Tennessee Bureau of Investigations PIO Keli McAlister briefs the media Friday afternoon. Curtis Ray Watson is still at large and considered “very violent and very dangerous,” she said.

LAUDERDALE COUNTY – During a news conference Friday afternoon, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Public Information Officer Keli McAlister said there have been no credible sightings of escaped inmate Curtis Ray Watson.

More than 250 tips have been reported, McAlister said, and those tips are vetted and investigated by search teams.

As the search continues into its third day, the TBI encourages residents to continue to be vigilant.


“Keep your eyes, keep your ears open and know what’s going on in your neighborhoods,” McAlister said. “Check on your neighbors, especially if you haven’t heard from them since Wednesday. We want folks to be aware.”

On Thursday, a $52,500 reward was announced for information leading to his apprehension and conviction.

“We want to give that money to someone,” she said. “We want to find him.”

Considered a very violent, very dangerous offender, Watson is a 44-year-old inmate who was charged with first degree murder, aggravated burglary and aggravated sexual battery in the death of Debra Johnson.

Johnson, 64, was a 38-year Tennessee Department of Corrections veteran who served as a correctional administrator over four West Tennessee facilities. She lived on the prison campus and was found murdered in her home after not showing up for work.

Watson, a minimum security inmate, was released at 7 a.m. for daily mowing duties. He was last seen at approximately 8:30 a.m. on a golf cart outside of Johnson’s home and was first noticed to be missing at 11 a.m.

He left the prison on a tractor, which was recovered two miles away.

Watson was serving time for a 2013 aggravated kidnapping conviction tied to a 2012 rape in Henry County. He has previously served time for aggravated child abuse.

TDOC PIO Tylee Tracer wouldn’t comment on his classification as a trusty or why it took so long to notice he’d escaped and notify authorities.

“Right now we’re trying to focus on finding this individual,” she said.

Recognizing the frustration, and the rumors being generated through social media, is beginning to take its toll on the community, McAlister continued to encourage people to be aware of what’s going on around them.

“Quoting the commissioner from yesterday, he really could be anywhere.”

The body of Debra Johnson will be escorted by TDOC and the Tennessee Highway Patrol from West Tennessee back to her native Nashville beginning at 4 p.m. Friday.

If you believe you’ve seen Watson, you are encouraged not to approach him as he is considered extremely dangerous. Call 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.