Donald Ray Watson (nickname Buddy) was 25 years old when he was killed. Buddy (March 13, 1953 – April 20, 1978) was on his way home from work. He was a husband to Brenda Faye Watson and a father to three young children. He worked in the Southeastern Kentucky coal mines.
Buddy was ambushed and killed by gunfire. According to this paper, police had five suspects. Through 1986, people were indicted but all cases were dismissed. Watson’s case needs renewed media attention.
Hill and Watson were ambushed between 410-424pm on Kentucky 1363, 9 miles SW of Whitley City near the small community of Co-Operative, and 8 miles from the Stearns/Justus Mine in McCreary County where both worked. They were ambushed from the woods. The first bullet went through the windshield, bounced off the padded dashboard, and struck Watson.
Where exactly Watson was hit is unclear. The Paducah Sun of April 21, 1978 printed Watson’s shoulder (not sure left or right) but an ambulance driver is mentioned saying that the bullet might have “glanced off and hit him in the head.” Hill said that the first shot of several, hit Watson.
There were at least 6 shots. They all came from the side of the road. There were lots of bushes to hide in. I didn’t read in the papers that Hill saw anyone or any movement. “He [Watson] fell over and told me he was hit” Hill said.
According to police, Watson was dead by the time that they arrived. It was 1978, no cellphones. Who called police? How close were they to homes? Running distance? Did anyone hear the shots?
Watson was taken to Lake Cumberland Medical Center at Somerset. The autopsy took place at the University of Kentucky Medical center. There isn’t anything in the papers about autopsy results, the trajectory of the other five shots, whether all shots were directed towards the passenger or the driver’s seat (or equally distributed or just randomly fired through the front window) or, if any shots hit the truck in other locations. It is not clear whether Hill himself got hurt.
According to the Messenger-Inquirer of May 5, 1978 police determined that Watson was shot with a .303 Enfield high-powered rifle based on the analysis of a bullet taken from his body and shell casings found at the scene.
The same paper only of Aug 24, 1978 called the ambush a sniper killing. They noted that a rifle was tested at the Kentucky State Police crime lab in Frankfort to find out if it was the murder weapon. Where it was found is not clear to me. I will keep checking the newspaper archives and update the post when I have more details.
The authorities believe that Hill and Watson were attacked because they were crossing a United Mine Workers (UMW) picket line at the Justis Mine in Stearns, KY. Hill and Watson were part of about 32 miners who were returning to work in the mines. The strike had been going on for 21 months. The papers described the time as highly tensed with people taking sides. However, there were no deaths until Watson’s.
As the ambush was confirmed by Arlie Hill Jr., we can only assume that the shooting was deliberate and a consequence of the strike. Any reasonable thinking person knows that death (or at least serious bodily harm) is a consequence when you start shooting at a moving target that holds people. There was no indication that Watson played any decisive role in the strike.
If you have any information that can help solve this case please call the Kentucky State Police at (502) 782-1800. They have a cold case page however, Donald Ray Watson’s case was not on there at the time of writing. On this page, they have profiled cases of interest. At the time of writing, Watson is not on there either.
Rest in peace Donald Ray Watson.