LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Tenn. — Shocking details have been released after a 64-year-old woman was found strangled to death by an escaped inmate in West Tennessee.
On Wednesday, Debra Johnson, 64, was found dead inside her home located in the 10000 block of Highway 87 West in Henning, Tennessee.
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 7:00 a.m. Wednesday, 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, therefore he has access to prison equipment – including a golf cart and tractor.
Trustees are required to wear reflective vests while working on the prison grounds, according to officials.
Phone records show 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 around 8:30 that morning.
Between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., officials said Watson took a tractor and 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.
Coworkers went to Johnson's home to see if she was there, but they discovered her body at 11:30 a.m. A reflective vest was also found in Johnson's home.
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Investigators found the tractor Watson was driving and his prison ID around 1:30 p.m. about two 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 was increased. 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. Investigators said Watson should be considered, "extremely dangerous."
According to TBI officials, investigators have fielded 250 tips of a potential Watson sighting, but there have been no credible sightings at this point.
A number of law enforcement agencies have been conducting interviews and searching homes throughout the area since his escape.
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