"Well if you leave me, I'm just gonna kill myself."
It was the 25th of August 2017. 38 year old Crystal McDowell had a difficult start in life. Her parents died when she was young and she divorced her husband but despite that, according to her recent Facebook post, she was "the happiest she had ever been."
Her happiness was no doubt down to her two beautiful children and the fact she had started dating a man she really liked. They had made plans for the future. They were due to go to Belgium together the following month. Her career was going well too. Crystal was a successful realtor in the Baytown area where she lived in Texas in the United States. Before that, she worked as a flight attendant for ten years. At that point, Crystal thought life couldn't get much better.
In June 2017, Crystal had finalised her divorce to Steven. They were married for ten years but things were not going well. They had not been great since the beginning and in the end, Crystal just didn't love Steven anymore. She was the one in the relationship who made the money. She was bright and driven and wanted to succeed at everything she did. She really wanted to make a great home for their children. One that was happy. She agreed to share custody with Steven. Regardless of whether they were together or not, he was their father and she wanted him to be in their lives. Things were amicable too after the divorce. Crystal helped Steven buy a house and he allowed her to live there while her own house was being remodelled. It seemed like they had worked out how to parent their children in a grown up and civilised way.
Steven and Crystal
So when Crystal went missing on the 25th of August 2017, it didn't make sense. That morning, she told her boyfriend, Paul Hargrave, she was calling over to Steven's house in Mont Belvieu to collect the children. She left Paul's house early that morning. It was around 7.10 am. The children had slept in Paul's house the night before and she had told Steven she was due to collect the children before Steven went to work that day. Crystal had been due to show a property that morning for work but it had been cancelled due to bad weather.
Crystal and Paul
Paul tried to get hold of Crystal that day but she stopped answering his calls and text messages so he reached out to her uncle Jeff Walters. Jeff hadn't heard from her either. Jeff was extremely close to Crystal as he raised her after her parents died when she was just 11 years old.
Steven said Crystal didn't make it to the house that day and her family reported her missing the next day. Steven said he got a text message from her at 7.01 am which said :
"On my way. Do you have water? Looks like I may stay here with the kids. It seems just like rain."
He then told Jeff he received another one saying she changed her mind, planned to collect the children and take them to Dallas but she never arrived. None of them had heard from her. Unfortunately, due to weather conditions, a normal and thorough search could not take place. Hurricane Harvey hit the area and it was flooded and as a result roads were closed and some areas were inaccessible.
The weather did not stop Crystal's friends and family from searching. Even though some of their own homes and cars had flooded, they looked everywhere they could for her but there was no sign of her anywhere.
Police questioned Paul as he was seemingly the last person that saw Crystal. He told them they should question Steven. He said that Crystal was scared about Steven finding about about their relationship. While they were questioning a number of people, police continued investigating and searching for other evidence.
Authorities tracked down a final ping from Crystal's cell phone in a marshy part of Baytown and found Crystal's flooded car days later at a Motel 6 near Interstate 10.
Police called in more people for questioning. There was still one person they needed to question. Steven. Crystal and Steven seemed to be a in a good place when Crystal went missing but when they looked deeper into matters, they discovered everything may not have been as it seemed. In fact, Crystal had told others that when the matter of getting divorced had first been addressed, Steven threatened to kill himself, Crystal and even the children. He had a dark and sinister side. He had first threatened to kill himself just one year after they had married as Crystal wanted to leave him then. But somehow they seemed to move on from the divorce and share custody of the children.
Paul during questioning
It appeared that Steven was not so happy when he recently discovered that Crystal planned to go on a cruise with her new boyfriend. He didn't like that they were happy together. The cruise had originally been planned for her, Steven, the children and Jeff to go on. Crystal invited Paul to go too but he thought it would be awkward with both him and Steven on it so Crystal asked Steven not to go. She told Paul he was really upset about it. Crystal confided in a friend that she was scared of Steven and believed he was following her and tracking her movements.
Crystal and Steven
Police got the CCTV footage from the motel where the car was found and saw a man that resembled Steven parking it and getting out. CCTV from the garage beside also showed a man who resembled him throwing out what appeared to be clothes but due to the floods, those bins were empty.
When Steven was questioned by police, he broke down and confessed. That day, the 25th of August, contrary to what he had previously claimed, Crystal did make it to his house but they had an argument while the children were asleep upstairs. He was furious that she had stayed out all night at Paul's house. She told Steven she didn't love him anymore and didn't want to be with him.
Flooding, Baytown Texas
At that point, he went up to Crystal from behind and got her into a choke hold and strangled her. She had not been expecting it and didn't know what was happening. She told Steven he was scaring her. That didn't stop him though. He maintained his tight grip until she stopped moving. He then put a bag over her head, tied her up, put her body in trash bags and put her in her car. It wasn't until early the next morning, while his children were asleep, that he drove Crystal's body to the woods and he also got rid of her phone and car. He drove the car to the motel and left the key in it hoping that it would be stolen or flooded.
Steven led police to where Crystal's body was. In a wooded area of Chambers County, police discovered the badly decomposed remains of Crystal.
Steven claimed that he killed Crystal as a result of sudden passion. In Texas, this meant that the punishment for this could be as little as two years in prison. Steven gave evidence at the Trial. He told the Court that he did not intend to kill Crystal and had "hugged her to death" after they had sex.
The Jury didn't believe him. After just three and a half hours of deliberations, they found him guilty of murder. They believed he had made the decision to kill her when she told him she didn't love him anymore. If he couldn't have her, then neither could Paul or anybody else.
He was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Steven killed Crystal because he didn't want her to move on with her life. He had never wanted the divorce as he was still in love with her and wanted to get back together with her and he saw the cruise as his opportunity to do so. When he was uninvited and when it was clear that Crystal had moved on and was happy, he would not allow that to happen. Not only did he murder his wife, something she had feared for some time, he destroyed the lives of his children who as a result essentially lost both of their parents. They were just 5 and 8 years old at the time of Crystal's murder. When the children were told of the horrific crime, Madden held his sister and they hugged and he said:
"I love you Maui and I'll always take care of you."
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello