October 11, 1980
Knox County, Tennessee
Walter Lee Caruthers and Reginald Watkins kidnap two hitchhikers before they rape and kill one and seriously injure the other
Brothers-in-law Caruthers (36) and Watkins (27) picked up Wilhelmina (22) and George (18) Stahl in Columbus, Ohio as the siblings were hitchhiking from New York to Georgia. In Knoxville, Tennessee, Caruthers and Watkins stopped in a parking lot, produced a .32 caliber handgun, and told the pair they were being robbed. After taking Wilhelmina’s purse and George’s wallet, Caruthers and Watkins forced the siblings into the car’s trunk and drove to a remote location.
The kidnappers brought the Stahls to a wooded area near a lake. Wilhelmina was then pulled from the trunk while George remained locked in. He heard his sister plead “please, don’t” and water splashing before he was pulled out of the trunk as well. George felt a hit to his head from a rock and jumped into the lake to evade his captors, which appeared to work. After the car pulled away, George returned to the shoreline but was quickly caught by Caruthers who held onto George’s shoulders and told Watkins “Cut his throat. He won’t say nothing.” Watkins then repeatedly stabbed George in the throat with a knife before George’s head was held underwater. When Caruthers and Watkins believed George was dead, they left the scene. George was able to walk away and seek help at a local hospital where it was discovered he had also been shot behind the left ear with the .32 caliber.
Police were brought to the scene of the crime where they Wilhelmina’s body. She had a shirt tied loosely around her neck, and a large rock had been placed on her head to keep it underwater. Her autopsy revealed she had been raped, and she had died by drowning as evidenced by water and gravel in her lungs.
George gave a description of Caruthers’ car which was soon spotted and pulled over as Caruthers’ wife was driving it. In the car investigators found Wilhelmina’s hair on the car seat, George’s fingerprints in the trunk, and the gun. Caruthers was arrested, followed by Watkins.
Both Caruthers and Watkins tried to blame the crimes on the other, both claiming the other had raped Wilhelmina, had formulated the robbery plan, and decided to kill the victims to conceal the robbery. After trial, Watkins was found not guilty of Wilhelmina’s murder but was convicted of two counts of armed robbery, two counts kidnapping, and one count felonious assault. The Tennessee Department of Corrections lists Watkins as deceased, though I could not find when or how he died. Caruthers was found guilty of Wilhelmina’s murder and sentenced to death. He died of natural causes in prison in 2017.
Tennessee Felony Offender Information. https://apps.tn.gov/foil-app/search.jsp TOMIS ID: 00098409
“Man on Tennessee’s Death Row Dies.” News Talk 98.7. February 1, 2017. Accessed: October 11, 2019. http://www.newstalk987.com/2017/02/01/man-on-tennessees-death-row-dies/
“Caruthers, sentenced to death for Knox murder, dies of natural causes.” Knox News. January 31, 2017. Accessed: October 11, 2019. https://amp.knoxnews.com/amp/97309582
“Court affirms death penalty.” Johnson City Press-Chronicle. August 29, 1984
State v. Caruthers. 676 S.W.2d 935 (1984). STATE of Tennessee, Appellee, v. Walter Lee CARUTHERS, Appellant. Supreme Court of Tennessee, at Knoxville. August 27, 1984. (https://law.justia.com/cases/tennessee/supreme-court/1984/676-s-w-2d-935-2.html)
“Sentenced to die in drowning.” Democrat and Chronicle [Rochester, New York]. February 10, 1983
“1 convicted of murder.” News Herald [Port Clinton, Ohio]. February 8, 1983