MIDLOTHIAN, IL — On September 14, 1988, searchers in a vacant lot unearthed the body of Jaclyn Dowaliby, a Chicago-area seven-year-old girl who had apparently been taken from her own bedroom four nights earlier.
Her mother, Cynthia Dowaliby, 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.
That bit of potentially conflicting information initially raised questions that perhaps Jaclyn’s parents knew more about her disappearance than they initially claimed.
As authorities waited several days for a ransom call and it never came, they began to look at Cynthia and David Dowaliby even harder
Jaclyn’s remains turned up in Blue Island, another Chicago suburb about six miles from her home. Officers interviewed occupants of the surrounding area and thought they might have found something by way of local resident Everett Mann.
Mann told the cops that, at around 2 A.M. on the night Jaclyn disappeared, he saw a person with a “large, straight nose” speeding away from what would turn out to be where the dead girl had been discarded. He also said the figure drove off in a dark car — maybe brown, probably blue, and most likely a “1979 Chevy Malibu.”
David Dowaliby fit the bill in terms of the distinctive facial feature. Cynthia owned a 1980 Chevy Malibu.
For the next two months, then, law-enforcement agents built a case against the Dowalibys. In November 1988, police arrested David and Cynthia for the murder of their daughter. Cynthia, at the time, was two months pregnant.
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’d 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.
Immediately following David’s conviction, Cynthia flew into action to clear her husband. She started a grassroots campaign that attracted the attention of several journalists who also took up the cause.
In addition to other prosecutorial missteps, Everett Mann — whose eyewitness testimony put David at the location where Jaclyn was found — proved to be a highly dubious source.
First, Mann changed multiple details from his story. Secondly, 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.
While some investigators and other observers reportedly 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.
Jimmy Guess, the brother of Jaclyn’s biological father, had previously been accused of trying to kidnap his young niece. That specific claim got dropped, though, when Guess turned out to be in jail at that time, doing a stretch for sexual assault.
Regarding the occasion of 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 credibly alleged that Jimmy Guess was lying.
One of the waitresses recanted her original statement, saying that she lied because she believed the Dowalibys were guilty. This time, she told authorities that Guess had only briefly dropped by the restaurant at around 9:30 P.M.
The Illinois State’s Attorney reopened the case, and grilled Guess anew. Despite having never officially been to the Dowalibys’ home, he seemed to know numerous details of the layout. He chalked that up to a “spirit” that lived inside him and supplied him with such details.
Despite mounting questions, Guess never faced any charges. In 2002, he died. As a result, then, the murder of Jaclyn Dowaliby, who’d now be 36 years old, remains a mystery still.
Main photo: Jaclyn Dowaliby/Missing Poster [YouTube screenshot]