Authorities are on a manhunt for Curtis Ray Watson, a prisoner who escaped from West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning and is suspected in a corrections employee’s death. People in the area have been warned that Watson is considered “extremely dangerous.” A Blue Alert was issued for Watson. This is only the third time a blue alert has ever been issued since the program was started in 2011. You can see more photos of Watson in Heavy’s story here.
1. Watson Escaped the Prison on a Tractor & Now a $32,500 Reward Has Been Offered for His Capture
Curtis Ray Watson, 44, is a white male, 5’11”, 140 pounds, with brown eyes, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The last time he was seen, he was wearing jeans and a blue TDOC shirt. If you have any information about Watson, please call 1-800-TBI-FIND. He is believed to have left the prison on foot. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) released the above grainy photo that shows Watson.
Watson was discovered missing from a work detail after an employee was found dead on the prison grounds, TBI reported.
He was a minimum custody offender, News 4 reported, and had a job as a farm laborer at the prison. He was discovered missing from his work detail. He escaped from the prison on a tractor that was found a mile from the prison.
There hadn’t been any disciplinary action against him since 2007, when he didn’t report to assigned classes or duties.
A $32,500 reward has been offered for information leading to his capture. The reward includes $25,000 from the state of Tennessee, plus $5,000 from ATF and $2,500 from TBI, News Channel 5 reported.
There have been no sightings of Watson yet. A reported sighting earlier in Marshall County on Thursday ended up not being Watson.
2. He May Be Connected to a Homicide that Happened Near the Prison
Authorities are concerned that he might be connected to a homicide in the area, Covington Leader reported. A woman from the Tennessee Department of Corrections was found dead and authorities were investigating her death when it was discovered that Watson was missing. The woman who was killed was Debra Johnson, a West Tennessee Correctional administrator, News 3 reported. She had been an employee with the state for 38 years.
She was found in her residence on the West Tennessee State Penitentiary grounds at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, TBI shared. Her home showed evidence of foul play. At that time the facility was put on lockdown and it was discovered that Watson had escaped.
TBI said the homicide happened at the prison that Watson had escaped from.
The Blue Alert poster above was released by TBI in relation to Watson’s escape. The poster reads: “The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has issued a Statewide Tennessee Blue Alert for Curtis Ray Watson. Watson is listed as a person of interest in the homicide of a Tennessee Department of Correction employee on August 7th, 2019 and is an escapee from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning, Tennessee. Watson should be considered extremely dangerous. If you have any information concerning Watson, please contact the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.”
3. He Was In Prison for Kidnapping & Also Has Assault, Rape & Child Abuse on His Record
Watson was in prison since 2013 and was not due for release until May 2025. He was convicted of aggravated kidnapping. A woman reported in July 2012 that he had hit her over the head and raped her twice, Covington Leader reported. According to WMC5, he also had previous convictions for aggravated assault, aggravated rape, and aggravated child abuse. His record also included tampering with government records and a violation of protection order, News Channel 5 reported.
4. The Prison He Escaped From Is a Little More than Three Hours Away from Nashville
Watson may have relatives in Henry County and Carroll County, Convington Leader reported. Henning, where he escaped, his a little more than three hours from Nashville, Tennessee. A map of where the prison is located is included above. (Heavy originally noted that it was two hours away from Nashville, but that was incorrect.)
The closest metropolitan area to the prison is actually Memphis, which is a little more than an hour away.
5. He Has a Number of Identifying Tattoos
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released several photos of tattoos that can help identify Watson. The tattoos are in the tweets from TBI below:
If you think you see Watson, do not approach him as he is considered extremely dangerous. Instead, call 911 immediately or call 1-800-TBI-FIND.
You can see the official blue alert released for him here. According to TBI, all of the following must be met in order to activate a Blue Alert:
(1) A sworn law enforcement officer is killed, sustains life threatening injuries or the officer is missing in the line of duty under circumstances warranting concern for the law enforcement officer’s safety and; (2) The suspect(s) pose(s) an imminent threat to public safety and law enforcement personnel and; (3)A description of the offender or vehicle is available for statewide broadcast to the public and law enforcement 911 centers. (4)Prior to activation, if the suspect(s) is/are identified, the requesting agency will immediately: Place the suspect in the temporary felon file in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Obtain felony warrants as soon as possible or within 24 hours and enter the offender into NCIC. (5) The head of any Tennessee law enforcement agency, Colonel of the Highway Patrol, Chief, Sheriff or their designee of the investigating law enforcement agency of jurisdiction requests the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to activate the Blue Alert system.”
This is only the third time that a Blue Alert was issued since the system was started in 2011 in Tennessee.