• 64-year-old woman strangled to death by escaped inmate in West Tennessee, officials say

    By: Courtney Mickens, Fox13Memphis.com

    Updated:
    HENNING, Tenn. -

    Shocking details have been released after a 64-year-old woman was found strangled to death by an escaped inmate in West Tennessee.

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    Debra Johnson, 64, was found dead Wednesday inside her Henning, Tennessee, home, WHBQ-TV reported.

    Officials said Johnson was an administrator for the Tennessee Department of Correction for the western district of Tennessee. Johnson also lived in a state-owned home on the grounds of the West Tennessee State Penitentiary.

    At 7 a.m. Wednesday, inmate Curtis Watson, 44, was released from the prison to work detail for his daily mowing duties.

    According to court documents, Watson was a trusty at the prison, and therefore he had access to prison equipment – including a golf cart and a tractor.

    Trustees are required to wear reflective vests while working on the prison grounds, according to officials.

    Phone records show Debra Johnson was alive and talking on the phone around 8:10 a.m. Wednesday. Correctional officers noticed Watson on a golf cart at Johnson’s house half an hour later.

    Between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., Watson took a tractor and a reflective vest from the prison and drove away. He requested the vest from another inmate at the prison.

    Prison officials realized Watson was missing around 11 a.m. 

    Officials also noticed Johnson did not report to work that morning.

    Co-workers went to her home to see if she was there and discovered her body at 11:30 a.m. A reflective vest was also found in Johnson’s home.

    Investigators found the tractor Watson was driving and his prison ID around 1:30 p.m. about 2 miles from the prison.

    Agents found a cord wrapped around Ms. Johnson’s neck, leading agents to believe she was strangled to death. Therefore, the death was determined to be a homicide.

    Officers are still searching for Curtis Watson.

    Warrants for his arrest include first-degree murder, especially aggravated burglary and aggravated sexual battery.

    According to TBI, the initial reward of $30,000 for information about Watson has been increased again. 

    Officials said the FBI and U.S. Marshals have each contributed $10,000, raising the total ransom reward to $52,500.

    Watson is still on the run, and authorities are actively searching for him, officials said. Investigators said Watson should be considered,"extremely dangerous."

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