Christopher “Shane” Knight, 39, of 4367 Sun Center Road in Mulberry, was arrested on Thursday and charged with second degree murder and manslaughter in the death of his mother, Jahala Watson, and her unborn child.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd announced today, during a press conference at the Sheriff’s Office Operations Center in Winter Haven, that Knight had been taken into custody, following a joint investiation between four separate law enforcement agencies committed to closing this cold case.
“This arrest is a culmination of the hard work and efforts of four agencies – the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the State of Florida’s Office of Statewide Prosecution, Prosecutor Nicholas Cox,” Judd said. “Jahala Watson was viciously murdered by her own son 19 years ago, and we hope with this arrest we can bring some closure to her family members.”
Jahala Watson was 39 years old at the time of her death, living in Mulberry. She and had been working as the owner of Jahala’s Place restaurant in that town until it closed down a few months before her death.
She was also seven months pregnant with a baby boy.
Watson disappeared on Sunday, June 20, 1993, and what is known about the case is the last person to have seen her was Christopher Shane, her then 19-year-old son.
Knight had been living with his mother at the time, and according to the Polk County Sheriff’s office, she was supporting him financially.
“Friends reported that mother and son frequently argued about his use of her car, finances, and other household issues,” noted Carrie Eleazer, public information officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, in her report on the case. “One friend reported that the two had an argument on Sunday, June 20, and then Shane ordered the friend to leave. Once outside the home, the friend continued to hear arguing, and then silence. Jahala was never seen or heard from again, and her car was missing.”
After that argument, Knight cancelled plans he had made for that Sunday evening, and did not go to work for the following two days. His grandmother, who was Jahala Watson’s mother, repeatedly called Knight asking where Jahala was, and where her car was. She also asked for the tag number to Jahala’s car, and reported it missing to the sheriff’s office.
On June 22, 1993, two days after she disappeared, Jahala Watson’s body was found along the roadway of State Road 471 in Sumter County, just north of the Polk County line. That location was also less than half a mile from her brother’s property line.
“A passing truck driver saw her body, stopped, and called law enforcement,” Eleazer noted.
Watson’s car was found parked in the parking lot of what was then a Walmart, and is now a Staples store on S. Florida Avenue in Lakeland.
Knight, Eleazer noted, had been told by numerous people that they had seen the car there.
“However, he never acknowledged it, or went to get the car, or reported it to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office,” Eleazer noted.
A day after his mother’s body was discovered, the arrest affidavit notes, Knight told friends he had been informed by law enforcement that his mother’s body had been found.
“In fact, Shane had not spoken to any law enforcement (agents),” Eleazer noted. “Her body had not yet been positively identified at that time.”
An autopsy would reveal that Jahala Watson died as a result of stab wounds. The unborn fetus she was carrying also died as a result of the stabbings.
Both deaths were ruled homicides.
Another key piece of evidence, investigators say, is that Jahala Watson’s ex-husband, and Knight’s father, found the clothes Jahala was last seen wearing on Sunday morning, June 20, when she disappeared, along with her cigarettes and lighter. Those were items, the sheriff’s office noted, that as a heavy smoker she never left behind.
Knight also made several inconsistent statements to detectives, friends, and family members about his mother’s disappearance and murder throughout the investigation, the sheriff’s office noted. But for years, they could not put together the evidence to make a case against the suspect.
Then this month, Polk County Sheriff’s Office Homicide detectives got a warrant from Cox for Knight’s arrest, charging him with one count of second degree Murder and one count manslaughter in the killing of his mother and her unborn baby boy, who would have been named Skylar Levi Watson.
Knight was taken into custody and booked into the Polk County Jail.
Knight had a first appearance hearing at 12:30 p.m. today from South County Jail in Frostproof.
Knight, who changed his name from Watson years ago, has a past criminal record. He was arrested in November 1992 for possession of alcohol by a minor, and received three months’ probation.
He was arrested again in May 2000 for battery domestic violence, and a month later on two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
His last and most recent arrest was by the sheriff’s office in November 2004, for battery domestic violence.
Those involved in the arrest said it shows a cold case never gets closed until it has been solved.
“We never stop looking for answers and searching for clues,“ said Florida Department of Law Enforcement Tampa Bay Regional Operations Center Special Agent in Charge Rick Ramirez. “This is a great example of law enforcement working together to make this arrest.”
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