Escaped inmate on run after correctional administrator found dead at Tenn. prison

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HENNING, Tenn. (WMC/Gray News) - A prison inmate is on the run, and authorities believe he is responsible for the murder of a corrections employee.

Curtis Ray Watson escaped, taking off on a tractor, authorities said. (Source: TBI/WMC/Gray News)

“The officer came and knocked on my door a while ago and said, ‘we’d like to search your house.’ I said, ‘that would be a good idea cause I haven’t even done that,’” said Ellen Strong, neighbor.

Ellen Strong lives down from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Lauderdale County.

Residents are on high alert since word got out that Curtis Ray Watson escaped, taking off on a tractor.

Watson was assigned to work as a farm worker at the prison. He is suspected of killing prison administrator Debra Johnson, who was found dead in her home around 11:30 a.m. on the prison grounds. Johnson worked for the department of correction for 38 years.

It is not clear when Watson escaped.

“Immediately following, the facility was locked down. Official inmate count was conducted. At that time Inmate Curtis Ray Watson 363744 was found (missing),” said Tony Parker, correction commissioner.

Authorities launched a manhunt for Watson in the acres and acres of farm fields and woods surrounding the prison. The search was made difficult because of torrential rain. Cars driving on surrounding roads were also checked.

Burt Staggs worked with Debra Johnson for a little over a year more than a decade ago.

“She was a really fine lady. What I knew of her there was never any conflict with her with staff or inmates. She treated everybody with respect," said Staggs.

Watson was convicted of especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated child abuse.

He is 5′11 and weighs 180 pounds. He could have changed his appearance but cannot hide the many tattoos of skulls and devils and other similar images on his body.

The TBI considers Watson extremely dangerous.

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