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Coral Eugene Watts: "The Sunday Morning Slasher"

Danger on the Home Front

On Sunday, May 23, 1982, Michele Maday, 20, heard a knock at her Houston apartment door. When she opened it, a suspicious-looking man stood before her. Suddenly, the stranger attacked, beat and choked her into unconsciousness. While she lay on the floor, the man went to her bathroom, filled her tub with water, and then drowned her before running away.

Coral Eugene Watts

Coral Eugene Watts

The stranger later said that he felt no emotions about taking the life of an innocent woman. His only fear was being caught.

Lori Lister, 21, left her boyfriend's home and drove back to her Houston apartment. She parked her car and walked towards the front door of her apartment building. She was probably not aware that she was being followed.

As Lori got out her key and approached the stairs to her apartment, a man with a red, hooded sweatshirt suddenly came up behind her and strangled her into semi-unconsciousness. According to Bill Hewitt, Bob Stewart, and Gabrielle Cosgriff's 2002 People Weekly article, at that moment Lori "prayed not for her life, but simply that her body would be recovered." She was certain she was going to die.

Lori told Bill O'Reilly in an August 2002 Fox News' interview that she managed to let out a small scream. The neighbors overheard the muffled cry and immediately called the police. In the meantime, the man pulled Lori up the stairs to her apartment where he confronted her roommate Melinda Aguilar, 18.

The attacker threatened to slash Melinda's throat if she screamed. He then choked her until her body went limp. The man had no idea that she was just pretending to be unconscious.
He took some hangers and wrapped Melinda's hands behind her back and placed her on the bed. Then he wrapped Lori's hands and feet with hangers. Hewitt, Stewart and Cosgriff claimed the man was so ecstatic that he had control over the two women that he jumped up and down clapping his hands.

While Melinda was in the bedroom, the intruder went to the bathroom and filled the tub with water. Melinda waited for an opportune moment and then jumped off the bedroom's second-story balcony. She screamed for help, hoping that it wasn't too late to save her friend.

Moments later, police arrived. The intruder, who heard the sirens, tried to escape but police apprehended him in the apartment complex courtyard. The neighbor who initially alerted police ran to Lori's apartment and found her head submerged in the tub. Luckily, she just managed to escape death.

Investigators identified the attacker as Carl "Coral" Eugene Watts, 29, a Houston mechanic. When they asked him why he tried to kill the women, he told them that they had "evil eyes" and he wanted to "release their spirits." During further questioning, detectives were shocked to hear that Coral claimed responsibility for up to 80 murders.

Before he left for prison, Coral made a chilling statement. According to Joel Kurth in the Detroit News, Coral told investigators, "if they ever let me out, I'll kill again." They had no doubt he would keep his promise. Coral had long since lost control over his violent impulses and realized that he needed to kill to be happy.

Bad Beginning

In the early 1950s, Coalwood, W.Va., resident Richard Watts married his young sweetheart, Dorothy Mae Young. Shortly after the wedding, the couple moved to Killeen, Texas, where Richard was stationed at Fort Hood Army Base. On November 7, 1953, the couple proudly welcomed the birth of their first-born child, Carl Eugene Watts. Just days after his birth they moved back to their hometown in West Virginia and a year later their second child, Sharon, was born.

The Wattses had an unhappy relationship that eventually led to a divorce in 1955. Following the breakup, Dorothy Mae moved with her two children to Inkster, Mich., where she found a job as a high school art teacher. Dorothy Mae, Carl and Sharon often returned to Coalwood to visit family members. According to a 1991 Houston Chronicle article by Evan Moore, Carl learned to hunt and skin rabbits in the rural area surrounding his grandmother's house, an activity he greatly enjoyed. His affection for the southern town later led Carl to change his name to Coral, a southern pronunciation of his name.

In 1962, Coral's mother married an Inkster mechanic and the couple had two more children. Coral had difficulty adjusting to the new situation because he didn't like his new stepfather. He may have feared he would lose his mother's attention.

At age 8, Coral developed meningitis, which almost killed him. Moore suggested his fever ran so high that doctors feared it could have caused slight brain damage. Coral missed a year of school because of the illness. He would never be the same again.

Troubled Childhood

When Coral returned to school in Inkster, he was held back one grade to make up what he missed. He had difficulty keeping up with the class and his grades began to slide. It wasn't clear whether his poor performance was due to brain damage or the chronic sleep problems he developed after his illness.

Coral began having violent dreams that disturbed his sleeping pattern. He was restless when he slept because he would spend the night trying to fight off the evil spirits of women. In fact, he was trying to kill them. Moore claimed that Coral's sleep-induced visions weren't nightmares because "he enjoyed them."

At age 15, Coral felt the urge to act out his dreams. One day he knocked on the apartment door of Joan Gave, 26, while delivering papers on his route. When Gave answered the door, the boy, who was unusually strong for his age, beat her up. He then continued his delivery route as if nothing happened.

After the incident, Gave immediately called police. The authorities apprehended Coral at his home. He was ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment at the Lafayette Clinic in Detroit.

During a psychiatric evaluation, Coral talked about his dreams. Hewitt, Stewart and Cosgriff wrote that when he was asked if the dreams disturbed him, Coral replied, "No, I feel better after I have one." It was a surprising response that caused concern for Coral's mental well-being.

According the Dallas Observer, the psychiatrist later reported that Coral was an "impulsive individual who has a passive-aggressive orientation to life" and who is "struggling for control of strong homicidal impulses." He believed Coral was a danger to society.

He hoped that outpatient treatment would benefit the teenager. On his 16th birthday, Coral was released from the clinic. He went back to the clinic for psychiatric help approximately 9 times following his initial visit.

In the meantime, Coral returned to high school and even though his scholastic performance remained poor, he excelled in sports. Athletics was an acceptable means of releasing his pent-up aggression. He became a star football player and performed even better at boxing, earning the status of a Golden Gloves fighter.

With the help of his mother's tutoring, Coral graduated from high school at age 19. Despite his low grade point average, he won a football scholarship to Lane College in Jacksonville, Tenn. Moore stated that after several months at college, Coral suffered minor leg injuries. He decided to leave school and return home to his mother.

After one year of working as a mechanic for a Detroit wheel company, Coral enrolled at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. Hewitt, Stewart and Cosgriff reported that, "it didn't take long before a rash of attacks began to plague the area around campus." Several would end in murder.

Random Acts of Murder

On October 25, 1974, Lenore Knizacky, 23, heard someone at her door. Whitley claimed when Lenore answered it, a young black man stood before her asking for someone named Charles. Before she knew it, the man was strangling her. Lenore was able to fight off the man until he fled the apartment. Lenore called police, yet they were unable to apprehend the attacker.

On October 30, Gloria Steele, 19 also received a knock on her apartment door in Kalamazoo. It was a man also looking for someone named Charles. When Steele let in the stranger, he attacked her with a knife. She was stabbed 33 times.
According to Whitley, the same man looking for Charles tried to attack another woman at her apartment on November 12. She luckily managed to fend him off. As the man sped away from the scene, the woman was able to catch a glimpse of his license plate. She informed police who learned that the car belonged to Coral Eugene Watts.

Coral was arrested that December for assault and battery after the two surviving women identified him in a police line-up. During questioning, Coral confessed to attacking at least a dozen more women, yet he never admitted to the murder of Gloria Steele. He was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation at Kalamazoo State Hospital before his court hearing.

Psychiatrists found that Coral lacked remorse for his actions and was impulsive, reckless and emotionally detached. However, they did not think he suffered from any kind of psychosis and believed that he was able to distinguish right from wrong. They eventually diagnosed him with anti-social personality disorder.

During Coral's stay at the mental hospital, he slipped into a temporary depression. He attempted suicide by hanging himself with a cord. Yet, he ended up with only minor injuries.

In the summer of 1975, Coral was officially evaluated again. Psychiatrists found that he suffered from depression and posed a danger to himself and others. However, despite his behavioral problems, he was found fit enough to stand trial for the assaults.

He was eventually sentenced to one year in jail. Unfortunately, he never stood trial for Steele's murder because prosecutors lacked strong enough evidence to convict him. He was released in the summer of 1976, eager to resume his deadly campaign against women.

Moore wrote that upon Coral's release, he found work as a mechanic and moved home with his mother. Many believed that he was a "mama's boy" because he didn't like being away from her for long periods. She was perhaps the only one person who understood him.

Killing Rampage

Not long after Coral's release he began dating a woman named Delores. The pair had a child together, but never married. Eventually, the couple split up and Coral began dating another woman, Valeria, who married him in 1979. Their marriage lasted only six months.

During a police interview years later, Valeria admitted that Coral's behavior became increasingly volatile during their brief relationship. According to Moore, Valeria told investigators that Coral had violent nightmares, "became messy, leaving clothes, even garbage on the floor." Moreover, he would "cut up houseplants with a knife" and melt candles onto tables. Even more bizarre was the fact that every time they had sex, Coral would get up and leave the house for hours. Larry Werner suggested in his 2002 Star Tribune article that it was likely that Coral went stalking for new victims during that time.

Over the course of a year, many more women were attacked and murdered. One of them was Detroit News reporter Jeanne Clyne, 44, who was attacked on Halloween Day, 1979, as she walked home from a doctor's appointment. She was accosted in broad daylight along a busy suburban road near her home in Grosse Point Farms. She died from 11 stab wounds.

Unfortunately, police were unable to find any evidence leading them to a suspect. Initially, detectives suspected Jeanne's husband, but he was later cleared of suspicion when Coral confessed to her murder.

It is not known whether Coral attacked any more women between Clyne's murder and his divorce in May 1980. At least, there was no evidence linking him to any other crime. However, considering his record, it's very possible that he did commit other assaults.
On April 20, Ann Arbor, Mich., high school student Shirley Small, 17, was stabbed to death twice in the heart outside her home. A similar attack against Glenda Richmond took place outside her Ann Arbor area home that summer. The 26-year-old manager of a diner was found dead with 28 stab wounds to her chest. There was not enough evidence at either scene to convict anyone. Yet, the murders bore the trademark of Coral Watts.

On September 14, University of Michigan graduate student Rebecca Huff, 20, was found murdered outside of her home. She had been stabbed approximately 50 times. Her case was unique because it was one of the first murders to be directly linked to Coral. Moreover, it prompted one of Ann Arbor's largest murder investigations. It took two months before the link between Coral and Rebecca was made.

Turning Up the Heat

Three Ann Arbor girls murdered within the space of five months caused great alarm within the otherwise tranquil college town. Paul Bunten, a felony investigator for the Ann Arbor police, was determined to catch the killer. He dedicated years of his life in pursuit of the man commonly referred to by Ann Arbor newspapers as the "Sunday Morning Slasher."

Bunten headed the task force whose first job was to increase the patrols in and around the town. On November 15, officers got a lucky break. Two policemen patrolling the area around Ann Arbor's Main Street at about 5 a.m. noticed a suspicious man in a car slowly following a woman walking home.

The woman realized she was being followed and tried to hide in a doorway, hoping the man would lose her trail and give up his pursuit. She likely feared for her life because most people were aware of the local murders. According to Moore, Bunten said Coral "almost went nuts" when he could no longer find the woman he was chasing.

The police officers pulled over Coral's car and arrested him for driving with expired license plates and a suspended license. They also searched his car and found a couple of screwdrivers and a box with wood-filing tools. Yet, their most significant find was a dictionary with the etched words, "Rebecca is a lover," which belonged to Rebecca Huff. It turned out to be their biggest clue yet linking Coral to the murder, yet it still was not enough evidence to convict him.

Bunten and his team began round-the-clock surveillance on Coral. His movements were monitored with the help of a tracking device that was inconspicuously hidden under his car. Officers hoped to catch him in the act so they could put him away for good. They were almost certain that Coral was responsible for the deaths of Small, Richmond and Huff. They just had to prove it.

Coral knew that he was being observed and he consciously suppressed his urge to kill or assault for two months. With no evidence to go on, the police ended their surveillance and brought Coral in for questioning. Werner said that Bunten interviewed him for approximately nine hours, but Coral refused to reveal any information.

Interestingly, Whitley alleged that Coral broke down in tears when Bunten graphically described how he believed the women were killed. Bunten was quoted in the article saying that, "it was the first real emotion we'd seen from him." Coral asked to be excused so that he could contact his mother. After speaking with her, he wouldn't discuss the cases any longer. Hewitt, Stewart and Cosgriff reported that following the interview, Bunten described Coral as "soft-spoken," shy and agreeable, "if you could forget what he does."

Eventually, Coral was released from police custody due to lack of evidence. At the time, he was suspected of at least two attempted murders and believed to have possibly committed five in and around the Detroit area. In the spring of 1981, Coral moved to Columbus, Texas where he found work at an oil company. He spent the weekend nights driving more than 70 miles to the Houston area. It would become his new hunting ground.


After learning about the move, Bunten sent copies of Coral's criminal files to Houston police in the hopes of preventing more murders. The police were able to locate Coral, yet they were unable to directly link him with any criminal activity. However, he was the main suspect in several murder cases. Investigators just didn't have enough evidence to tie him to any murder.

According to Pam Easton's November 2002 Associated Press article, Houston police homicide Sgt. Tom Ladd claimed that it was difficult building a case against Coral because, "he used different methods to kill, never sexually assaulted his victims and chose strangers." He further stated that there was rarely evidence left behind at the scenes because he "killed within minutes of encountering his victims." Following the attack on Lori Lister and Melinda Aguilar in May 1982, Harris County Assistant District Attorney Ira Jones came up with an idea that would prompt Coral to confess to the crimes of which he was suspected.

Whitley reported that on August 9, 1982, Jones offered Coral a deal. In exchange for information and murder confessions, Coral would get immunity for murder. Coral agreed and several days later he took investigators to the burial sites of three of his victims. According to the Associated Press Online article, Serial Killer's Confessions, Coral eventually admitted attacking 19 women, 13 of which he murdered.

Coral told police that he was responsible for the 1979 Detroit murder of Jeanne Clyne, although he did not admit to killing area residents Glenda Richard, Shirley Small or Rebecca Huff, whose dictionary was found in his car. He was more forthcoming about his Houston victims. He confessed to drowning University of Texas student Linda Tilley, 22, in her apartment complex swimming pool in September 1981. He also admitted to stabbing to death Elizabeth Montgomery, 25, one week later.

On the same day Elizabeth was murdered, Coral confessed to killing another woman just a few miles a way. Werner stated that his cousin Susan Wolf, 21, was returning home from getting ice cream from the grocery store when she was stabbed to death in the arm and chest several feet from her apartment. Coral admitted to another murder that occurred in January 1982, that of Phyllis Tamm, 27, who was attacked as she jogged. Coral claimed that he choked her with his hands and then hung her to a tree branch with an elastic strap.

Almost two days later, Coral murdered architecture student Margaret Fossi, 25, who apparently died from a blow to the throat. Her body was found in the trunk of her car at Rice University. Coral said that he took her shoes, the blueprints she was carrying and her purse and burned them. Interestingly, Coral often stole items from his victims and burned them, hoping to "kill the spirit." He claimed that the reason he committed the murders was because the women had "evil eyes."

According to the Associated Press, Coral told police that he slashed the throat of a woman trying to change a flat tire on the side of the freeway. That same month, Coral claimed to have attacked two other Houston area women, one whose throat was also slashed and the other who was stabbed with an ice pick. Amazingly, all three women managed to survive the gruesome attacks.

Between February and May 1982, Coral confessed to the murders of Elena Semander, 20; Emily LaQua, 14; Anna Ledet, 34; Yolanda Gracia, 21; Carrie Jefferson, 32; Suzanne Searles, 25, and Michele Maday, 20. Moreover, he admitted to attacking three other women. Despite his confession Coral was never charged for any of the murders because of the bargain he struck.

Hewitt, Stewart and Cosgriff wrote that Coral admitted to at least 80 more murders in Michigan and Canada. However, he didn't give investigators the details of any of the crimes because he was not granted immunity for them. In the end, Coral's strategy to receive the lightest possible penalty for his crimes worked for him.

In court, Coral pled guilty to one count of burglary with intent to kill, just as he bargained for. He eventually received 60 years in a penitentiary. Kurth stated that before Coral left for prison he told an investigator "You know, if they ever let me out, I'll kill again."

Pending Threat

Several months after Coral was imprisoned he attempted an escape. He greased himself with hair gel and tried to squeeze out of his jail cell window. However, his attempt failed when he got stuck. From that moment on, he tried using a more legal method to get of prison. He began appealing his sentence.
In 1989, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reviewed Coral's case. Moor said that the judge failed to inform Coral that, "the bathtub water he attempted to drown Lori Lister in was construed as a lethal weapon." Consequently, he was not required to serve his entire sentence.

Coral was now considered a "nonviolent" inmate and was allowed to earn "good time" credits for being a model prisoner. The "good time" policy was an old mandatory law enacted in Texas that granted prisoners a reduction in time for good behavior. The policy was based on a criminal classification system.

Coral was classified as a Class I inmate and was accredited 2-3 days sentence reduction for every 1 day served. The credits would reduce his sentence by more than half. The man who admitted to killing again if let out of prison was due to be released on May 9, 2006. He would be considered one of the first confessed serial killers to be legally released in U.S. history.

The fact that Coral was going to be released early horrified his surviving victims, the families of those murdered and area citizens, who were well aware of his promise to initiate a new murder campaign. According to Hewitt, Stewart and Cosgriff, Lori Lister suggested that she thought Coral was being put away for life and felt "misled" and "not protected by the law" when she learned he was being let out just 36 years after his sentence. Many others mirrored her feelings and felt betrayed by the system.

Because of Coral's new status as a Class I inmate, he was also eligible for parole. However, he would not be granted it. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Coral's release six times between 1990 and 2004.

The Associated Press suggested that the authorities in Michigan and Texas were working hard to find old cases, where evidence might have been overlooked. State police forensic scientists were also hoping to use DNA tests, unavailable in the 1980s, to link Coral with some of the crimes. It was clear that the authorities in both states realized that Coral's pending release in 2006 should be avoided at all costs because he posed a threat to society. No one doubted he would kill again.

Behind Bars for Good

Finally, 22 years after Coral's initial sentencing new evidence was exposed that linked him to a murder. In 2004, Joseph Foy came forward claiming that he witnessed Coral kill a woman in December 1979. According to a March 2004 Dallas Observer article by Whitley, 45-year-old Foy responded to a popular television news program that appealed to viewers for any information concerning Coral's crimes. He immediately contacted the police and told them what he witnessed approximately 25 years earlier.
Whitely claimed that the Foy saw Helen Mae Dutcher, 36, struggling in an alleyway outside a Ferndale dry cleaners with a man who repeatedly stabbed her in the neck and back. Dutcher died moments later from 12 stab wounds. Foy went to the police station to report the crime and a composite of the attacker was drawn up. However, after an investigation the authorities were unable to identify the attacker and the case was eventually put on the back burner.

Hugh Aynesworth reported in his 2004 Washington Times article that Foy saw a television program in 1982 about Coral that prompted him to call the police again. Yet, Whitley claimed that the authorities "didn't pursue the Dutcher investigation, assuming Watts would leave his cell in a pine box." They did not know or take into consideration the "good time" policy.

After Foy saw the MSNBC show The Abrams Report in January 2004, concerning the Coral Watts case, he called the police again and filed a complaint. He hoped that his story might be able to prevent Coral's early release. Foy provided the big break that surviving victims and families of those murdered by Coral wished for.

Coral was finally charged with murder. According to MSN Hotmail News, Jennifer Granholm, Governor of Michigan, initiated proceedings to extradite Coral to Michigan to stand trial for Dutcher's murder. If he's found guilty he would have to serve a mandatory life sentence without parole. It would be the very least he deserves.

Final Stretch

In April 2004, Coral Eugene Watts was extradited from his Texas prison to Pontiac, Michigan to face charges for the 1979 murder of Helen Dutcher. During Watt's arraignment, his defense attorney, Ronald Kaplovitz, entered an innocent plea on his behalf. His trial was expected to begin in November 2004.

If convicted of murder, Watts could serve a mandatory life sentence. There is no death penalty in the state of Michigan. However, Pam Easton reported in an April 2004 article in The Grand Rapids Press that if he isn't convicted in Michigan, there is "enough evidence for a murder or capital murder charge against him for the March 1982 killing of 14-year old Emily LaQua" from Waller County, Texas. LaQua was found strangled in a culvert five months after she disappeared while on her way to work.

In November 2004, Watts ' trial began at the Oakland County Circuit Court. It was expected to last two to three weeks. Despite Kaplovitz's attempts to exclude certain pieces of evidence, Circuit Judge Richard Kuhn decided to admit Watts ' "decades-old" murder confessions because they showed a "pattern of behavior," Sarah Karush reported in an AP Online article.

The prosecution team, led by Assistant Attorney General Donna Pendergast of the Michigan Attorney General's Office, had lined up several key witnesses including, Joseph Foy who witnessed Watts' murder of Dutcher, three surviving victims and the detectives who took Watts' confessions.

On November 15th, the jury heard the harrowing testimony of Julie Sanchez who recounted how Watts attacked her as she tried to change her flat tire on the side of a Texas highway in January 1982. According to a Court TV article, the NASA employee demonstrated how Watts sliced her throat open and stabbed her repeatedly before leaving her for dead. She further claimed that at one point he turned around to look at her and laughed.

Melinda Aguilar and Lori Lister, Watts ' last known victims also gave testimony that day, recounting their brutal attack. Like Sanchez, Aguilar claimed that Watts seemed to enjoy inflicting pain on her and her roommate. In a November 15th AP article, Aguilar said that the moment she pretended to be dead she heard "Watts give a little jump and clap his hands," obviously "enjoying what he was doing."

The state's key witness, Joseph Foy also testified about what he saw years earlier. Ginsberg quoted Foy who claimed that he "looked into the face of evil..." and that "there was no soul, no feeling, no remorse..." At the time he alerted the police to Dutcher's murder, he provided them with a composite of the killer. The composite bore remarkable similarities to Watts.

Following the prosecutions closing arguments on November 16th, Watts ' attorney questioned whether Foy was actually close enough to get a good look at the killer. Foy was allegedly more than 80 feet away from the suspect and it was dark on the night in question. He also urged the jury to "focus their attention on what happened the night of Dutcher's death, not what Watts had done in the past," CNN reported. The defense arguments were brief and they rested their case on November 16th.
The following day, jurors were left to decide Watts ' fate. On November 18th, the jury returned a verdict. He was found guilty of the first-degree murder of Helen Dutcher. Grinberg stated that Watts reacted to the judgment by rolling his eyes and shaking his head, whereas the victims' families rejoiced after hearing the verdict and 'embraced each other and Jospeph Foy.' Watts eventually recieved a life sentence, although it would prove to be shorter than most expected.

On Friday September 21, 2007, Watts died in a Michigan hospital of prostate cancer. He was 53-years-old. His death came just two month after a jury convicted him in the 1974 stabbing death of Western Michigan University student Gloria Steele, 19. 'We're just glad that it's over,' Carol Tilley, mother of Linda Tilley, told Star-telegram.com. 'We feel like it helps to close the book on this. It's never over. But it helps.'
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