Athens Review, Athens, Texas

September 12, 2013

So many questions, few answers

Despite no new information, authorities vow case will remain open until solved

Kathi Nailling
The Athens Review

Athens — On Labor Day 1993, three men fishing in the Trinity River just west of Seven Points discovered the body of a white female floating in the river.

The body was later identified as Shelly Lou Salter Watkins. The identification was made by forensic examiners who had access to her dental records.

The 36-year-old woman from a prominent Corsicana family was wrapped in black trash bags and bound with gray duct tape. Her clothed body had been weighed down with two cement blocks and secured with chains. The cement blocks, located at her feet and neck, failed to hold the body down. The murder of Watkins has gone unsolved for over two decades.

Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt was the Texas Ranger investigating the death of Watkins 20 years ago. The Henderson County Sheriff's Department recently placed an ad in the Athens Review looking for new information on the unsolved murder.

Nutt said investigators don't have any new information on the case. 

“We are always looking for new information to go forward on an unsolved murder,” said Nutt. 

He said there is no statute of limitations on murder and that the case will be considered open until it is solved.

“We try to run an ad around Labor Day  to generate interest and leads in the case,”  he added.

Nutt said he wants to see justice done and know the truth about what happened to the  young mother.

Nutt said the Watkins murder and the 1987 Athens murder of Ricky Heritage are two crimes he would like to see solved. 

“I would like to solve all the unsolved crimes, but these two I think of often,” Nutt said. “I would like to give the families some closure.”

According to news reports, Watkins, the wife of Jerry Mack Watkins and the mother of two young daughters, lived in the Beacon Estates in Corsicana.  She was last seen on Sept. 6, 1993, at a family gathering in the Ruth Springs addition near Key Ranch Estate on Cedar Creek Lake. 

Her family reported her missing, but it was a week later when the three fishermen discovered her decomposed body in the Trinity River, just south of Farm-to-Market Road 85.

Judge Johnny Gorman from Seven Points ordered her body be sent to Dallas for an autopsy. The coroner could not determine the cause of death because of the level of decomposition to the body.  Watkins’ death was ruled a homicide based on where and how the body was found. The coroner’s office could not determine her cause of death, but ruled out strangulation.  

In 1993, Jerry Mack Watkins was indicted for his wife's  murder against the wishes of Nutt, who wanted more time to build a case.

“I thought we needed more time before the indictment,” Nutt said. “I just didn't want to be painted into a corner.”

E. Ray Andrews, Henderson County’s district attorney in 1993, thought otherwise and took the case before a grand jury.

In  July 1994, the Athens Review reported that Andrews, with help from a middleman, demanded $1 million, then $500,000 then $300,000 in bribes from the Mr. Watkins. Andrews promised he would make the charges disappear if the husband paid.

After Andrews later admitted the attempted extortion and resigned from office, the charges against Mr. Watkins were dismissed.

If anyone has any information on the 1993 murder of Shelly Watkins, contact Capt. Bryan Tower with the Henderson County Sher-iff's Department at 903-675-5128.

There is a Crimestoppers reward offered for information leading to an arrest in the unsolved murder. If you would like to remain anonymous, contact the Henderson County Crime-stoppers at 800-545-8477.