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Ark. man arrested in Lee County cold case homicide

Bond set at $5 million; more arrests possible

Steven A. Watts
Steven A. Watts

DIXON – An Arkansas man will be arraigned today or Thursday in Lee County Court on a first-degree murder charge stemming from the beating death of a 30-year-old man nearly 3 decades ago.

Steven A. Watts, 56, a suspect at the time of the killing, was arrested Monday at his Berryville home; he is charged in the August 1983 death of Gary D. Dawson of Peoria.

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 Arkansas media, however, Varga said that Dawson died of blunt-force trauma to the head, and that his battered body was found in a hog pen in rural Franklin Grove on Aug. 28, 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 and of Peoria, for obstructing justice.

Then-Sheriff Raymond Nehring declined to say whether Watts was a 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 also reported that police said more arrests are possible.  

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