David Dowaliby was not overly concerned when he awoke on Saturday, September 10, 1988. He and his son Davy had risen around 7:00 a.m., while David’s wife Cynthia and his step-daughter, seven-year-old Jaclyn, liked to sleep later. The routine was typical in the Midlothian, Illinois, home, 20 miles south of Chicago. The morning men joked about the lazy ladies.
Two hours later, Cynthia awoke and went to Jaclyn’s room. To her surprise, her daughter was not there. David and Cynthia assumed she was outside playing or that David’s mother Anna, who also lived with them, had taken her somewhere. However, after calling friends and searching the neighborhood, they found no one who had seen Jaclyn that morning.
The Dowalibys’ concern escalated into fear when Cynthia discovered a basement window had been broken. It appeared an intruder had used it to gain access to the home.
Four days later, Jaclyn’s body was found in a vacant field near Blue Island, four miles northeast of Midlothian. She had been strangled, and a 26-foot rope was still wrapped around her throat.
David and Cynthia Dowaliby’s nightmare was only beginning. They were soon charged with the murder of their daughter.
Before Jaclyn’s body was discovered, David and Cynthia each passed polygraph tests. David also took a second polygraph test, the results of which were inconclusive.
Despite passing the initial polygraph tests, David and Cynthia were both charged with Jaclyn’s murder two months later, in November 1988.
The police investigation into Jacyln’s murder concluded the basement window had to have been broken from the inside of the home because it would have been impossible for an intruder to enter without disturbing the items perched beneath the window.
Among these items were a nightstand, a TV tray, a towel rack, make-up, and nail polish. All of those items were undisturbed, causing investigators to believe the window had been broken from the inside in an effort to misdirect the investigation.
The Dowalibys’ trial began in April of 1990.
The prosecution produced a bloodstained pillow found in Jaclyn’s bedroom and introduced into evidence several head hairs similar to Jaclyn’s found in the trunk of her parents’ car. A neighbor also identified the rope. Apparently, the child used to play with it.
The physical evidence, however, was successfully refuted by the defense. The blood on the pillow could not be identified, and the hairs found in the trunk of the Dowalibys’ car could not be confirmed as Jaclyn’s. The prosecution’s case rested almost exclusively on circumstantial evidence.
Transit worker Everett Mann testified that on September 10, the evening Jaclyn disappeared, he had seen a man in a car parked near the area where Jacyln’s body would be found. From a police photo lineup, he identified the man as David. Two other eyewitnesses testified to seeing Cynthia’s car, a 1980 Chevy Malibu, in the area where Jaclyn’s body was found that evening.
Prosecutors attempted to portray David and Cynthia as angry parents. Half-brother Davy said Jaclyn was “spanked a lot” and yelled at by her parents. A member of our group who lives near the area also told me she had heard reports that David and Cynthia were angry that Jaclyn, at seven-years-old, was still wetting her bed.
David and Cynthia did not testify on their own behalf. Before closing arguments, the judge ruled there was insufficient evidence against Cynthia and acquitted her.
After three days of deliberation, though, the jury found David guilty of the murder of his step-daughter. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
However, after reviewing the case, Northwestern University Law Professor Rob Warden and Journalism Professor David Protess were convinced an injustice had been done.
Among Warden and Protess’s findings were all of the photographs in the police lineup viewed by Everett Mann were frontal shots, but he had seen the man in the parking lot only from the side. Most tellingly, however, the photo of David Dowaliby was 30% larger than the others. Because David’s photo was the most prominent, it was natural to stand out to a witness and be the one picked.
Standard police photograph procedure calls for all photos to be equal in size. The Northwestern academics believe the police, convinced of David’s guilt, led Everett Mann into identifying him.
Warden and Protess also proved that Cynthia Dowaliby’s car was parked in front of the couple’s house when the two witnesses claimed it was in the area where Jaclyn was found.
Warden and Protess believed the police investigation was conducted on the faulty assumption that the basement window had been broken from the inside. This concept led the investigation from then on, and the police didn’t look elsewhere.
The Dowalibys videotaped a neighbor crawling through the window from the outside. The physically fit neighbor was able to make his way into the basement by sliding through the window on his belly, wedging his foot on the wall, and easing his way into the home by hanging off the window ledge. He did not disturb the items on the nightstand.
Forensic analysis later confirmed the window had been broken from the outside. However, the broken window may have been a decoy, as the back door to the home had been left open the night Jaclyn was taken and, when David awoke the morning after, the front door was ajar. David assumed his mother had left home and forgotten to close the door.
Protess and television reporter Paul Hogan collaborated in a series of reports critical of the police investigation into Jaclyn’s murder.
The most significant criticism was the determination that the Illinois State Police evidence technician, whose primary responsibility was to collect all physical evidence, should have immediately collected the broken window glass. However, he waited three days before doing so and had to retrieve the shards from the trash.
The reports published by Warden and Protess led to a backlash against the police.
In October of 1991, the Illinois Court of Appeals unanimously overturned David Dowaliby’s murder conviction. He was released from prison after serving 18 months and exonerated of all charges relating to Jaclyn’s murder.
Convicted sex offender Perry Hernandez committed a similar abduction in Blue Island one year after Jaclyn’s murder. He abducted a seven-year-old girl from her bedroom and later sexually assaulted her. Hernandez released the girl approximately one mile from where Jaclyn’s body was found.
Illinois state police say Hernandez was investigated as a suspect in Jaclyn’s murder, but evidence found on her body did not match him, and he was cleared of any involvement.
Jaclyn’s biological uncle Timothy Guess is also a suspect in her murder. Guess a diagnosed schizophrenic claimed he was working at a local restaurant/bar on the night of Jaclyn’s murder. However, his boss and five regular patrons stated he was not working that night. Also, one of Guess’s original alibi witnesses later changed her story.
Protess says Guess told him that a “spirit” living inside him had told him details about Jaclyn’s murder. Guess also described the Dowaliby home’s layout, even though he had never been inside. Finally, Guess told Protess a light was on in Jaclyn’s closet, but not in her bedroom, on the evening she was abducted. That detail had not been released to the public.
Timothy Guess was never charged in the murder of his niece and died in 2002. No physical evidence has linked him to the murder.
The investigation into the murder of Jaclyn Dowaliby is officially still open, but many Chicago area journalists and reporters contend it is not being investigated.
The consensus is that all investigating agencies, the Midlothian and Blue Island Police Departments, along with the Illinois State Police, still believe David and/or Cynthia Dowaliby were responsible for Jaclyn’s murder.
David Protess and Rob Warden’s 1993 book “Gone in the Night” accounts for their investigation into the murder of Jaclyn Dowaliby.
Because of the publicity generated by their trial, David and Cynthia Dowaliby changed their names and moved out of Midlothian.
Even if new evidence were to surface linking them to Jaclyn’s murder, they could not be tried again because of the Double Jeopardy provision of the 5th Amendment of the Constitution.
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