A Tennessee convict who sparked a five-day manhunt following his prison escape and alleged murder of a correctional administrator last week was captured yesterday. His arrest came hours after home surveillance video caught him rifling through a refrigerator at the home of a couple of strangers.
Curtis Watson surrendered without incident after law enforcement received a tip about his whereabouts in the West Tennessee town of Henning. Hundreds of law enforcement personnel converged near a soybean field where they took Watson into custody after a ground and air search, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch said at a news conference.
“The pressure they put on Watson while he was on the run was absolutely critical,” Rausch said.
The field was located 10 miles from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary where Watson made his August 7 escape.
Harvey Taylor said he and his wife, Ann, were asleep in their home around 3:30 a.m. when their outdoor security alarm woke them up. When they looked at the video system, they spotted a man going through their refrigerator.
They called police after recognizing Watson from news coverage surrounding his escape.
“Once he closed the left side of the refrigerator door, my wife could see his face. She said, ‘That’s him, that’s him,’ Taylor said. Watson was captured around 11 a.m.
An intense search for the 44-year-old started after he escaped from prison during his daily lawn-mowing detail. He had been serving a 15-year sentence for aggravated kidnapping. He illegally confined his wife while using an aluminum baseball bat in July 2012, court documents showed. His sentence began in 2013 and was set to expire in 2025, officials said.
Around 11 a.m. on the morning of Watson’s escape, prison officials said they realized employee Debra Johnson was missing after she didn’t report to work.
Johnson, 64, was found dead soon afterward in her home on the prison grounds. Investigators said she was sexually assaulted and strangled to death. Correctional officers reported they saw Watson riding a golf cart at Johnson’s house the morning she died.
Johnson worked for the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) for 38 years in various roles that included correctional sergeant, deputy warden and warden. She was the first TDOC employee to be killed in 15 years.
Following his arrest, Watson was taken to a hospital, officials said. He had mosquito bites and his feet were in bad shape, but had no serious injuries.
“He was obviously weathered from his time in the outside,” Rausch said.
Watson’s daughter, Harley Pole, thanked law enforcement in a statement issued shortly after her father was captured.
“The family of Curtis Watson would like to extend their deepest and most heartfelt sympathies to the family of Debra Johnson,” Pole said.
Watson faced new charges of first-degree murder, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated burglary and escaping from prison. Prosecutors were set to determine whether they’d seek the death penalty.
An arraignment is expected later this week.