In 2017, Crystal McDowell, a realtor and mother of two, disappeared just as Hurricane Harvey was hitting Houston, Texas, which made searching for her incredibly difficult for the local authorities. Ultimately, however, their investigation led them to her ex-husband Steven McDowell. Ahead of the Dateline NBC episode about Crystal’s disappearance, titled “Before the Storm” and airing Friday, June 5 at 10 p.m. ET/PT, here’s what you need to know about his trial and where he is now.
Steven McDowell Is Serving 50 Years in a Texas Prison
Two weeks after Crystal was reported missing by her uncle, Jeff Walters, Crystal’s ex-husband Steven McDowell was arrested and charged with her murder. He took authorities to her body, which he had hidden in a heavily wooded area. District Attorney Cheryl Lieck told 48 Hours in June 2018 that they never would have found Crystal’s body if they hadn’t been led straight to it.
During the trial, Steven’s defense claimed that the two argued and he strangled her in a heat-of-the-moment killing, but the jury saw things differently. They found him guilty of her murder and on June 12, 2019, sentenced him to 50 years in prison. According to the Texas Tribune, Steven is being held at the Anderson County, Texas prison known as the H.H. Coffield Unit. His projected release date is September 2067, but he will be eligible for parole in 2042.
Hurricane Harvey Made it Very Hard to Investigate Crystal’s Disappearance
In August 2017, just as Hurricane Harvey was about to make landfall in Texas, McDowell was seen leaving her boyfriend Paul Hargrave’s house in Baytown, Texas, early in the morning on August 25. When she stopped responding to texts and calls, Crystal’s uncle Jeff contacted her ex-husband Steve, who claimed Crystal was supposed to have come to the house to pick up their two children, Madden and Maui, but she never showed up.
The local authorities began trying to locate Crystal, but when Hurricane Harvey hit the area, the investigation was thrown into chaos.
“It was horrible. The rain wouldn’t stop. It just would not stop. … We had deputies that were flooded out of their homes. One of our investigators lost his entire house. Our local Texas Ranger and his wife were flooded out of theirs,” said D.A. Lieck, adding that they still continued to search to Crystal as best they could.
When the floodwaters receded a few days later, Crystal’s flooded out Mercedes Benz was found in the parking lot of the Baytown Motel 6. Eventually, security footage from the motel showed Steve parking the car there and leaving. Later security footage caught Steve on camera putting something in a trash can at a local gas station, but the contents of the can could never be examined because they were washed away by the flood.
As authorities investigated further, they discovered that Steve and Crystal’s divorce had not been very amicable. Then just a few days before her death, Crystal uninvited Steve from a family cruise that her new boyfriend was attending, which investigators believe started Steve’s downward spiral.
Dateline NBC normally airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC, though the June 5 episode aired at 10 p.m. ET/PT.