Redding police have announced that the arrest and charging of a suspect discovered through DNA evidence that was reanalyzed with new forensic technology this year in the 25-year-old murder of Christine Munro.
Munro was 37 when she was raped and stabbed to death 25 years ago in the Northern California town of Redding. Police are now saying that they believe her killer was just 17 when he committed the crime.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Munro Was a Nurse & Mother
According to Ancestry, Christine Susan Munro was born with the maiden name of Lindstedt the day after Christmas on December 26, 1957. The record shows that she was born in Torrance, Los Angeles, California.
According to the Redding Record Searchlight, Munro was the mother of four children, including a daughter, Lisa, and a son, Timothy Baker. She was also a nurse.
At a press conference announcing Watkins’ capture, Munro’s daughter Lisa said that her mother “loved the river trail,” referring to the South Sacramento River pedestrian trail.
2. Police Say Munro Was Attacked While Jogging
Munro was attacked during an evening jog along the side of the river, where she was raped and murdered, the Record Searchlight reported. She was killed by a “deep incision” the killer made to her neck, according to a June 1995 article from The Sacramento Bee.
Here is what the paper wrote about her murder:
(Christine Susan) Munro, who authorities said frequented the popular biking and walking trail, was found partially clothed about five feet from the (South Sacramento) river’s edge and 30 feet off the main trail. She was the possible victim of a sexual assault …
Redding Police Captain Steve Davidson told the paper, “We are following many possible leads. We still don’t know if this was a random act of violence or if the victim possibly knew the killer.” Although it was not mentioned at the time, Munro scratched her killer as she fought for her life, leaving DNA evidence underneath her fingernails.
At the press conference announcing Watkins’ capture, Lisa said, “Not a single day goes by that I don’t think about the day my mom was murdered, the manner in which she was taken from us and the pain that caused our family,” she said. “There are simply no words to describe the sadness and grief our family has had to endure.”
3. Convicted Redding Rapist Michael Vielbig Confessed to Munro’s Murder in 1997
In April of 1995, The Sacramento Bee reported that a man named Michael Vielbig was convicted of “attempted murder and rape in connection with attacks on two young women.”
Vielbig also claimed that he had murdered Munro in April of 1997, the Record Searchlight reported.
However, the Record Searchlight reported that police did not believe Vielbig because his accounts of the crime did not match the evidence he had confessed to other murders that he had not committed. According to Law and Crime, Vielbig had also confessed to killing a 20-year-old Redding robbery and stabbing victim Frank Wesley McAlister.
An investigator quoted in the Record Searchlight, “theorized Vielbig wanted to stay in the media spotlight and go to prison with a murder charge — which might have earned him more respect among some in prison.”
Vielbig is now 50 and serving a 311-year sentence at Avenal State Prison, the Record Searchlight reported.
4. Watkins Was a Texas Teen at the Time of Munro’s Murder
According to Redding Police, Watkins had moved from Texas to Redding to live with his aunt and uncle, yet quickly ran into trouble with the law and was “contacted by Redding Police eight times over the two year period.”
Redding Police reported that Watkins was arrested for shoplifting and unlawful camping citation in Redding and he continued committing criminal acts when he returned to Texas in the fall of 1997. “While living in Texas, he was arrested, charged, and convicted of multiple crimes to include sexual assault, burglary, escape, and bank robbery,” the police department said. “He has spent a significant portion of his life in prison.”
When they interviewed him to discuss the Munro cold case, Watkins was already in a Texas state prison, serving a 14-year sentence for robbery, Redding Police said.
5. Watkins Was Charged Based on DNA Evidence
In late 2019, Major Crimes Detective Rusty Bishop had begun going through cold cases with DNA evidence that could be retested in hopes of finding a match, the Record Searchlight reported. When he came across Munro’s case, he submitted the DNA scrapings found underneath her fingernails and in June, that DNA was matched to Watkins, now 42 years old.
According to Redding Police, a governor’s warrant was signed, and Watkins was flown in a private plane from Texas to Redding, where he was jailed and charged with multiple crimes in connection to Munro’s murder. The Record Searchlight reported that although detectives have spent a lot of time interviewing Watkins, he “has not provided a motive” for the murder.
Shasta County Jail records show Watkins is not eligible for bail and Redding Police said that he has been charged with rape, kidnapping and murder. At the press conference announcing Watking’s capture, Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett said Watkins would face enhancements for “lying in wait, murder while in commission of a kidnapping and murder while in the commission of or purposes for rape.”
Munro’s daughter, Lisa, also spoke at the press conference and said that she was “incredibly grateful” to Redding Police for catching her mother’s killer. “Today I wish to recognize those individuals who worked endlessly on behalf of our mom and in the spirit of justice,” she said, telling Bishop, “You are a true hero in every sense of the word.”
Because he was 17 at the time of the crime, as the Record Searchlight reported, Watkins is ineligible for capital punishment. However, if convicted, Watkins would still face a sentence of life in prison without parole, according to California statutes.