Manhunt continues for Tennessee escapee accused in murder


HENNING, Tenn. (WKRN) — The manhunt continues Friday after a Blue Alert was issued for a man suspected of killing a Tennessee Department of Correction employee before he escaped from a West Tennessee prison.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has issued three warrants for wanted fugitive Curtis Watson.

TBI officials said Thursday they issued three warrants against Watson for first-degree murder, especially aggravated burglary, and aggravated sexual battery.

Curtis Watson 2012
Courtesy: TBI

The reward for Watson’s went up to $52,500 Thursday after the FBI and U.S. Marshals pitched in $10,000 each.

Earlier Thursday, Governor Bill Lee, the TBI, and ATF offered a combined $32,500 reward in the continued search for Watson.

The Outdoor Advertising Association of Tennessee also gave TBI space on digital billboards across the state.

The TBI issued the Blue Alert Wednesday for Watson, who they also named a “person of interest” in the murder of a longtime Department of Correction employee.

Curtis Watson
Courtesy: TBI

According to the TBI, 44-year-old Watson was discovered missing Wednesday from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary during the investigation into the death of 64-year-old Debra Johnson, the West Tennessee Correctional Administrator.

Investigators said Johnson was found dead around 11:30 a.m. inside of her residence on the grounds of the penitentiary. Foul play was suspected in her death.

The facility was placed on lockdown and an inmate count was conducted. Watson was found to be missing from a work detail and had reportedly left the property on a tractor, the TBI revealed.

Watson was serving a 15-year sentence on a conviction of especially aggravated kidnapping in Henry County. His sentence was set to expire in 2025.

He was previously convicted of aggravated child abuse in Carroll County. That sentence expired in 2011.

Watson has family in Henry County, according to Sheriff Monte Belew. He said his agency is working with state and federal authorities, and there is an increased law enforcement presence in the county.

The sheriff is urging residents to have heightened awareness and use extra caution.

Authorities in Marshall County, Tennessee received a tip Thursday morning Watson could be in the area. Marshall County Schools were placed on soft lockdown out of caution.

The TBI reported there have been no confirmed sightings of Watson since his escape.

Watson is 5 feet 11 inches tall, between 180 and 200 pounds with brown eyes and a long gray beard.

Anyone with information is urged to contact 911 or 1-800-TBI-FIND.

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(This story was originally published on August 9, 2019)

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