Thomas Eric McDowell, 61, was charged on Thursday with murder, kidnapping and burglary in the decades-old disappearance of little Jessica Gutierrez.
Authorities previously said that someone had abducted Jessica after breaking into her family’s home in Lexington, South Carolina, through a window in the early hours of June 6, 1986.
At the time, Jessica’s 6-year-old sister told their mother that the “man in the magic hat” had taken the younger girl.
Despite extensive searches over the next three decades, no trace of Jessica has ever been found.
Authorities said they finally got a break in the case after the FBI joined the probe last September — and investigators spent months reviewing over 3,500 case files and interviewing more than 125 people.
They haven’t disclosed what eventually led them to McDowell, or what evidence allegedly tied him to the girl’s case.
Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said only that McDowell had been living in Lexington when Jessica was abducted.
“Because of the work we did, coming together as a team, we were able to sort and connect more pieces of the puzzle about what happened to Jessica all those years ago,” Koon said in a statement.
McDowell was taken into custody on Thursday at his home about 20 miles north of Raleigh.
He is being held without bail in the Wake County Detention Center pending extradition to South Carolina.
The case will be prosecuted by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office.