Jaclyn Dowaliby: Sensational Murder of Girl Still a Mystery

Murder is tragic, but even more so when the crime remains unsolved. This week’s blog post presents the case of Jaclyn Dowaliby, who was kidnapped and murdered in 1988. The case officially remains unsolved.

Jaclyn Dowaliby

Jaclyn Dowaliby was just seven years old in the fall of 1988. Her parents separated shortly before her birth, and Cynthia Guess, Jaclyn’s mother, obtained custody of her after a protracted struggle. By 1988, Cynthia had remarried. Jaclyn’s stepfather, David Dowaliby, adopted the little girl in 1983, six months after marrying her mother. The following year, Jaclyn’s half-brother, David Jr., was born.

Jaclyn Dowaliby (Missing Leads via The Crime Wire)
Jaclyn Dowaliby (Missing Leads via The Crime Wire)

The Dowalibys lived in Midlothian, Illinois, a suburb southwest of Chicago. The family appeared to be loving and close-king, and Jaclyn bonded tightly with her little brother.

Jaclyn Dowaliby Abducted

On September 9, 1988, Cynthia Dowaliby took her children to a Kentucky Fried Chicken store for dinner. David Dowaliby went to a bowling alley in nearby Blue Island with friends, returning home at about 9:20 p.m. Cynthia and the children were home, entertaining two visiting family members. The visitors soon left.

Around 10:30, Jaclyn kissed her mother goodnight and climbed into her bed with a Sears Catalog. David Sr. went to bed at about the same time.

Cynthia checked on Jaclyn at about 11:00 p.m. Finding the girl sound asleep, she turned off the lights and went to bed herself, leaving the doors to both children’s bedrooms slightly open.

David and Cynthia Dowaliby (Missing Leads vi The Crime Wire)
David and Cynthia Dowaliby (Missing Leads vi The Crime Wire)

David Dowaliby rose at 8:00 a.m. the following morning. He was surprised Jaclyn wasn’t already watching cartoons (it was Saturday). Upon checking, he saw that Jaclyn was not in her bedroom. He assumed she was outside playing with friends and settled in to watch cartoons with his son.

Cynthia became alarmed when she awoke. A search of the house and yard revealed that the girl was missing. The parents then called the Midlothian police.

What Happened to Jaclyn Dowaliby?

Investigators initially suspected that James Guess, Jaclyn’s biological father, may have been responsible for her disappearance. Guess tried at least once to break into the Dowaliby home to kidnap his daughter after losing the custody fight with Cynthia. However, authorities soon discarded Guess as a suspect when they learned he had been in a Florida prison since May 23.

Police subjected the Dowalibys to intense scrutiny and questioning in the days following Jaclyn’s disappearance. David willingly went to Chicago to submit to a polygraph examination. According to David, the FBI examiner told him he passed the exam.

Four days after her disappearance, one Michael Chatman discovered Jaclyn’s body near a garbage container. The container served a small apartment complex, the Islander Apartments, in Blue Island, Illinois, about 6 miles from Jaclyn’s home.

A photo of the Dowaliby home at 3636 W. 148th Place taken in 2022 (Google Maps)

An autopsy revealed that someone had strangled Jaclyn with a two-foot section of twine, which was found still wrapped around her neck. She wore the purple nightgown she had worn to bed the night before, although her underwear had been removed and dumped nearby. Decomposition prevented the medical examiner, Dr. Robert Stein, from determining whether she had suffered a sexual assault before death.

Jaclyn’s Parents as Suspects

Detectives located an eyewitness named Everett Mann. Mann claimed to have seen a dark-colored Chevrolet Malibu at approximately 2:00 a.m. Although he could not be sure of the Malibu’s color, he later identified a photograph of David Dowaliby from a police photo array.

On September 19, police again searched the home, confiscating the family car (a light blue Malibu) and several household items. The Dowalibys then retained two attorneys, who advised them to stop speaking to investigators.

On November 22, 1988, police arrested David Dowaliby as he drove to work. Cynthia was arrested at the Dowaliby home. A grand jury indicted the couple the following day for the first-degree murder of their daughter. It took a month, but family members were able to raise the bond fees to allow David and Cynthia to be released on bail.

Cynthia gave birth to a second daughter, who she named Carli. Authorities placed the infant in the guardianship of Cynthia’s parents with Cynthia’s consent.

Trial for the Murder of Jaclyn Dowaliby

David’s and Cynthia’s joint trial for murder began on April 5, 1990. Despite confident opening statements from the prosecution, both defense attorneys stressed the lack of evidence. And indeed, there was little to connect either parent to the murder except for Mann’s eyewitness account.

Courtroom sketch of a hearing the Dowaliby case (Reddit r/truecrime)
Courtroom sketch of a hearing the Dowaliby case (Reddit r/truecrime)

Over forty witnesses testified at the trial, and lawyers introduced almost two hundred exhibits into evidence. Presiding judge Richard E. Neville conferred with prosecutors and defense attorneys shortly before the trial ended and said there was insufficient evidence against Cynthia. She was formally acquitted on May 2. However, the case against David continued.

The jury deliberated for three days before convicting David of murder on May 3, 1990. He was sentenced to forty years for murder and another ten years for concealing a homicide. He would serve the two sentences consecutively.

Jaclyn Dowaliby's grave (findagrave.com)
Jaclyn Dowaliby’s grave (findagrave.com)

In October 1991, an appeals court overturned David Dowaliby’s conviction. The court found that the evidence against him was as insufficient to secure a conviction as the evidence against Cynthia. Cook County State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley appealed this decision to the Illinois Supreme Court, but that court found for David Dowaliby.


One year after her acquittal, Cynthia Dowaliby regained custody of David Jr. and Carli.

After his release from prison, David Dowaliby returned to live with his family. The couple later changed their names and refuse to cooperate with media requests for interviews.

Although the case remains open, it sees little activity these days. No one else has been arrested or tried for Jaclyn’s murder.

You can read more about the Jaclyn Dowaliby abduction and murder in David Protess’s and Rob Warden’s 1994 book, Gone in the Night.

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