Officials doing a count during a lockdown could not find Curtis Ray Watson, who worked on a farm detail.
Officials doing a count during a lockdown could not find Curtis Ray Watson, who worked on a farm detail.
PHOTO: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
(CNN) —  

An inmate who escaped from a Tennessee prison while on mowing work detail was at the home of a corrections official 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. Hours earlier, at 8:30 a.m., corrections officers saw Watson on a facility golf cart at her home, the TBI said Friday.

Watson, who was serving a 15-year sentence for especially aggravated kidnapping, was discovered missing when officials put the facility on lockdown and conducted a check of inmates.

The total reward for information leading to his capture and arrest is $32,500, according to the TBI.

“Today we lost a very beloved and respected member of our TDOC family,” the Tennessee Department of Corrections said in a statement. “We are extremely saddened by this tragic loss and committed to working with our law enforcement in bringing the person responsible to justice.”

The TBI said it has received 250 tips and zero credible sightings of him, and is offering a reward of $52,500. It’s warned people in the immediate prison area to be on the lookout and double-check their property, crawl spaces and dog houses – anywhere someone could hide. Those with trail or property surveillance cameras should check those too, officials said.

TBI released two of Curtis Watson
TBI released two of Curtis Watson's previous mug shots in case he altered the appearance of his facial hair after his escape.
PHOTO: TN Bureau of Investigation

The TBI added Watson to its Most Wanted list. It tweeted pictures of his tattoos and his face, and additional mug shots in case he changed the appearance of his facial hair after his escape.

Rausch asked those who live in West Tennessee to check their property for anything that looks out of place as well as to check outbuildings, crawl spaces and dog houses – anywhere someone could hide. Those with trail or property surveillance cameras should check those. And, while the suspect remains at large, checking on neighbors would also be helpful. “He could be anywhere,” said Rausch.

TBI released two of Curtis Watson
TBI released two of Curtis Watson's previous mug shots in case he altered his appearance.
PHOTO: TN Bureau of Investigation

“Rest assured that we will find this offender and bring justice to the family of Debra Johnson,” Commissioner Tony Parker of the Tennessee Department of Correction said. “Debra is known as a very dedicated, professional correctional employee respected both by the offender population and the people who work for our department.”

Tennessee officials have issued a blue alert – only the third since the designation’s inception in 2011 – which is done when a law enforcement officer is killed, sustains life-threatening injuries or is missing.

The West Tennessee State Penitentiary is in Henning, about 45 miles northeast of Memphis.

This is Watson’s second prison stint. He previously was in prison for aggravated child abuse and was released in 2011. He returned to prison in 2013.

“This is a serious situation and we ask the public to stay vigilant, to stay aware,” Rausch said. “We need to get this dangerous individual into custody.”

Officials said Watson worked on a farm detail and apparently used a tractor in the escape. It was found about a mile away from the facility.

This is Watson’s second prison stint. He previously was in prison for aggravated child abuse and was released in 2011. He returned to prison in 2013.

CNN’s Susan Scutti contributed to this report.