John David Watson Jr (Oct 18, 1959 – May 2, 1974) was fourteen years old when he left his home in Wheeler, Pennsylvania, around 9pm on May 2, 1974. He never came back home. He was found murdered on May 3, 1974. His murder was never solved.
While reading up on his case, I found that papers reported details differently. This paper has the wrong date that John was found and the wrong purchase. I am pointing them out here not to judge but to show that some changes in the narrative could, if proven, affect a case’s timeline. More below.
The Time, the Purchase, and the Motive
John, a ninth-grade Connellsville Junior High West student, left home on his bike to make a purchase for his mother. According to this paper, he left at either 850pm or 9pm.
In the papers, we can see different times that John left and different purchases. Does it matter? Yes. Ten more minutes are enough to set in a chase forcing a victim to take another route and arrive somewhere later and that could change people’s alibis.
The kind of purchase and the location matter too. It can determine how much money a victim carried. Someone scanning for an easy robbery victim looks at specific locations, what goods are for sale, what kind of patrons shop there, etc. But it is not just the money. The kind of purchase matters too. Seeing someone leaving on a bike with milk is probably less appealing to rob than someone who just bought cigarettes.
I found that the purchase was milk here and cigarettes here. From the crime scene, we know the correct answer is cigarettes. More examples about inaccuracy in reporting below. Back to the purchase as we need to find the motive for this crime.
From this paper, we know that John David Watson bought cigarettes. Some were found on his body, some around his body. Another reason why the purchase matters in this case, is the bullying. John’s brother told the authorities that John was bullied by some boys. The argument that they had was about theft.
There are no details in the papers I read about the theft, what kind, who, where, when, etc. Did these boys go to the same school? Did they live in the neighbourhood? What are the chances that this is connected to John’s death?
John bought the cigarettes at the Pinas Motel where he also spent some time playing pinball. I am not sure how much money John carried with him. As described in the Herald Standard, ‘witnesses saw him biking home with his purchase and waved.’
Someone might have been watching him, assumed that he had cash or, they just wanted the cigarettes. They may have followed John to rob him or the robbery was a continuation of the above-mentioned argument. John’s bike was found several hundred feet away from his remains. So, there was no interest in keeping and selling the bike?
The authorities think that John was murdered around 930pm. This tells us that everything, from the moment that he left home, happened in a fast tempo hence my remark that someone could have been watching him, or that his murder is a continuation from previous altercations.
Missing, Found, and Crime Scene
John’s family reported him missing that same evening around 11pm. He was found the next morning on a neighbour’s lawn.
Judging from what I read in the papers, it is possible that John was chased and then shot or, he was shot elsewhere and then dragged. Either way, there was a struggle but nobody heard a gunshot. No murder weapon was ever found.
According to some papers, John was shot at the back of the head and in other papers it is noted that he was shot at the side of his head. Exact trauma locations are unknown. However, the back or side of the head make a difference. In one case, a shot during a chase is likely and in the other, at its most cruel, it could have been an execution style shot. That is of course, worst case scenario when it comes to the cruelty of the people involved but it must be considered as there were more indications that John was bullied and his body showed no other forms of trauma.
According to this paper, the bullet came from a small caliber weapon. It was never found. Authorities took a .22-caliber rifle from the Watson home (so I guess he was shot with a .22?) but it was inconclusive because “of the mutilation of the bullet that was recovered from his body.”
One last interesting detail from the crime scene. According to the papers, John’s brother “picked up and hugged the victim and discovered that his body was dry, which was in contrast to the rainy wet conditions that existed all night,” the affidavit said. That is curious. I wonder is the soil underneath John’s body was dry too. John’s brother, Thomas, also saw what looked like signs of dragging.
In 2015, Joseph Leos, who was 17 years old at the time of the murder, was arrested and brought before a judge. In 1974, Leos was staying with his grandmother in the Wheeler Bottom section of Dunbar Township, approx. 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. The charges were quickly dismissed. What happened?
On March 25, 2015, Magisterial District Judge Michael Metros in Fayette County dismissed the criminal homicide charge against Leos, now 58, during a preliminary hearing. The judge didn’t think that there was enough evidence.
At the time of the John David Watson murder, people were questioned. So was Leos, he was a friend of John’s. Leos was questioned and police seized his blue coat. Leos was not arrested and apparently the coat was not examined until the case was reopened in 2009. So, from 1974-2009, that coat was stored somewhere where hopefully is was protected from any contamination. Upon testing in 2009, gunshot residue was found. If the papers reported correctly all that was presented in court, this residu is all that was found.
Judge Metros said: “Five particles of gunshot residue does not make a case. The testimony presented had gaping holes,” Metros said Tuesday, according to The (Uniontown) Herald-Standard. He is right, you need to connect that residu and Leos to the crime scene.
The prosecution said that Leos had never before mentioned firing a weapon. Was that the reason why the gunshot residu tests were not done before the reopening in 2009?
We can find gunshot residu on the coats of any hunter or gun owner but that doesn’t mean that they killed anyone. And, just because Leos and John knew each other, it does not follow that Leos was one of the boys bullying John at the time. I am curious if the tests revealed anything about the kind of gun powder (pistol, shot gun, revolver, etc.) and if anything else was found. In what kind of material was the coat preserved? Paper, plastic? I think that coat needs to be examined one more time with the M-Vac.
Leos’ aunt, Carol Gandy, was at the Watson’s house on May 2, 1974, playing cards. She testified that John was “terrified of someone a week before he was killed.” So terrified that he didn’t tell his mother that person’s name. Could this be tied to the bullying his brother spoke about? I wonder if John’s classmates were interviewed and if anyone said anything about bullying in the school in general, or about smokers, or about stolen items.
According to Leos’ defense attorney, Blaine Jones II, Leos was indeed interviewed several time after John’s death. But, he was never charged and police had his coat the whole time. Why was it never tested before? Was it lost? In 2015, the District Attorney Jack R. Heneks Jr. said that the state might refile the homicide charge. I have not seen any since.
If you have any information to help authorities solve the murder of John David Watson, please contact Pennsylvania CrimeStoppers.
Rest in peace, John David Watson Jr.