Cause of death for Debra Johnson revealed as the manhunt for Curtis Watson continues

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HENNING, Tenn. (WKRN) — New details on Curtis Watson’s escape and the death of Debra Johnson have been released in a Lauderdale County affidavit.

The medical examiner concluded Ms. Johnson died from strangulation and had also been sexually assaulted. Investigators discovered a cord wrapped around her neck.

The manhunt continued Friday for the man police suspected of killing Johnson before he escaped from a West Tennessee prison.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued three warrants for wanted fugitive Curtis Watson. The department said it has received 220 tips in connection with the search but no confirmed sightings.

TBI officials said Thursday they issued three warrants against Watson for first-degree murder, especially aggravated burglary, and aggravated sexual battery.

The reward for Watson’s capture went up to $52,500 Thursday after the FBI and U.S. Marshals pitched in $10,000 each.

Early Thursday, Governor Bill Lee, the TBI, and ATF offered a combined $32,500 reward in the continued search for Watson.

The Outdoor Advertising Association of Tennessee also gave TBI space on digital billboards across the state.

Court records: Escapee held wife against her will with baseball bat

  • Curtis Watson
  • Curtis Watson tattoos
  • Curtis Watson tattoos
  • Curtis Watson

According to the TBI, the 44-year-old Watson was discovered missing Wednesday from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary during the investigation into the death of 64-year-old Debra Johnson, the West Tennessee Correctional Administrator.

MORE: TDOC administrator remembered as ‘woman of integrity’

Investigators said Johnson was found dead around 11:30 a.m. inside of her residence on the grounds of the penitentiary. Foul play was suspected in her death.

The facility was placed on lockdown and an inmate count was conducted. Watson was found to be missing from a work detail and had reportedly left the property on a tractor, the TBI revealed.

Watson was serving a 15-year sentence on a conviction of especially aggravated kidnapping in Henry County. His sentence was set to expire in 2025.

He was previously convicted of aggravated child abuse in Carroll County. That sentence expired in 2011.

Watson has family in Henry County, according to Sheriff Monte Belew. He said his agency is working with state and federal authorities, and there is an increased law enforcement presence in the county.

The sheriff is urging residents to have heightened awareness and use extra caution.

Authorities in Marshall County, Tennessee received a tip Thursday morning Watson could be in the area. Marshall County Schools were placed on soft lockdown out of caution.

Watson is 5 feet 11 inches tall, between 180 and 200 pounds with brown eyes and a long gray beard.

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

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