Crime

Long Beach family is ‘waiting on God’s timing’ in unsolved murder case of Kimberly Watts

Editor’s note: This story includes the latest update on the Kimberly Watts homicide case plus content from a Sun Herald story originally published on Oct. 24, 2015.

The unsolved homicide of Kimberly Watts hurts her family and friends as much as their loss of the loved one they’ve described as vivacious, loyal and compassionate.

Someone killed the 48-year-old single mother and registered nurse in her home on Woodcrest Drive on Nov. 10, 2014. Three years later, her killer remains unidentified.

Watts’ sister, Sherry Bass of Long Beach, says the family’s faith in God continues to grow stronger, but they want to know who killed her and why.

“We still believe in God’s justice,” Bass said Thursday.

“We’re waiting on God’s timing with the whole thing. I wouldn’t say it’s gotten easier, but I would say we’re adjusting to the change.”

How Watts died and details surrounding her death are still being withheld.

Her killing was the first homicide in Long Beach since 2007.

“Knowing the case has been turned over to the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department is like a star of light in a black ocean,” said Watts’ brother, Joey Holcomb.

“Sheriff Troy Peterson has put together a team of outstanding investigators who have been working on this constantly since the case was handed over to them in June.”

Holcomb said there’s still a person of interest in the killing.

“That person refuses to cooperate with law enforcement,” he said.

After a year, police said not a single tip had been called in. Then-Police Chief Wayne McDowell said police had a person of interest but found no evidence to justify an arrest.

Watts’ family is now offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction. They had first offered $10,000, later raised it to $15,000.

Police handed over the case to the sheriff’s department after Watts’ brother-in-law, George Bass, was elected mayor of Long Beach.

Lt. Coley Judy, the sheriff’s chief detective, said the investigation continues but he is not ready to make details public.

Close-knit family

Watts’ family, friends and peers say she lavished love on her surviving son, compassion on her cardiology patients and affection on friends and members of her close-knit extended family.

She had been married twice and lost a child in her first marriage. Her son, Christian, died of a brain tumor at 6 months old. Relatives said the loss gave her a deep desire to help others, and led to her decision to become a nurse.

She graduated from Gulfport High at 16 and completed a four-year nursing program at Southern Miss in three years.

Watts worked in the cardiology department at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport and was a member of Broadmoor Baptist Church.

She had taken a few years’ break from work to raise her other son, Trevor. She lived alone after Trevor enrolled at Ole Miss.

Watts wouldn’t date because of her devotion to Trevor, her sister said.

Trevor worked at a bakery while in high school. On Saturdays, Watts got up at 3 a.m. to cook his breakfast and then had coffee with her sister-in-law, Donna Holcomb.

The family remembers Watts’ excitement when Trevor was accepted at Ole Miss, and how Watts accompanied him to orientation and took pictures and selfies.

The family still jokes that Watts would have given her son the moon if he had asked for it.

Watts excelled at nursing and was well loved by her patients and peers, Catherine Flynt told the Sun Herald in 2015. The women were best friends. They had worked together for 15 years at four hospitals.

“She was probably the most outstanding patient advocate a patient could have,” Flynt said. “Her understanding of life filled her with compassion and her patients loved her. I wish I were half the person she was.”

Extended family

Watts was the youngest of three children. She lived with George and Sherry Bass off and on several years from the time she was 17.

Her family later created close bonds with in-laws, making them a family of families.

George Bass, former Long Beach fire chief, said he had prayed his wife’s family and his family would become one family, and they did.

“She was like a daughter to me,” George Bass said, he told the Sun Herald in 2015.

Watts was 5 years old when her brother, Joey Holcomb, began dating the woman he later married. Watts became Donna Holcomb’s kid sister.

Watts lived in a brick home with a well-kept lawn on Woodcrest off Allen Road. Holiday lights were draped across her small front porch when she was killed inside. A sign on the door said, “Warm Autumn Welcome.”

Residents of Woodcrest would later say they’d never heard of problems on their street and never expected a crime of violence in their midst.

They remembered Watts as polite, the kind of neighbor who always waved or waved back.

She never missed work

The last night of her life, Watts left work and went to her widowed mother’s home to take her a salad. Maxine Holcomb has said her daughter had cooked a big pot of soup and planned to go home and have soup for dinner.

Something seemed wrong the next day. Watts didn’t show up for work. Hospital workers thought it was odd that they couldn’t reach her by phone. She never missed work. They knew Sherry Bass, also a registered nurse at Memorial, was Watts’ sister. They checked with her.

Sherry Bass called her husband and told him to use a spare key to get into Watts’ home.

George Bass said he was busy and almost didn’t pick up the phone, he told the Sun Herald in 2015.

“Thank God I did,” he said. “I wouldn’t have wanted my wife to walk in and find her sister like that.”

George Bass said he worried all the way to Watts’ home, praying that whatever was wrong wasn’t so bad that it couldn’t be fixed.

He thought maybe she fallen or couldn’t get to the phone.

He said his heart sank when he saw her car was in her driveway.

“Kim always backed her car into the garage,” he said.

He found her body in the house. He said police have told him to not discuss what he saw.

“In all my career, I’ve seen a lot of bad things,” Bass said. “Like other firefighters, I can hear a scene mentioned and suddenly have a flashback, total recall.

“I can’t get this out of my head.”

Maxine Holcomb said the shock was mind-numbing.

“One day she’s at my house and the next day she’s dead,” Holcomb has said.

“My husband was paralyzed the last 7 1/2 years of his life. We knew he wouldn’t live as long as we wanted him to. But with Kim, it was so sudden. You can’t prepare for that.”

“How can the person who did this live with himself?” Holcomb has told the Sun Herald.

“It’s the most horrible thing to ever happen to my family.”

Family members are trying to move on with their lives. They say friends, their faith and their church have helped them adjust.

Trevor had taken a break from college but is back in school.

Wanting justice

Joey Holcomb, Watts’ brother, constantly sees criminal cases resolved in Harrison County Circuit Court in Gulfport through his job as a bailiff.

He hopes justice will come for his sister one day.

“She was a good sister, a good daughter, a good mother, a good nurse,” Holcomb said.

“She surely didn’t deserve to have her life stolen like this,” Holcomb said.

Solving the case appears to depend on whether someone comes forward with information to corroborate evidence.

Sheriff’s investigators are reviewing every aspect of the case and hoping for a break. That break could come if someone gives a tip that can link a person to the crime.

To give a tip, call the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department at 228-896-0678 or Mississippi Coast Crime Stoppers at 1-877-787-5898.

Watts’ friends and family have remembered the anniversary of her death with vigils at the beach, but not this year.

“We are going to a waterfront restaurant to watch the sunset and have supper with our family and Kim’s friends,” Sherry Bass said.

“We’re going to do what she liked to do.”

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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