The Case of Jaclyn Dowaliby: An Unreliable Witness and a Wrongly Accused Man

Jaclyn Dowaliby. (Image credit/source here.)

Jaclyn Dowaliby. (Image credit/source here.)

On the morning of September 10, 1988, David and Cynthia Dowaliby reported to the police that their 7-year-old daughter Jaclyn had gone missing from their home in Midlothian, Illinois. Jaclyn wasn’t in her bedroom when her parents woke up, and one of the windows in the house’s basement was found broken. The Dowalibys thought somebody must have broken the window from the outside, but the more numerous shards of glass outside suggested to police that the window had been shattered from inside the house. Equally suspicious, how didn’t anybody wake up while the abduction was taking place?

Four days later, Jaclyn’s body was discovered in a field behind an apartment complex. One of the apartment’s residents, Everett Mann, told police that he saw a suspicious Caucasian man in a dark car driving away from the field on the night of Jaclyn’s disappearance. After being shown pictures of the case’s suspects, Mann identified David Dowaliby as the man he saw. David and Cynthia were arrested on November 22, charged with murder and concealing a homicide.

Picture of Jaclyn Dowaliby. (Image credit/source here.)

Picture of Jaclyn Dowaliby. (Image credit/source here.)

Although public opinion was set harshly against the Dowalibys, several investigators behind the scene believed they were innocent. A forensic report confirmed that the basement window in the Dowaliby’s home had been carefully broken from the outside, while Everett Mann’s reliability as a witness came under serious scrutiny. Mann changed the description of the car he saw numerous times, and identified David in the line-up from his nose, which he claimed to have seen 75 yards away in the middle of the night. He was also mentally unwell and suffered from bipolar disorder.

As the Dowaliby trial unfolded, Cynthia was cleared of any wrongdoing in April 1990, but David was convicted of murder nearly a month later. After spending a year in jail, David’s conviction was overturned due to a lack of evidence, and he was released in November 1991. Although the Dowalibys were proven to be innocent, the question still remained of who was guilty of killing their daughter?

Clip from an Unsolved Mysteries segment about Jaclyn's murder.

Clip from an Unsolved Mysteries segment about Jaclyn’s murder.

Before Jaclyn’s body turned up, her biological father, Jimmy Guess, had been the main suspect in the case. Guess had tried abducting Jaclyn before, but he was ruled out once it was discovered that he was in jail during the time for sexually assaulting a woman. After the Dowalibys appeared on an Unsolved Mysteries segment in 1993, authorities received a tip that Guess’s schizophrenic brother Timothy had lied to the police about his alibi on the night Jaclyn was abducted.

When earlier questioned, Guess said that he had spent the evening at an all-night restaurant. Several other people at the restaurant, including two waitresses, reported that Guess was only there for a short while at 9:30. When Guess gave a taped interview to a professor involved in the case, he claimed that he was possessed by a spirit that could make him invisible.

Despite never having been to the Dowaliby’s home, Guess was able to accurately describe the inside of it. At one point, he described in the first-person where Jaclyn’s room was located. When asked how he knew this, Guess explained that the spirit told him. While Guess might very likely have been the killer, Jaclyn’s case is still open. Guess died years ago, and not much has developed since the Dowalibys were let go.

 UPDATE: (5/14/2016)

A Chicago news station recently aired a segment about this case that you can watch here. It doesn’t offer any new leads or tips, but it does include some interviews with the Dowalibys’ attorneys and Jimmy Guess. The Dowalibys were also asked to be interviewed for the segment, but they ignored the invitation. Since being cleared of their daughter’s murder, the Dowalibys have changed their last name and no longer live in Midlothian.

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