Tonight on Dateline NBC, Dennis Murphy will report on the disappearance and murder of Crystal McDowell. McDowell was a mother of two who vanished as Hurricane Harvey hit.
McDowell was a 37-year-old Texas realtor and mother of two in 2017 when she was murdered. On August 25, 2017, she left her home to pick up her kids at her ex-husband’s house before he went to work, but she never returned.
When McDowell didn’t come home, her boyfriend Paul Hargrave called her uncle, Jeff Walters, who called the police. McDowell was raised by Walters because her parents died when she was 11 years old.
After two weeks, McDowell’s body was found in a wooded area, and her ex-husband, Steven McDowell confessed to strangling her in his home. Their two children were left in the care of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services at the time.
Both Children are in the Care McDowell’s Longtime Friend
After their mother was murdered and their father confessed, the children were taken by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services until they found a place to live. Shortly after, it was reported that they were safe and staying with family.
The Houston Chronicle reported that “Now, both children are staying with Crystal’s aunt, who lives in the area.”
In 2019, the Baytown Sun reported that they were staying with Mandy Avalos, a longtime friend of McDowell’s.
At the time of the murder, the children were 5 and 8 years old. According to the Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne, the children were home at the time of their mother’s death.
“It is our belief that the kids did not witness the murder,” he told the Baytown Sun. “But, they were home. They were upstairs.”
Later, it was reported that the children were home, and McDowell’s daughter testified through a video in court. She said in the video that she was in the bathroom and saw her mother and father arguing that day.
“They were arguing about mom divorcing with him. They were already divorced, but dad was arguing because he didn’t want her to be with another man,” she said in the video. “She said, ‘I am going to go away and take my children with me.’ So, he pushed her on the bed and said, ‘No you’re not.'”
The young girl continued, saying she saw her father hit her mother and then he looked up and saw her.
“He glanced at me and was really mad at me,” the girl said. “And mom tried to say ‘help,’ but I couldn’t hear her.”
She said in the video that she and her brother no longer talked to their father, though no one told them they had to stop talking to him.
There Were Fundraisers to Raise Money for Their College Education
The Facebook page “In Memory of Crystal Seratte-McDowell” posted an update in 2017 including a promotion that would benefit the mother’s children.
“She was an accomplished mother to two beautiful small children, & of course it’s widely evident that she loved & cared for her family & friends, & that they, in turn, loved her dearly,” the page reads. “Sometimes, in a world that seems dreary, we count on others genuine, sincere kindness & love to light the way, to make the world a little brighter, & a little more hopeful.”
The special was run by Cakes by Retta, LLC in the month of October 2017. During that month, any time a customer asked for the “Crystal Special,” 100% of the purchase price went to McDowell’s children for their future college education.