A Texas man has confessed to killing his ex-wife and then dumping her body in a wooded area shortly before Hurricane Harvey struck.
Steven McDowell, 44, is charged with strangling Crystal Seratte McDowell, 37, with whom he had two children. After admitting to the crime, Steven led police to Crystal's decomposing body on Sept. 9, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Shortly before Crystal disappeared on Aug. 25, she texted her boyfriend and told him she was on her way to Steven's house. Her uncle reported her missing the following day after she failed to show up to work.
"For Crystal to just disappear and not make it to work is unheard of," her friend L.J. Adams told the Chronicle. "My head right away went to Steve."
Her car was discovered at a Motel 6 a few days later and investigators were able to track her cell phone to a swampy area in the city of Baytown. But search efforts were frustrated by Hurricane Harvey, and authorities were unable to locate Crystal's body.
At one point, police were looking at nine potential suspects. The list included Steven as well as Crystal's boyfriend, Paul Hargrave, who she began dating just a few weeks before her death.
Hargrave was ruled out after he was found to have a solid alibi. Eventually Steven was brought in for questioning, and he provided a full confession.
"I believe he knew exactly what he was doing," Hargrave told KTRK. "I think he knew the storm was coming in and this would help cover his tracks. I think I had a lot to do with his decision to do this and I can't help but feel responsible for that."
The McDowells were divorced in June, but Crystal was still living with Steven while her townhouse was being remodeled. Crystal had previously filed for divorce in 2008.
Adams described the couple's relationship as "rocky" and said Crystal was becoming concerned for her safety in the months leading up to her death.
"Toward the end, she was telling her cousins and me through Facebook that she was getting a little scared of him," he told the Chronicle. "Then [Steven] found out about Paul and he snapped."
The couple's children, aged 5 and 8, were reportedly in the house when the murder took place, though police do not believe they witnessed the crime, according to Sheriff Brian Hawthorne.
The department of family and protective services delivered the children into the custody of Crystal's family, according to KTRK.
Steven is being held in jail on $500,000 bail.