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Missing persons poster for Stefanie Watson.
Missing persons poster for Stefanie Watson.

A 69-year-old convicted kidnapper and rapist has been indicted on charges related to the 1982 death of Laurel resident Stephanie Watson, a legal step that brings the once mysterious cold case closer to conclusion.

John Ernest Walsh, 69, was indicted on one count each of first-degree murder, kidnapping and false imprisonment by a Prince George's County grand jury this week in connection with the killing. Walsh is incarcerated at Eastern Correctional Institute in Westover, serving out a 72-year prison sentence for rape and kidnapping charges stemming from a 1970 incident.

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He is eligible for parole in 2026, according to the county state's attorney's office.

Despite his previous conviction, Walsh was released in 1978 by the now-defunct Patuxent Institution, which served as a rehabilitation center for convicts. He was incarcerated again in 1989 after violating parole. 

Walsh was charged with the 1982 death of Watson in June 2013 after police were able to link DNA found in the car to him, police said. Police said the recovered DNA was entered into the state's Combined DNA Index System, which collects DNA from convicts. 

"We want people to know that no matter how old a case may be, we never stop fighting for justice for our victims," said Angela Alsobrooks, Prince George's County State's Attorney.  "Even though Mr. Walsh is currently in prison on an unrelated conviction, it is important that we prosecute him in this case to help Stephanie's family continue to heal."

According to prosecutors, the delay in the indictment came because of complications.

"As prosecutors, we have an ethical obligation to ensure that the cases we charge have a strong factual and legal basis," Assistant State's Attorney Wes Adams said.  "When we tell a family after more than 30 years that we believe we have the person responsible for the death of their loved one, we want to be sure that we've done everything by the book so we don't have to put them through anymore heartache than they have already been through."

Watson, 27, was last seen leaving her Laurel apartment at approximately 9 p.m. on July 22, 1982. She was presumably on her way to work her final night shift at Greater Laurel Beltsville Hospital, which began at 11:30 p.m., before moving to Texas to live with family.

The following day, Watson was supposed to meet her cousin in Harrisburg, Pa., but never showed up. On July 26, police discovered Watson's car, a 1981 Chevette, parked on Fourth Street in Laurel with a blood-stained interior. According to the charging documents, police determined "a violent struggle" occurred inside the vehicle.

Six weeks later, on Sept. 3, Laurel Police reported part of Watson's skeletal remains were found in a wooded area off Larchdale Road after a witness reportedly saw a man wearing yellow dish-washing gloves throw something into the woods. The witness found human bones and teeth, and the medical examiner's office used dental records to identify the remains.

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