Carl Eugene Watts was born in Killeen, Texas to Richard Eugene Watts and Dorothy Mae Young. His father was a private first class in the Army, and his mother was a kindergarten art teacher. When Watts was less than two years of age, his parents separated and he was raised by his mother. Watts and his mother moved to Inkster, Michigan, and in 1962, Dorothy Mae married a mechanic named Norman Caesar with whom she had two daughters.
Watts claimed that around the age of 12 was when he started to fantasize about torturing and killing girls and young women. During adolescence, Watts began to stalk girls and is believed to have killed his first victim before the age of 15.
When Watts was 13, he was infected with meningitis which caused him to be held back in the eighth grade. Upon his return to school, Watts had difficulty keeping up with other students. At school, he would often receive failing grades, and was reading at a third grade level by age 16. He also suffered severe bullying at school.
On June 29, 1969, Watts was arrested for sexually assaulting 26-year-old Joan Gave. When Watts was tried, he was sentenced to the Lafayette Clinic, a mental hospital in Detroit. According to a psychiatric assessment, Watts was revealed to suffer from mild mental retardation, with a full scale I.Q. of 75, and to have a delusional thought process, though a police officer interrogating Watts after his arrest later stated that he appeared to be "very, very intelligent" with an "excellent memory". He was released from the Lafayette Clinic on November 9, 1969.
Despite his poor grades, Watts graduated from high school in 1973, and received a football scholarship to Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee. He was expelled after only three months after being accused of stalking and assaulting women. He was also implicated in the brutal murder of a female student, but there was not enough evidence to convict him of the murder. After his expulsion he moved to Houston, Texas.
Watts had one child, Nakisha Watts, with girlfriend Deloris Howard. He then married Valeria Goodwill in August 1979, divorcing in May 1980.
Watts's time as a serial killer began when he was 20 years old in 1974, by kidnapping his victims from their homes, torturing them, and then murdering them. On October 30, 1974, Watts tortured and brutally murdered 20-year-old Gloria Steele, who was believed to be his second victim.
Watts killed females between the ages of 14 and 44 using methods such as strangulation, stabbing, bludgeoning, and drowning. Watts murdered dozens of women between 1974 and 1982, and despite the many women he murdered, he was not discovered as a serial killer for almost eight years.
There were several reasons for this. He attacked in several different jurisdictions and even different states. Even with the advent of DNA testing, it was still nearly impossible to connect them because he rarely performed sexual acts on his victims; his crimes were not thought to be sexually motivated. Watts was questioned for murder in 1975, but there was not enough evidence to convict him, although he had spent a year in prison for attacking a woman who survived.
Canadian authorities believe Watts may have crossed the border into Windsor that October, assaulting 20-year-old Sandra Dalpe outside her apartment, leaving her near death with multiple wounds to the face and throat. By that time, Watts had fallen under scrutiny from local homicide investigators. A task force was organized in July 1980 to probe the Sunday slashings, and Watts was placed under sporadic surveillance; a November court order permitted officers to plant a homing device in his car.
Watts was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder.
On May 23, 1982, Watts was arrested for breaking into the home of two young women in Houston, and attempting to kill them. While in custody, police began to link Watts with the recent murders of a number of women. Until early 1981, he had lived in Michigan, where authorities suspected him of being responsible for the murders of at least 10 women and girls. Watts was previously questioned about the murders in 1975, but there had not been enough evidence to convict him. At that time, Watts had spent a year in prison for attacking a woman, who survived.
Prosecutors in Texas did not feel they had enough evidence to convict Watts of murder, so in 1982 they arranged a plea bargain. If Watts gave full details and confessions to his crimes, they would give him immunity from the murder charges and he would, instead, face just a charge of burglary with intent to murder. This charge carried a 60-year sentence. He agreed with the deal and promptly confessed in detail to 12 murders in Texas. However, Michigan authorities refused to go in on the deal so the cases in that state remained open.
Watts later claimed that he had killed 40 women, and has also implied that there were more than 80 victims in total. He would not confess outright to having committed these murders, however, because he did not want to be seen as a "mass murderer". Police still consider Watts a suspect in 90 unsolved murders.
Watts was sentenced to the agreed 60 years. However, shortly after he began serving time, the Texas Court of Appeals ruled that he had not been informed that the bathtub and water he attempted to drown Lori Lister in was considered a deadly weapon. The ruling reclassified him as a nonviolent felon, making him eligible for early release.
At the time, Texas law allowed nonviolent felons to have three days deducted from their sentences for every one day served as long as they were well behaved. Watts was a model prisoner, and had enough time deducted from his sentence that he could have been released as early as May 9, 2006. The law allowing early release was abolished after public outcry, but could not be applied retroactively according to the Texas Constitution.
In 2004, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox went on national TV asking for anyone to come forward with information in order to try to convict Watts of murder to ensure he was not released. Joseph Foy of Westland, Michigan, came forward to say that he had seen a man fitting Watts' description murder Helen Dutcher, a 25-year-old woman who died after being stabbed twelve times in December 1, 1979. Foy identified Watts by his eyes, which he described as being "evil" and devoid of emotion. Although Watts had immunity from prosecution for the 12 killings he had admitted to in Texas, he had no immunity agreement in Michigan. Before his 2004 trial, law enforcement officials asked the trial judge to allow the Texas confessions into evidence, to which he agreed.
Watts was promptly charged with the murder of Helen Dutcher. A Michigan jury convicted him on November 17, 2004, after hearing eyewitness testimony from Joseph Foy.
On December 7, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Two days later, authorities in Michigan started making moves to try him for the murder of Western Michigan University student Gloria Steele, who was stabbed to death in 1974.
Watts' trial for the Steele murder began in Kalamazoo, Michigan on July 25, 2007; closing arguments concluded July 26. The following day the jury returned a guilty verdict. Watts was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole on September 13. He was incarcerated at a maximum security prison in Ionia, Michigan. He died of prostate cancer on September 21, 2007 in a Jackson, Michigan hospital.
The case is featured in episodes of Cold Case Files and truTV series The Investigators.