Manhunt ongoing for 'extremely dangerous' Tennessee prison inmate suspected in employee death

Curtis Ray Watson

A huge manhunt is underway in Tennessee for an inmate accused of killing a 64-year-old prison administrator before he escaped.

Watson has several tatoos, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

He was held in the minimum security part of the West Tennessee State Prison.

It was not immediately clear whether Watson and Johnson had been in contact before, but one official said it was "not uncommon for her to know the inmates who work on the property".

The state Department of Corrections released a photo showing Watson looking at a refrigerator wearing a camouflage bib and hat, with a backpack.

TBI UPDATE: Thanks to the generosity of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Marshals Office who have contributed $10,000 each, the total reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of Curtis Watson stands at $52,500.

The TBI said it had received 369 tips but zero credible sightings of him by late Saturday, and was offering a reward of $57,000.

A Tennessee convict suspected of killing a longtime corrections employee and escaping a prison on a tractor could have left the state, authorities said Thursday as the manhunt for the elusive inmate intensified.

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Department of Correction Commissioner Tony Parker said 64-year-old administrator Debra Johnson was found dead in her home Wednesday. Law enforcement agents fanned out throughout the area, which includes farms, fields, rivers and woods. Watson was seen at her home three hours before her body was discovered, investigators said.

Johnson's co-workers discovered her body about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday after she didn't report to work.

Watson escaped the area on a tractor, which was abandoned about 2.1 miles from the house where Johnson was killed.

Prison officials said he should be considered "extremely dangerous" and shouldn't be approached. Residents been asked to check trail cameras and any video surveillance for possible sightings and to check on neighbors. His sentence began in 2013 and was set to expire in 2025.

This is the third time a Blue Alert has been issued in the history of the program, which dates back to 2011.

The publication reported that he had been charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and child abuse in Henry County.

"The Tennessee Department of Correction's Office of Investigation and Compliance will continue to work with other agencies to investigate this incident and bring additional charges where appropriate", the release said.

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