With Watson tased, Keigwin began strangling him. At some point Watson came to and fought back. He bit Keigwin, once on the leg and once on each forearm. He scratched his face. He punched him in the chest and back, bruising him. And, with foresight or luck, Watson clawed at Keigwin’s skin, gathering a sliver of his assailant’s tissue, later matched with Keigwin’s DNA. To gain the upper hand again, Keigwin may have subdued Watson a second time, triggering another 30-second jolt through the still-attached probes in Watson’s back.
Killing Watson required incredible force. (One friend said Keigwin was “as strong as an ox.”) To strangle a person, one applies a chokehold, compressing the neck hard enough to stop the airflow in the trachea or the blood flow to the brain for three to four minutes. First, the person goes unconscious. Then, with the brain deprived of oxygen for those minutes, death is guaranteed. It is possible, if hands or forearm are used, that no mark remains.
Watson was murdered Sunday evening, June 6. At 7:42 Monday morning, Keigwin was online, opening an account at Scottrade in Watson’s name. To complete the process, “Watson” was asked to come into a branch office. An hour later, Keigwin entered the Scottrade branch at La Jolla Village Square, carrying Watson’s Deutsche Bank statement. He introduced himself to the manager, Craig Dock, as John Watson. Dock recalled that Keigwin wore a black ball cap and black pullover and his face was cut up badly — a gash across one cheek, a fresh scab on his forehead. Dock thanked him for coming in to verify the transfer. Keigwin signed several required forms. (He didn’t bother to copy Watson’s penmanship. Keigwin’s 7’s and 2’s and 6’s and capital J’s were nothing like the victim’s.) Dock told him that the money transfer — an uncommonly large sum, $8.9 million — would take five days. No sooner? No sooner. With this, Dock recalled, “Watson” looked very nervous, then excused himself to get a cup of coffee. He apologized. He said he’d been traveling a lot.
An Autopsy That Almost Wasn’t
On Wednesday morning, when Beth Martinez arrived at her friend’s apartment, she learned that the previous night Chris Burton, an investigator from the coroner’s office, had classified Watson’s wounds as “nonfatal” — his death was not suspicious. No autopsy would be performed. Burton “waived jurisdiction” over the body, and it was on its way to the crematorium.
At 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, after telling detectives she was sure there was foul play, Martinez called Burton and told him they had to find the cause of death: Watson was too healthy to just keel over and die. “I knew how much he worked out to stay in shape for skiing.” Burton listened, agreed, and called a deputy medical examiner, Dr. Othon Mena. Mena “invoked jurisdiction,” ordering Watson’s body to the morgue for an autopsy.
Mena removed Watson’s organs and observed no cause of death. He scoured the body for other signs, noting two round puncture wounds, perhaps burn marks, on Watson’s back. When he cut and peeled back the skin of the neck, he saw extensive bruising to the muscles. He found that the horseshoe-shaped hyoid bone at the top of the throat was fractured. Because of its position, this bone is hard to break, requiring great pressure. That break and the trauma to the neck muscles told Mena all he needed to make a ruling: Watson had been strangled.
What’s more, Mena biopsied the skin around the puncture wounds on Watson’s back and determined they were burn marks, originating from a stun gun. He certified Watson’s death a homicide — tased and subdued, throttled and killed.
Not until Thursday night at 8:20 was a search warrant issued for Watson’s apartment. It had taken two full days for San Diego detectives to see the death as murder — something that Watson’s friends understood from the get-go.
Why Return to the Scene of the Crime?
Meanwhile, Keigwin had been continuing his Watson impersonation. Using Watson’s California driver’s license, he opened a mailbox in person at the Torrey Hills PostalAnnex, charging the $152 fee on Watson’s credit card. The man who processed the request asked to see a photo I.D. He looked at the license and at Keigwin and later recalled that the two faces were “pretty close.” Keigwin then filed an online change-of-address form with the U.S. Postal Service in Watson’s name — from 8111 Camino del Oro to the PostalAnnex box. Last, Keigwin secured a safe-deposit box to store his own passport and Social Security card. The woman who served him remembered “red dots all over his face, a skin condition,” she thought.
By Thursday morning, four days after strangling Watson, Keigwin had seen no report on TV or in the paper about the death. Had no one found the body? In coat and tie, he delivered an envelope to a front-desk clerk at the La Jolla Shores Hotel, which manages the apartments at 8111 Camino del Oro. The envelope held Watson’s car keys, wallet (containing $40), and a note — to “J” from “K.” The note read, in part, “I’m returning your wallet and keys you left in the car.… Your answering machine does not work. You need to get an electronic [one]. Missed you at dinner. Hope nothing is wrong.”
The clerk gave Keigwin the news: Watson had died after a medical emergency. He remembered Keigwin tearing up.
Friday morning, at 6:00 a.m., Keigwin returned to Watson’s apartment. He let himself in the building’s front door, took the elevator to the third floor, and walked toward apartment K, the only residence in that direction. Serendipity: a detective who was investigating the crime scene and taking a break in the hallway saw Keigwin in his black ball cap and black pullover. He asked, “Can I help you?”
Keigwin had a brain freeze. He said he was there to see a Mr. Kent Keigwin who lived on this or another floor, he wasn’t sure. The detective noticed Keigwin’s face, its red splotches, its scabs and scrapes. The man was nervous, and the detective asked again why he was there. After a half-hour of hemming and hawing, Keigwin confessed that he was Keigwin and he’d come to visit the site where he’d heard just yesterday that his friend, John Watson, had died.