Crime

Kimberly Watts' family frustrated over no arrest in her killing

COURTESY WATTS FAMILYA family photograph shows Kimberly Watts under a Live oak. Watts was killed in her Long Beach home Nov. 10, 2014.
COURTESY WATTS FAMILYA family photograph shows Kimberly Watts under a Live oak. Watts was killed in her Long Beach home Nov. 10, 2014. SUN HERALD

LONG BEACH -- The unsolved killing of Kimberly Watts means frustration and anger for those who loved her the most.

It's been nearly a year since someone killed the 48-year-old single mother and registered nurse in her home on Woodcrest Drive.

Family members say her death Nov. 10, 2014, has strengthened their faith in God and in the kindness of others. But they also say it's an emotional struggle to keep

one thought off their minds: Her killer still walks free.

"How can the person who did this live with himself?" said Watts' mother, Maxine Holcomb of Gulfport.

"It's the most horrible thing to ever happen to my family."

Police early on said they had a person of interest. That person is still a suspect, but his name is not being released and it's unclear if he is cooperating with investigators. Police are still withholding details and the cause of death.

"I don't think it would do the case any good to identify him at this point," Police Chief Wayne McDowell said. "Releasing the cause of death would be the vital part of the case that might lead to prosecution of the suspect."

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It was the city's first homicide since 2007.

Police often receive tips that lead to an arrest. But not in Watts' killing.

"We haven't heard anything from anybody on this case," McDowell said.

A woman of compassion

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

Watts had 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. She was working in the cardiology department at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport and was a member of Broadmoor Baptist Church when she died.

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

A doting mother

Watts, twice divorced, wouldn't date because of her devotion to Trevor, said her sister, Sherry Bass.

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.

Bass recalled Watts' excitement when Trevor was accepted at Ole Miss, and how Watts accompanied him to orientation and took pictures, including selfies.

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

Excelled at nursing

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

"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."

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Extended family

Watts was the youngest of three children.

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

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

Watts lived with the Basses off and on several years from the time she was 17.

"She was like a daughter to me," George Bass said.

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

A polite neighbor

Watts was living in a brick home with a well-kept lawn. Holiday lights draped across her small front porch. 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.

Her last night

Watts had left work and gone to her widowed mother's house to take her a salad. Maxine Holcomb said Watts had cooked a big pot of soup and planned to go home and have soup for dinner.

She apparently died that night. How and why remain unclear.

The next day, Nov. 11, 2014, Watts didn't arrive at work. Hospital workers couldn't reach her by phone and thought it was odd. 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.

"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 and 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 the details.

"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."

No way to prepare

Maxine Holcomb said the shock was mind-numbing.

"One day she's at my house and the next day she's dead," she 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.

"It hurts that her killer is walking around like everything is fine."

Friends helped the family clean out Watts' home. They held a garage sale and boxed up items the family wanted to save.

"I don't know what we would have done without them," her mother said. "Friends are one of the blessings to come from this. Anything we've needed, they've been there for us."

Relatives are trying to carry on with their lives as best they can.

Trevor took a break from college. He's living with a cousin.

Joey Holcomb constantly sees criminal cases resolved in Harrison County Circuit Court through his job as a bailiff.

He hopes justice will come for his sister one day.

Can it be solved?

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

Police have sent evidence to a crime lab and most of it has been analyzed, the chief said.

"We've sent additional evidence," McDowell said, "but it hasn't advanced the case yet."

If someone talks, the latest evidence could help provide the last piece of the puzzle, McDowell said.

He and Watts' family said they wish the killer would just come forward.

"Or if whoever did it told somebody or they mentioned it to somebody else, we want them to call us," McDowell said.

Watts' family said they believe they know who the killer is.

"We're Christians and we believe it's better to confess it now rather than later," George Bass said. "I'd hate to go to my grave with that on my conscience."

"We are extremely frustrated and upset," he said. "We believe in forgiveness. But we want Kim's killer held accountable."

The family invites all to join them at a beachfront memorial from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Long Beach Harbor Pavilion.

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