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Man in NW Arkansas is charged for 1983 murder in northern Illinois

February 20, 2013|by Gene Hartley; video report by Mike Landis, KY3 News |

BERRYVILLE, Ark. -- A man living in Carroll County was charged and arrested on Monday for a murder nearly 30 years ago in Illinois.  Steven Watts, 56, is charged with first-degree murder for a beating death near Franklin Grove, Ill., on Aug. 28, 1983.

The Carroll County Sheriff’s Department says Watts lived about 30 miles south of Berryville and Green Forest in the Dryfork/Osage community.  Carroll County deputies arrested Watts at his home on a warrant issued by a Lee County, Ill., judge.  Watts waived his right to extradition proceedings and agreed to be taken to the Lee County jail in Dixon, where he’ll be held in lieu of a $5 million bond.

Lee County Sheriff John Varga says the murder victim was Gary Dawson, 30.   Dawson died from blunt force trauma to the head.  His body was discovered in a rural area.


Additional information from Sauk Valley Media, Dixon, Ill.


by Tara Becker

800-798-4085, ext. 570

DIXON, Ill. – A man from Arkansas will be arraigned in Lee County Court on Wednesday or Thursday on a first-degree murder charge stemming from the beating death of a 30-year-old man nearly three decades ago.  Steven A. Watts, 56, a suspect at the time of the killing, was arrested on Monday at his home south of Berryville, Ark.  He is charged for the death of Gary D. Dawson of Peoria in August 1983.

As of Tuesday night, he was not yet booked into Lee County Jail.

Both Lee County Sheriff John Varga and State's Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller declined to comment, citing the ongoing case.

In a news release sent to reporters in Arkansas and southwest Missouri, however, Varga said Dawson died of blunt-force trauma to the head, and that his battered body was found in a hog pen on a farm about a mile south of Franklin Grove on Aug. 29, 1983.

According to Varga's news release, Watts waived extradition; the bond on the warrant is $5 million.

According to Sauk Valley Media archives:

Lee County sheriff's deputies found Dawson's body naked, with tape around his wrists, mouth and nose, leaning against a wall in a basement where hogs were kept.

There were scratches and cuts on his body, and officials determined he had been beaten "by more than one person."  An autopsy showed he was beaten and suffocated.

Dawson's family had reported him missing the day before. They said they last saw the self-employed mechanic working on his motorcycle in his garage.

Officials said at the time that they believed the killing was drug-related and that he was beaten in Peoria County, although they did not know where he actually died.

That same month, a $100,000 warrant was issued for Watts, then 26 of Peoria, for obstructing justice.

Then-Sheriff Raymond Nehring declined to say whether he was a murder suspect but said he had "valuable information" related to Dawson's murder.

Both men were members of the same motorcycle club in Peoria, according to SVM archives.

Varga told the Carroll County (Ark.) News Tuesday that Watts originally was a suspect, but police at the time were unable to gather enough evidence to prosecute him.

Detectives in the department's cold case unit recently revived the investigation, Varga told the paper.

The Carroll County News in Berryville, Ark., also reported police said more arrests are possible in the coming days.

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