possibility. >> just one -- just one juror, that's all it needs. and i thought, "god, if the one
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believes his story, you know, we're cooked. >> and sure enough, during deliberations, one of the jurors asked to see mcdowell's confession tape again. does that make you nervous? >> it always makes me nervous because i'm, like, "oh god, where are they goin'with this? " >> an hour after re-watching the confession the jury came back with a verdict, guilty. but now came the penalty phase when the jury would decide if this was a pre-meditated killing or one of "sudden passion. " how stressful was this case for you? >> oh, it was real stressful. i mean, when you get a case like this where you have the perpetrator who can convince even some members of law enforcement that he might have been the victim in all of this, then you worry about, "what's a jury gonna think, you know? " >> how do you straddle this -- this thing? and i -- you know, i -- forgive the -- the thought, but it's, like, how do you not get seen as a -- woman? do you -- assess i don't know. >> -- know what i mean? >> and i think that -- >>'cause it --'cause somebody -- you could be judged and -- >> right, absolutely. and i -- i think i am seen like that by a lotta jurors, and there's
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nothin'i can do about it. i mean, if i tried to be anything different than i am, it would come across as -- as -- as insincere. >> that authenticity apparently resonated with the jury in crystal's case. they rejected the "sudden passion" argument and found that crystal's murder was pre-meditated. they sentenced steven mcdowell to 50 years in prison. he's appealing his condition. aunt cindy wasn't in court that day. instead she distracted the kids with a trip to the multi-plex. >> and we went to the movie and just had a really good day. >> so the kids are at the movie and dad's going away virtually forever? >> exactly. and they never asked a question, you know, he got 50 years and it was almost a relief. i mean, i'm actually for the death penalty for this kind of stuff, but i mean, it's better than 20. >> crystal's children are now being raised by an old friend whose own parents had once given crystal a home. >> she makes him stay focused in school. they have regimens. they have routines. she loves 'em. she truly loves them, and she is honored to raise them. >> they are, i mean, they're just -- they're phenomenal kids. >> as for crystal, lieck hopes she'll be remembered more as a loving mom than an up-by-the bootstraps survivor of awful abuse. >> she wanted that family that she never had. she wanted children. she wanted to love something unconditionally and
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have some -- somebody love her unconditionally. >> i love you. >> and she was still looking for that love right until the hours before the winds began howling and the waters rose. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline. " >> i'm craig melvin. >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline. " >> i called my mom immediately. i just cried. i cried. i couldn't feel. my body went numb. i told her karlyn's gone. she's gone. >> she was a beautiful young mom doing important work. >> she was an intelligence specialist. >> some of her work was very sensitive. top secret.

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