Traces of blood didn’t make sense to investigators, but prosecutors say technology served as a turning point in an investigation
LAKE ST LOUIS, MO. – The murder investigation into the death of a prominent figure in the Missouri Democratic community who last served as a St. Charles County attorney ended with an undetermined cause – and no suspects, 5 On Your Side Has Learned.
Sixty-year-old John Watson was found dead on August 28 at his Lake St. Louis home. Investigators said he fell on a staircase that connects the first floor with the second. Watson’s office in the St. Charles County Administration Building had been taped on the scene in the weeks following his death.
Since then, the Lake St. Louis Police Department, St. Charles County Police Department, St. Charles County District Attorney Tim Lohmar and St. Louis County Medical Examiner Dr. Mary Case, investigating death, but ruled out a bad game since then.
The traces of blood on the scene initially had investigators thinking it might be a murder, but technology proved they were wrong, Lohmar said.
“There were certain things at the crime scene that didn’t mean that someone was alone, but there were also explanations for the things that were plausible, and now I have no reason to believe otherwise,” said Lohmar. “I think it was just a tragic accident.”
Lohmar described the investigation as “exhaustive”.
“I can tell you that the men and women of the Lake St. Louis Police Department and some members of the St. Charles County Police Department invested hours and hours and left no stone unturned,” he said. “In the absence of anything we do not yet know, this matter is closed.”
John Davis of the Kessler Williams law firm posted a statement to 5 On Your Side on behalf of Watson’s widow, Julie Watson. It read: “The family thanks Mr. Lohmar for his work. John’s death was a tragedy. His family misses him every day.”
After their death, Watson’s daughters received separate legal representation from their mother. Her lawyer, Lucas Glaesman, said his clients had nothing to add other than what their mother said.
Dr. Case concluded last week that Watson died of head trauma which, according to the autopsy performed by 5 On Your Side, was made worse by “significant blood loss from scalp injuries.”
Hypertension is listed as another major condition.
But the nature of death – or what dropped it – is listed as indefinite.
Toxicological reports show that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.067.
However, the alcohol content in other liquids suggests that at some point during the night the alcohol content was 0.084 – barely above the state’s legal driving limit.
According to the report, he was also taking blood thinners and anti-anxiety medication.
“It’s not very rare for a cause of death to be uncertain, but it’s a different way of saying, ‘We don’t know,’ and we’re trying not to guess,” said Dr. Case.
The months it took to complete Watson’s autopsy had a lot to do with medical records that are difficult to collect.
While Dr. Case waited for detailed reports, police and investigators began investigating the case.
Lake St. Louis police chief Chris DiGuiseppi said the medical examiner’s initial results suggested that Watson’s injuries were inconsistent with a fall.
Traces of blood at the scene also suggested Watson may have died about 20 feet from where he was found, Lohmar said.
But it is possible that he was moving on his own and reaching for something to hold himself on before he died, he said.
The autopsy also showed he had a broken sternum, which is sometimes caused during CPR attempts.
“We thought CPR, someone came in, tried to save him, realized they couldn’t just leave,” Lohmar said. “That didn’t happen.”
Investigators believe Watson could have fallen on a post with a square along the stairs, Lohmar said.
“It is conceivable, it is unlikely, but it is conceivable,” said Lohmar. “It’s the only thing that would really explain it.”
DiGiuseppi said his department’s investigation included 50 supplemental reports and about 150 pieces of evidence.
According to Lohmar, investigators found that Watson’s 29-year-old wife was about 15 to 20 miles from the house before and after the fall, based on cell phone data, Lohmar said.
An app on Watson’s cell phone that he used to track his steps and calorie intake also tracked whether he was ascending or descending, Lohmar said.
He also opened the camera app on his phone 52 seconds before he stopped climbing the stairs, Lohmar said.
“The timestamp during a time he was walking and climbing coincided exactly with the time we think he might lose his balance for some reason and fall on the bottom of the stairs,” Lohmar said. “And we knew that there were no other people in the house during that time.
“We were able to interview anyone associated with the house, including family members. They have all been cleared of alleged wrongdoing, so this electronic data was the turning point for us. “
DiGuiseppi said he was proud of the collaboration of everyone involved in the investigation, but wished the result had been clearer.
“Our goal was to see what happened – was a crime committed or was this a tragic accident?” he wrote. “It is frustrating to view the conclusion as an ‘indefinite death’ as we want a more definitive result for the benefit of Mr. Watson’s family and friends, but at this point we have no new clues and information.
“Should new evidence or information emerge, we will continue our investigation to pursue the truth.”
Watson’s public life
Watson served as Jay Nixon’s chief of staff for nearly 18 years when Nixon was attorney general and governor.
After Thomas Schweich’s death in 2015, he joined the state as an auditor.
Steve Ehlmann, St. Charles County executive, hired him as a county attorney about 20 months before his death.
During an October interview with 5 On Your Side, Ehlmann said, “John is a former Division 1 college athlete at the University of Missouri and he appeared to be in very good health. It is just a tragedy that this happened to his family and all of his friends and the people of St. Charles County. “
Ehlmann, a former Republican senator, said Watson was known as a “consensus-builder” among opposing political parties during his time in Jefferson City.
Watson, who served the Democratic governor, played a “significant role” in controversial segregation legislation, Ehlmann recalled.
So the Republican Ehlmann had no problem hiring the former major player in the Democratic Party.
As an advisor to St. Charles County, Watson mentored the junior lawyers in the office. You take the news of his death hardest in the office, said Ehlmann.
“Especially the young lawyers and my staff, including myself, who spent most of the time with him, were totally shocked,” said Ehlmann.
Watson was instrumental in shaping the county’s COVID-19 response, according to his obituary in the News Tribune.