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Who Killed Jaclyn Dowaliby?

Despite a conviction, the young girl's murder remains a mystery.

jaclyn dowaliby
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  • Photo Credit: thesouthtownstar / YouTube

On September 14, 1988, searchers in a vacant lot unearthed the body of Jaclyn Dowaliby, a Chicago-area seven-year-old girl who had been taken from her own bedroom four nights earlier. Her mother, Cynthia, had reported Jaclyn missing and presumably abducted on the morning of September 10.

Responding officers discovered a broken basement window that appeared to be a point of entry—until David Dowaliby, Jaclyn’s adoptive father, said he thought he saw that the back door had been left open.

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That small bit of potentially conflicting information raised questions that perhaps Jaclyn’s parents knew more about her disappearance than they claimed.

As authorities waited several days for a ransom call that never came, they began to look more closely at Cynthia and David Dowaliby.

jaclyn dowaliby
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  • David and Cynthia DowalibyPhoto Credit: Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Jaclyn’s remains were discovered in Blue Island, a Chicago suburb about six miles from her home. Officers interviewed occupants of the surrounding area and thought they might have a valuable tip for local resident Everett Mann.

Mann told the cops that, at around 2:00 A.M. on the night Jaclyn disappeared, he saw a person with a “large, straight nose” speeding away from the location where the dead girl had been left. He also said the figure drove off in a dark car—maybe brown, probably blue, and, after pressure from the police, Mann added that it was most likely a “1979 Chevy Malibu.”

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David Dowaliby fit the bill in terms of the distinctive facial feature. Cynthia owned a 1980 Chevy Malibu.

For the next two months, law enforcement agents built a case against the Dowalibys. In November 1988, police arrested David and Cynthia for the murder of their daughter. Cynthia was two months pregnant at the time of her arrest.

As the Dowalibys’ court date approached, public sentiment took a hard stance against the couple.

In April 1990, the trial judge called both the prosecutors and the defense lawyers to his chambers. He said insufficient evidence existed to convict Cynthia and that he would be dismissing her charges. The case against David, however, could keep moving forward.

A month later, after three days of deliberation, a jury found David Dowaliby guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to 45 years.

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Immediately following David’s conviction, Cynthia flew into action to clear her husband. She started a grassroots campaign, attracting the attention of several journalists who also took up the cause.

In addition to other prosecutorial missteps, Everett Mann—the man whose eyewitness testimony put David at the location where Jaclyn's body was found—proved to be a highly dubious source.

First, throughout his interrogation, Mann changed multiple details from his story. Second, he identified David from a forward-facing photo despite having claimed to only see a shadowy figure in profile from 75 yards away in the middle of the night.

Most devastatingly, it came to light that Mann had been rejected for police duty due to bipolar disorder issues and that he’d long been struggling with other symptoms of mental illness.

In addition, other witnesses claimed they saw Cynthia’s car parked in the Dowalibys’ driveway when the abduction occurred, and no one else near the Blue Island dump site had spotted any kind of vehicle.

In October 1991, the Illinois Court of Appeals overturned David’s conviction and freed him from jail.

Related: “Who Killed My Daughter?” 

While some investigators and observers still believe that David and possibly Cynthia may have been involved in Jaclyn’s murder, others point to a suspect that police originally let go when he seemed to have an alibi.

Timothy Guess, the brother of Jaclyn’s biological father, had previously been accused of trying to kidnap his young niece. 

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  • Jimmy GuessPhoto Credit: Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

During Jaclyn’s actual abduction, Guess, who had been clinically diagnosed as schizophrenic, told the cops he’d been hanging out in an all-night diner. Two waitresses backed him up.

Later, after NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries devoted an episode to Jaclyn’s murder, a tipster alleged that Timothy Guess was lying.

One of the waitresses recanted her original statement, saying that she lied because she believed the Dowalibys were guilty and wanted them to go to jail. This time, she told authorities that Guess had only briefly dropped by the restaurant at around 9:30 P.M.

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The Illinois State’s Attorney reopened the case, and grilled Guess anew. Despite having never been to the Dowalibys’ home, he seemed to know details of the layout. Guess said that he knew these details because a “spirit” lived inside him and supplied him with such details.

Despite mounting questions, Guess never faced any charges. He died in 2002. As a result, the murder of Jaclyn Dowaliby, who would now be 41 years old, remains a mystery still.

Read more: ABC Chicago; Chicago Tribune; Unsolved Mysteries; Bizarre and Grotesque