By: Claudia Rivero
As Texas braced for Hurricane Harvey's arrival, one Houston-area family desperately searched for their loved one who mysteriously vanished right before the storm.
37-year-old realtor Crystal Seratte McDowell was last seen on surveillance video leaving her boyfriend's apartment the morning of Aug. 25, hours before Hurricane Harvey made landfall. According to local and national media reports, Crystal was headed to pick up her children, 5 and 8, at the home she shared with her ex-husband in Baytown - a suburb east of Houston. She hasn't been seen or heard from since.
Crystal's uncle Jeff Walters told reporters that his niece was scheduled to meet clients that afternoon but never showed up. Walters filed a missing person report the next day, but by then Hurricane Harvey was pounding the region, stretching resources thin and making it difficult for investigators to conduct a search. Walters went on to say that Crystal's ex-husband showed him a text message, reportedly from Crystal, stating that she would be picking up the kids and heading to Dallas to ride out the storm. Walters told CBS News he doubts the text was sent by his niece.
According to reports, Crystal's black 2013 Mercedes Benz was found partially submerged in flood water at a Motel 6 parking lot in Mont Belvieu, 12 miles away from the ex-husband's home. Two people were questioned but have since been released.
According to media reports, Crystal — a realtor at Virginia Malone & Associates, LLC, in Baytown, — texted her boyfriend the morning of Aug. 25 saying that road conditions looked good. That was the last time he heard from her. Crystal's last post on social media was on Aug. 24.
In addition to local coverage, the story was also picked up by the national media — CBS, NBC, along with Inside Edition, HLN, and People Magazine.
In an interview with HLN, Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said: "I personally think that there is some wrong doing in this. I think there's some suspicious nature. I don't think she left on her own. I think there's obviously some foul play at this time." In another interview with CBS This Morning Hawthorne said he is "very, very confident" that McDowell is not a victim of the storm.
According to court records, Crystal and her ex-husband's divorce was finalized earlier this year. Crystal's boyfriend, Paul Hargrave, has been vocal about Crystal's disappearance - speaking with news outlets and contributing to a reward that now stands at $15,000 for information that leads to Crystal's whereabouts.
I've reached out to her uncle Jeff Walters, her boyfriend Paul Hargrave, and her ex-husband Steven McDowell and will update if they respond.
Crystal's family has hired a private investigator from Unlimited Investigations and Research Services. Anyone with information on Crystal McDowell is asked to call the Chamber's County Sheriff's Office at 409-267-2500.
Claudia Rivero Investigative Reporter/Producer