A Deal With The Devil?

<B>Steve Kroft</B> Reports On Confessed Serial Killer Coral Eugene Watts

For 22 years, Coral Watts has been locked up in the Texas prison system, all but forgotten. Correspondent Steve Kroft reports on this broadcast that first aired last October.

"What's amazing to me is everybody in America has heard of a Ted Bundy, a John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer. But when you mention the name of Coral Eugene Watts, 99.99 percent of the public has no clue who you're talking about," says Andy Kahan, who is hoping to change that.

As director of the Crime Victims Office for the Mayor of Houston, he's trying to find some way - any way - to keep Watts from being released.

"I guarantee you, if he is released, women are gonna turn up murdered," says Kahan. "There's no ifs, ands, or buts. This was a man that by his own admission stated that 'I'm gonna kill again if they ever release me.' You do not rehabilitate a serial killer."

Watts has been in trouble since he was 15, when he attacked a woman on his paper route. He's been in and out of psychiatric hospitals, and in college, he was the No. 1 suspect after a young woman was stabbed 33 times. Police, however, had no evidence linking Watts to the murder. He was also a suspect in a series of slayings in the Detroit area, but once again there was not enough evidence to arrest him.

Watts' ability to elude authorities followed him to Ann Arbor, Mich. It was 1980, when three young women were brutally murdered by someone the police and newspapers dubbed the "Sunday Morning Slasher."

Paul Bunten, now the police chief in Saline, Mich., was the lead investigator in the case and says Watts quickly became the prime suspect.

"He knew that I suspected him of three homicides, even to the point where I demonstrated," says Bunten. "I said, 'Coral, I know exactly how you did it. And I stood up and I put my arm around his neck. And I said, 'You did it just like this.' He actually got very teary eyed and said he wanted to talk to his mother."

Did Bunten think Watts was getting ready to confess? "Yes, I did," he says. "And we went to the telephone, and nobody was home, and he says, 'I don't want to talk anymore.'"

By then, Bunten had put Watts under 24-hour police surveillance. When Watts decided to skip town, Bunten tracked him to Houston and sent police there an urgent warning.

"We put this very large packet of information including fingerprints, photographs, photographs of his car, highlights of our reports," says Bunten. "And I called Houston homicide and talked with the detective down there, and told him, 'I'm mailing this down. This is guy is a predator. You need to watch him.'"

When Watts showed up in Houston in 1981, it was the perfect hunting ground for a serial killer. Houston was the murder capital of the United States that year, with more than 700 homicides. Police were underpaid, understaffed and overwhelmed. So when Watts began killing young women, no one suspected that it might be the work of one man.

Watts would later confess to stalking and killing 12 Texas women. The first victim, Linda Tilley, was drowned. Elizabeth Montgomery was stabbed, and two hours later, so was Susan Wolf. Ellen Tamm was hanged, Margaret Fossi was asphyxiated, Elena Semander was strangled and left in a trash dumpster.

Emily LaQua was just 14. Anna Ledet was a medical student. And Yolanda Gracia, Carrie Jefferson and Suzanne Searles were all killed as they returned home.

Watts killed at random. There were no patterns, no motives, no eyewitnesses, and no evidence.

"Trust me, if we had the goods on Coral Eugene Watts, we wouldn't be talking today. That's how good this guy was," says Kahan.

But Watts' luck ran out on May 23, 1982. He spotted a woman leaving a Houston nightclub and followed her home. Michelle Maday was killed on her 20th birthday, and her body was dumped into a bathtub. Then, Watts moved on to another apartment complex, where he would confront his last two victims.

"He came in and grabbed me and started choking me. And he told me if I screamed, he would kill me," says Melinda Aguilar, who had just turned 19.

Watts tied up Aguilar, and her roommate, and began filling the bathtub with water. "He was excited and hyper and clappin' and just making noises like he was excited, that this was gonna be fun," recalls Aguilar, who had no doubt that Watts was going to kill her. "He clapped and jumped at one time … and that's when I knew that I had to do something."

As Watts tried to drown her roommate in the bathtub, Aguilar managed to escape, throwing herself off the second-floor balcony. Neighbors called police, the roommate was saved, and Watts, a 28-year-old bus mechanic, was arrested as he tried to flee.

But on the day Watts was set to go to trial, a deal was struck with the Houston district attorney. In exchange for a guilty plea to "burglary with the intent to commit murder" and a 60-year prison sentence, Watts offered to confess to 12 unsolved homicides if he was given immunity for them.

In the eyes of the district attorney, it was a good deal. It got a mass murderer off the streets for a long time and resolved a dozen open cases.

Would Watts have been caught if he had not confessed?

"No," says Det. Tom Ladd, who was brought in to take Watts' confession. He says there is no evidence linking him to the crimes he confessed to.