1. Archive

Pregnant woman is found stabbed to death

Investigators are trying to identify the body of a pregnant woman who was found stabbed to death along a rural Sumter County road.

They think the body is that of a Polk County woman, seven months pregnant, who has been missing since Sunday.

A car belonging to 37-year-old Jahala Watson was found abandoned in Lakeland on Wednesday, and the description given by her mother fits the slaying victim.

Watson left her mother's home Sunday morning to go shopping, said Polk County sheriff's spokeswoman Kim Nichols. She didn't return, and Tuesday her mother reported her missing.

"We don't know for sure if that is in fact the same person found dead in Sumter County," Nichols said.

Nichols said Sumter sheriff's deputies came to Lakeland on Wednesday afternoon to get the missing woman's dental records and to search her car. They plan to use the dental records today to verify the victim's identity.

The body was found shortly before 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, 6 inches from the southbound lane of State Road 471 near the Polk County line.

The victim was seven months pregnant.

Wednesday, a family member saw Watson's car, a red, late-model Ford Mustang, in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart store at 4315 S Florida Ave.

The car was in a secluded space in the southeast corner of the lot, with its windows rolled down, the hood dented slightly upward and the left headlight smashed.

Lake County Medical Examiner Janet Pillow told investigators that the woman died from knife wounds. Pillow estimated that the woman died 48 to 72 hours before her body was dumped on the side of the road Tuesday afternoon, said Sumter Chief Deputy Bill Farmer.

Farmer said the tentative identification of the woman comes from her mother, who described the clothing and shoes her daughter was wearing when last seen.

"The undergarments, clothing and shoes matched the description that the victim was wearing," Farmer said.

Farmer said the mother was able to describe a pair of sandals with rhinestones that matched a pair the dead woman was wearing.

Farmer described the dead woman as in her 20s, about 5 feet 2, with curly brown hair.

Watson's family members could not be reached for comment.

This is the fifth slain woman whose body has been dumped in Lake, Sumter or Marion counties since September 1991.

None of the cases has been solved.

Lake County sheriff's Sgt. Greg Bare said the killings are not linked.

"There is unequivocally nothing consistent with that case and any of our open cases," Bare said. "Nothing in the case matches the parameters of the cases we have been working on."

_ Liesl Otto of the Daily Commercial in Leesburg contributed to this report.