For over three decades, the parents of a murdered seven-year-old girl have lived under a cloud of suspicion. Jaclyn Dowaliby went missing from her home in Midlothian, Illinois, in the middle of the night on September 9th, 1988. A large-scale investigation was launched, spearheaded by a task force composed of members of local police departments, state police and the FBI, but there was no sign of Jaclyn. After it emerged that a forensic crime scene technician believed that a window in the basement had been broken from the inside, the investigation narrowed and focused on those who had been inside the home at the time of Jaclyn’s disappearance.
Almost immediately, Jaclyn’s parents, David and Cynthia Dowaliby, were pinpointed as the prime suspects.
After months of investigation and interviews with key people, the hosts of the new true crime series, The Shattered Window, believe that their production will demonstrate the mistakes that may have allowed Jaclyn’s murderer to escape justice. They said:
“When Jaclyn's body was found four days after she went missing, discarded among the tall weeds, miles from home, the nightmare for her parents didn’t end. When a child goes missing, the first suspects are always the parents, and in a significant number of cases, that is a justified presumption. When Jaclyn was found behind some dumpsters with a 26-foot rope wrapped tightly around her neck, the community were stunned, and the police were going to make sure that someone would pay...
Three decades on, the case has fallen into obscurity, despite the similarities with one of the most prolific child murders in modern American history: the murder of JonBenét Ramsey. While the Ramseys had their wealth and conduct splashed across the mainstream media, the Dowalibys working class lifestyles were scrutinized, almost exclusively by local news. The idea that someone can sneak into your home in the middle of the night completely undetected is terrifying. The notion that it happens is almost inconceivable.
But when it does happen, and no one believes you, it rekindles the comforting assumption that children are safe from outside predators while tucked up in their beds, igniting a false sense of security that the perpetrators have been caught. This is a story of human nature; reasonable assumptions were misrepresented as facts, and the wrong people have been living under a cloud of suspicion ever since.”
The Shattered Window delves deep into the murder of Jaclyn and the events that led to a wrongful conviction. Emily G Thompson, a published true crime author and podcaster, and Eileen Macfarlane, a true crime podcaster with a journalistic background, have spent most of this year thoroughly investigating the case, trawling through thousands of pages of trial transcripts and combing the case files.
“A mishandled crime scene, political influence, media bias, and a presumption of guilt meant that the investigation narrowed down, and potentially allowed a child killer to remain free. We believe that we know who really killed Jaclyn Dowaliby.”
Over ten episodes, The Shattered Window dissects each and every aspect of the case, with exclusive interviews from journalists, lawyers, law enforcement and experts, as well as those who were forever changed by the loss of Jaclyn.
Catherine Gonsalez, a childhood friend of Jaclyn, said:
“It was a safe neighbourhood, I mean we didn’t lock our doors at night. Something like that happening would have never crossed our parents’ minds.”
David Dowaliby’s defence lawyer, Bob Byman, from Jenner & Block said:
"I think it's a pretty slim hope, 30 years later that anything will come out of this but anything that might is worth trying."
The case highlights many aspects seen in wrongful conviction cases, and demonstrates just how influential the media can be in swaying the public's perception. The hosts, Emily and Eileen, spoke with Rob Warden, co-founder of Injustice Watch, The Centre of Wrongful Convictions, and The National Registry of Exonerations. Warden said:
“You know, we put a great deal of stock in the accuracy, we have a great deal of faith in the criminal justice system, that faith is undeserved.”
The Shattered Window is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and every other podcast streaming service on November 23rd, 2020.