Heartbroken dad discusses Jessie Bardwell's fatal relationship with killer boyfriend
04/03/2018 4:05 pm PDT
A father's unbreakable bond with his daughter. When 27-year-old Jessie Bardwell vanished, her dad made it his mission to find out what really happened.
Since Gary Bardwell first laid eyes on his little Jessie, this dad and daughter were inseparable. It's a bond that stays strong as Jessie grows to be a beautiful, silly and very independent young woman.
"She was so beautiful, inside and out," Gary Bardwell tells Crime Watch Daily. "She honestly was a special person."
Jessie and her brother Brandon were just as close, like peas in a pod.
"She always had my back and I always had her back," said Brandon Bardwell. "She would worry about me like my mom or dad would."
But this young lady with a passion for life also has a maverick streak.
"She was adventurous, she was very independent. I think part of that got to her in the end, being independent and so trusting," said Gary.
At first, the free-spirited Jessie does everything to put her dad at ease.
"She would call me before she went to sleep, or text me 'Dad, I'm OK,'" said Gary.
But as Jessie moves out on her own, makes new friends, and boyfriends, those apron strings finally get cut. Jessie catches her dad off-guard, dropping everything and moving from her hometown of Pascagoula, Mississippi to Richardson, Texas, 500 miles away.
"That kind of scared me for her to just do that and leave with nothing was totally out of the ordinary, you know," said Brandon.
Jessie's dad and brother soon learn it's all for the love of a new boyfriend, a fast-talking young man named Jason Lowe. And Gary Bardwell doesn't trust this kid on sight.
You met him after your daughter had already moved and had been living with him for four months.
"I thought he was just a piece of work. He was just full of crap," said Gary.
Jason Lowe tries to impress Gary with tales of an adventurous life, including a stint as a Navy SEAL.
And it was a lie.
"And I just rolled my eyes, I said 'There's no way this guy has ever even thought about being a Navy SEAL,'" said Gary.
And dad's sinking feeling only grows stronger when Jessie's daily texts and phone calls from Texas slow to a trickle.
"When she moved to Texas, everything stopped," said Brandon.
But when Gary pays a visit to the couple's luxury apartment, Jessie claims to be happy.
"I said 'Jessie, something is seriously wrong with this guy. You're going home with me, you're not staying here,'" said Gary. "I'll never forget this, ever: she said 'Daddy, there's nothing you can say or do to make me go home with you. I'm staying with Jason.'"
Do you think he forcibly took her, or was it mind control?
"Mind control," said Gary.
That mind control continues with Gary's every attempt to reach Jessie, calls when it was Jason Lowe that picked up the phone.
"I said 'Let me speak to her, why are you answering her phone?' 'Well, she's really upset right now, and she really misses you, and she's really upset,'" said Gary.
But Gary isn't buying it for a minute. It's a "dad's intuition," and it keeps him up at night.
"I had a dream that Jessie was killed. I honestly had a nightmare that Jessie was no longer on this Earth," said Gary. "That's the thing that haunts me every day. And my gut told me to go out there because something was wrong, and I would call and say 'Jessie, I'm leaving in the morning to come out there.' 'Oh daddy, oh daddy, please don't come out here. Everything is fine.'"
Then, after the holidays in 2015, everything is very far from fine. Jessie was pulling farther and farther away from her family. There was almost no contact.
"Something changed after that Christmas 2015, 'cause she wouldn't answer my calls. I suspect something's wrong," said Gary. "We decided if she didn't call on Mother's Day, something bad had happened."
Gary's worst nightmares seem to come true. Mother's Day comes and goes with no contact from Jessie.
"I was freaking out," said Gary.
And when it's Jason Lowe once again answering Jessie's phone, Gary's concern explodes into anger.
"'Let me know what's going on or I'm going to come out there and there's going to be trouble,'" said Gary. "Jason said 'You better not come out here with an attitude.'"
If that's a threat, it won't keep Gary Bardwell away from his daughter.
"We'd finally had enough," said Gary.
Gary loads up his truck and drives 11 hours straight to the city of Richardson, Texas. But what he finds finally drives this devoted dad into utter panic and terror.
"I said 'Jason, I do not want to talk to you. Where is she?' And he would just scream 'I don't know where she is!'" said Gary.
What was your "dad sense" telling you?
"I'd never see Jessie alive again," said Gary.
"I honestly thought that I would get a phone call again that said 'Daddy, you're right, I'm coming home,'" said Gary Bardwell.
But that never happened. The only person Gary can reach is Jessie's boyfriend Jason Lowe. And if Lowe knows where Jessie is, he's not talking, taunting Gary with silence.
"Basically, 'What are you gonna do about it?'" said Gary.
But dad's not backing down.
"I said 'Well, I'll see you tomorrow,'" said Gary.
During the desperate 11-hour drive from Mississippi to Texas, Gary's fury grows.
"I actually feel like I should've killed him when I first met him," said Gary.
Gary hasn't heard from Jessie in weeks. When he finally reached Richardson, Texas, the distraught dad didn't even try talking to Jason Lowe again.
"Went straight to Richardson Police Department, filed a missing-persons report, and they got busy," said Gary.
Officers go straight to Lowe's place with audio recorders rolling. But Lowe tells cops just what he's been telling Jessie's dad: He has no idea where Jessie is.
"Seems like just, it, it -- I mean, just gonna sit here and wait and think every sound is her. Like coming back or something, like, I don't, I don't -- it's like surreal, almost," Jason Lowe says on the audio recording.
Lowe goes on to tell the cops the last time he saw Jessie, she was driving away in her Acura on Mother's Day morning.
"So when Jason initially said Jessie was gone, he stated that she had left in her Acura," said Richardson Police Sgt. Eric Willadsen.
There's just one problem with that: Jessie Bardwell no longer owned that car.
"We contacted the people that were driving the vehicle and they said they had purchased it from Jessie and from Jason approximately a month prior to that," said Sgt. Willadsen.
The lies are getting to be too much for Jessie's father. Gary pays a visit to his daughter's boyfriend, his hand just within reach of justice.
"I told my wife to take my gun and hide it from me," said Gary. "So I went up to their apartment and knocked on the door. He wouldn't come to the door. I could hear footsteps, but he wouldn't come to the door.
"So I went straight back down, called Richardson Police Department, I said 'I know you told us not to come and try to see Jason, but' I said 'Would you please send a unit over here because I want you to know I'm not trying to start any trouble.' And they did, and they got there pretty quick," said Gary.
That was the cops' second visit to Lowe's apartment in two days. Again, audio recorders were rolling as officers catch him off-guard. They discovered the fast-talking young man is into drugs.
"I heard you're trying to help us in every way that you can."
"You got coke on the countertop?"
"You have coke on the countertop? A line of it? Yes or no?"
Now police want to search the rest of the apartment, but Lowe is hesitant, and he desperately tries to keep them out of the garage.
"Do you have a garage space?"
"Right, but that's like a common area. I do."
"OK. Can you show that to me?"
In the garage downstairs, they find Lowe's truck covered in mud, its front end smashed and stuffed into the trunk. Scattered through the garage are bottles of air-freshener.
And something else.
"So Jason opened up the garage for us and immediately the smell of decaying flesh just permeated from inside," Sgt. Willadsen tells Crime Watch Daily.
"So it smells really bad in here? You smell that, right?"
It's an odor familiar to any detective working a homicide: the smell of death.
"We got to the rear of the vehicle and opened the hatch on the cargo area and the smell was definitely the strongest in that particular area," said Sgt. Willadsen.
Forensics detectives spray Jason Lowe's truck with a luminol-based chemical used to detect even the smallest amount of blood. The result blows everyone away.
"The interior of the cargo compartment illuminated very brightly," said Sgt. Willadsen.
And there's more. Beneath the truck, dripping from the undercarriage was a growing pool of dark liquid.
"That fluid tested presumptively positive for blood," said Sgt. Willadsen.
Cops bust Jason Lowe on the drugs they find in his apartment. But it's Jessie Bardwell they want to talk about during Lowe's recorded interrogation.
"Yeah, I didn't do anything."
"OK. Did you wonder where she went?"
"Yeah, I wondered a lot of things. ... I've already gone through all this, man. I don't want to keep answering the same questions, I really don't."
"He was very guarded, very closed off. He became very agitated and very angry," said Sgt. Willadsen.
"How about this: We did a search warrant at your apartment. We found a bunch of blood in the back of that car. Let's talk about that."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"I mean, that sounds kind of odd, don't you think?"
"I'm not going to be accused of something, man. This is it. This is it for me, I'm done."
"Yeah, wrap it up. I'm done talking."
"We knew Jason was responsible. We knew he had taken Jessie somewhere. We just wanted desperately to know where," said Sgt. Willadsen.
And with Lowe tight-lipped, that's a huge problem.
"Without finding Jessie's body, we don't really have a case," said Collin County, Texas Assistant Criminal District Attorney Wes Wynne.
Jessie Bardwell's boyfriend Jason Lowe is locked up, charged with Jessie's murder, even though cops haven't found her body. But evidence of foul play has left an incriminating odor of death in Lowe's garage.
Her father Gary Bardwell lives in a state of dread.
"In my heart she was gone," said Gary.
As prosecutors dig into Lowe's history, they uncover terror.
A trembling voice makes a 911 call. It's Lowe's ex-girlfriend Christine Chambers, who tells Crime Watch Daily the same story she told police: her relationship with Jason Lowe was a nightmare of intimidation and violence.
"He looked at me in my eyes and he said he was killing me," said Christine.
It all led to one brutal night of abuse when Jason Lowe flips, and, Christine says, he turns murderous.
"He really started pushing me, shoving me," said Christine. "He had me down on my back with all of his weight on top of me. Something kind of snapped in my head and I was like 'There's no way I'm going to be able to stop this man,' and I just blacked out."
Thankfully Christine regained her senses, just in time, and made a frantic 911 call from a nearby convenience store.
"He tried to kill me! He put me down on the ground until I was unconscious!" Christine Chambers says on the 911 call.
So police asked you to rate how strong the grip he had on you, from 1 to 10. What was your answer?
"Eleven," said Christine.
"This is not a [----] joke. This is not someone's boyfriend beat the [----] out of his girlfriend, this is not this. He just tried to kill me."
Even though Christine dropped the charges, she still lives with the fear.
"I thought deep, deep in my heart that if he would have ever found out that I went through with charges, that he would have gotten out and he would have come back after me," said Christine. "I think he meant to kill me and just, he messed up."
Now detectives wonder, did Jason Lowe snap again on Jessie Bardwell, and kill her?
Lowe was not talking to cops. But he was starting to formulate a story.
Lowe doesn't know he's being recorded in jail, but he's about to make a shocking confession. He's recorded talking to his buddy Tommy Jordan. Lowe and Jessie were housesitting for Jordan that weekend Jessie went missing. And it's there that he claims something terrible went down.
"I said nothing happened at my house, correct?"
"I can't make that promise."
Jason Lowe tells Tommy Jordan Jessie Bardwell's death was a terrible, tragic accident. Lowe later claimed he and Jessie were having sex in the shower when she slipped and hit her head. Then, he says, they went to bed that night, but Jessie never woke up.
"Like, I [----] up and made a mistake like it was an accident, and you know that's, that's what I'm gonna share. And I know it, what I'm guilty of, what I'm guilty of, criminal negligence. I mean this is like, literally like a split-second, like what the [----]. I mean, but you know, and like I said, I'm sorry but I can't, there's nothing I could have done differently. I'm, I'm pretty confident in that."
Lowe may think an accident is a solid defense, but his jailhouse admission gave prosecutors all the evidence they needed, except for one thing: Jessie Bardwell's body.
"He places himself as being with Jessie at the time of her death," said prosecutor Wes Wynne.
With the jailhouse recording, and Lowe's history of violence, the noose is tightening around his neck, and he knows it. He could face life in prison, so Lowe offers to cut a deal: he'll lead them to Jessie's body if they take a life sentence off the table.
"Basically, he would show us where Jessie was; in exchange they would limit his sentence to 50 years," said Richardson Police Sgt. Eric Willadsen.
Prosecutors agree, and Jason Lowe leads heavy-hearted investigators to a muddy field about 35 miles away in nearby Farmersville, Texas.
"He told us 'It's about 250 yards down that fence line,' and he was referring to Jessie when he said 'It,'" said Sgt. Willadsen.
At the edge of the tree line, beyond Lowe's tire tracks still dug in the mud, police finally found Jessie Bardwell.
"The chief came in. He said 'Mr. Barwell, Ms. Bardwell, this is probably going to be the worst day of your life,'" said Gary Bardwell.
"She had been wrapped in a sheet, a bedsheet, and we were unable to see what she looked like at the scene," said Sgt. Willadsen. "She was probably one of the worst cases I've ever seen as far as decomposition."
An autopsy shows Jessie's body was so decomposed that it was impossible to determine exactly how she died.
But authorities are certain of one thing: Jessie Bardwell was murdered. And now her father is wracked with guilt.
"I don't know how much longer I can take this. If I would've just gone to Texas, I keep saying that over and over again," said Gary. "And people say 'Gary, nothing would have changed.' How do they know? I get pissed off when I see somebody happy. He took my world away."
At Jason Lowe's trial, it gets worse for Jessie's parents. They learn the terrible details of Jessie's final days, and what her cold-hearted boyfriend was doing in the hours after her death -- trying to hook up with other women.
"He was sending explicit photos of himself, nude photos of himself, women were sending nude photos of themselves back to him, they were 'sexting,' and all of this was happening while Jessie's body sat rotting in the back of Jason Lowe's Audi," said prosecutor Wes Wynne. "I don't know how Gary was able to restrain himself from jumping over that bar and coming after Jason Lowe himself."
Jessie's father learned he was only a few feet away from his beautiful daughter when he went to Jason Lowe's apartment. Her body was still hidden in the back of his car.
"This was before he threw my daughter away like a piece of trash. She was in the car in the garage, dead, when I was knocking on the door," said Gary.
Lowe once again offers his defense, that it was an accident. He acted out the scenario in front of the jury.
"So they were in the shower having sex, they lost their footing and fell and Jessie hit her head," said Gary. "Him and his lawyer acting it out with chairs, like, I said 'This is so stupid.'"
Gary wants Lowe to pay the ultimate price -- but that won't happen. Jason Lowe had cut a deal -- not to bring closure to Jessie's heartbroken family -- but to save his own skin.
"To make him look like a good person, to make him look like he was actually trying to help the police, that he wanted to bring some closure for Jessie's family. When in actuality it was just for Jason Lowe," said Wes Wynne.
This time it's the jury that shows no mercy. Jason Lowe was found guilty of Jessie Bardwell's murder. He was sentenced to the maximum allowed under the deal, 50 years in prison.
"As far as I'm concerned, he's the devil," said Gary Bardwell. "Jessie met pure evil."
Jessie Bardwell's family returns home to Mississippi that now seems eerily quiet.
"There's just a deafening silence in my life now," said Gary.
Her father is trying to remember the laughter, and fill his daughter's bedroom with music with a song he wrote for Jessie. And Gary Bardwell says he's devoted the rest of his life to keeping Jessie's voice alive.
"I'm doing this because I want people to keep Jessie's light shining, and if this show helps one girl get out of a situation that's toxic and dangerous, then it's done its job," said Gary.
Jason Lowe will be eligible for parole after serving half of that sentence, which started with his arrest in May 2016. At that time he'll be 51 years old.