TDOC and TBI are searching for 44-year-old Curtis Ray Watson who escaped from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary Wednesday afternoon.

Local authorities are searching for a man who escaped from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning and is a person of interest in the murder of a Tennessee Department of Corrections employee Wednesday.

TDOC identified the inmate as Curtis Ray Watson, who turned 44 Wednesday. He is described as a white male, 5’11”, 180 pounds with brown eyes. He was last seen wearing a blue TDOC shirt and jeans.

The prison went on lockdown after correctional administrator Debra Johnson was found dead inside her home on the prison campus. During a count, the prison found Watson was missing.


Johnson, 64, a 38-year TDOC employee. She was a correctional administrator who oversaw the Mark Luttrell Transition Center, Northwest Correctional Complex and Women’s Therapeutic Resource Center in additional to West Tennessee State Penitentiary.

Johnson lived on site in one of the prison’s housing facilities.

Correctional administrator Debrah Johnson, 64, was killed Aug. 7 at West Tennessee State Penitentiary during the escape of Curtis Ray Watson.

Watson has been in prison in Henning since his 2013 aggravated kidnapping conviction. WFUM Radio reported in July 2012 a woman told police Watson hit her over the head with an object and raped her twice.

According to the state’s felony offender locator, Watson wasn’t due for release until May 2025. He has previously served time for an aggravated child abuse conviction.

During a Wednesday evening press conference, the TBI would not release Johnson’s manner of death but said it was possible she knew Watson.

A minimum security offender, he was last seen on a tractor at the prison. The tractor, said TBI spokesman Josh DeVine, was recovered a mile away.

Though there is no evidence he is in Tipton County, there is an increased police presence in the north end of the county.

He is considered extremely dangerous and should not be approached.

“If you spot him, call 911. We ask you to remain vigilant and report anything suspicious to police,” said TBI Director David Rausch.

TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker said the agency will do “everything possible” to find Watson.

“Rest assured we’ll find this offender and bring justice for Debrah Johnson.”

Watson’s mother’s obituary shows his family members live in Henry and Carroll counties.

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

Echo Day
Author: Echo Day

Echo Day is an award-winning journalist, photographer and designer. She is currently The Leader's managing editor.