Sharp County authorities have been busy following up on new leads of the 16-year-old unsolved double homicide of Terry and Katherine Watts of Ash Flat. The couple was found brutally murdered in their home Dec. 31, 1986.
"I'm pleased with the progress being made thus far," said Sharp County Sheriff Dale Weaver. Weaver said his office has been conducting interviews on the case. He said the case was reactivated after Sharp County investigator David Huffmaster reviewed the file. Weaver took office after the first of the year following T.J. "Sonny" Powell's retirement. Weaver reviewed the case files and discovered facts that needed attention, so the sheriff's office started the interview process, he said.
A $10,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the couple's death. Anyone with information can contact the sheriff's office at 870-994-7356.
"It was a brutal, senseless homicide. It needs to be solved. We hope to reach a successful conclusion," Weaver said.
Watts had been involved in a custody battle with his ex-wife, Belinda Wertz, over their daughter, Chasenda, 5. Watts was granted custody of his daughter Dec. 18, 1986, after a bitter custody battle in Oklahoma.
Chasenda Watts was spending the Christmas holidays with her mother and stepfather in Oklahoma when the couple was found murdered in their home. Chasenda was scheduled to return to her father in Arkansas Jan. 2, 1987, but she remained in Oklahoma after the deaths.
The couple was found dead in their home by Mrs. Watts' mother, Judy Bone, the morning after their deaths, Weaver said.
When Bone arrived at the home she didn't notice that glass had been broken from the front door so she entered the darkened home. Bone planned to drive her son-in-law to work at Cherokee Frame that morning. Weaver said Bone told authorities that she had thought her son was asleep in the living room, but when she tried to rouse him she noticed his body felt cold.
The couple's infant son, Joshua, was found asleep beside his father's body. Bone fled from the house with the unharmed child and traveled to a family member's house to contact authorities.
When officers arrived they found Watts' nude body with a gunshot wound to the chest. His throat had been cut. Weaver said the victim's throat had been slashed after his death. The index finger of his left hand had been severed; it was found in the living room near a child's piano, Weaver said.
Officers discovered Mrs. Watts' nude body lying on a bedroom floor. She also had suffered numerous shotgun wounds to one leg. Her head appeared to have suffered massive head wounds, Weaver said.
Chris Lindner, sister of Mrs. Watts, said she has mixed feelings about the case being reopened because it stirs up a lot of emotions. Lindner said her mother, Judy Bone, told her the case should have been solved years ago.
Lindner said her sister had met Watts in Oklahoma where they married before relocating to Ash Flat in 1986.
Lindner said she wasn't sure if prior investigators missed valuable information that would have led to an arrest.
Joshua, who turned 1 year old four days after the killing, was raised by Bone for awhile. Later he moved to Oklahoma to be with Watts' parents and to be closer to his sister. He is now 16 and lives with Bone once again, Lindner said.
"Joshua had nightmares for awhile," Lindner said. He was afraid of the dark after the tragedy, she said. She said she thought he understood his parents weren't coming back. Lindner said, "We spent a lot of time in the rocking chair with a light on. It calmed him down faster," she said.
Legally the family couldn't have visitation rights with Chasenda so Bone and Lindner rarely visited with her. Lindner said on occasion Watts' family in Oklahoma would offer visitation.
The ordeal has changed their lives forever, Lindner said. She said she is overprotective of family members. "We're not as trusting as before this happened," she said.