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Suspect had ‘quite the lucrative drug business’

Created: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
Updated: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 1:20 p.m. CDT

DIXON – Steven A. Watts, who was charged in the 1983 death of a man whose badly beaten body was found in Franklin Grove, had “quite the lucrative drug business” at the time, Lee County Sheriff John Varga said Monday.

“He had clientele up this way. We’re still investigating this case,” Varga said. “We’re seeing how Lee County fits into the puzzle.”

Watts, 56, of Berryville, Ark., was arrested last week on one count of first-degree murder in the death of Gary D. Dawson, 30, whose body was found in a hog pen on Aug. 29, 1983.

Varga said all of the players involved in the case, including Dawson, had some sort of drug connection.

Last week, the Carroll County News in Berryville quoted Carroll County Sheriff’s Lt. Ralph Gordon as saying that Watts had confessed to the crime during an interview with Lee County Detective David Glessner.

Varga, however, said Watts had not confessed.

Gordon couldn’t be reached for comment.

Varga revealed no other details about the case Monday.

The sheriff told the Carroll County News last week that police said more arrests were possible, but he declined to comment on that possibility.

According to Sauk Valley Media archives, Dawson’s naked body, with tape around his wrists, mouth and nose, was found leaning against a wall in the hog pen.

Investigators determined that he had been beaten by more than one person; an autopsy showed that he had been beaten and suffocated.

Investigators said at the time that the beating happened in Peoria County, although they didn’t know where he died. His family reported him missing the day before his body was found.

About a month after Dawson died, a $100,000 warrant for obstruction of justice was issued for Watts in connection with the case. In January 1987, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 2 years, 6 months probation.

Last week, Wilburn Watts, Watts’ father, told Sauk Valley Media that Lee County deputies had told him: “We know Steve didn’t kill him. We want Steve to help us get to the one who did.”

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