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Brother in cold-case murder pleads to obstruction

August 4, 2018

DIXON – One of two brothers accused of participating in a murder 35 years ago will be on probation for a year and a half after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice.

Five counts of first-degree murder filed against Terry Bobell, 71, of Chillicothe, were dismissed Thursday as part of a plea agreement with Lee County State’s Attorney Matt Klahn. He could have faced 1 to 3 years in prison for felony obstruction.

As conditions of his probation, Bobell cannot own a firearm, use drugs or alcohol, or patronize bars and he must submit his DNA.

The case against his brother, Gordon “Kent” Bobell, 68, also of Chillicothe, and a third defendant, Steven Watts, 61, of Berryville, Arkansas, continues before Judge Ronald Jacobson.

Watts, who was arrested in February 2013 in Arkansas, has a status hearing on Aug. 23.

Bobell, who was arrested the same day as his brother, Dec. 30, 2015, has a status hearing on Sept. 20.

They are accused of killing Gary Dawson in Peoria in on Aug 28, 1983. The 30-year-old was bound with duct tape, stabbed and beaten to death, his naked body dumped in a Franklin Grove hog pen – which is how Lee County came to prosecute the decades-old cold case.

The prosecution says Watts, then a Peoria marijuana dealer, hired the Bobells to deal with Dawson because Watts’ brother, Bill, owed Dawson more than $90,000 for drugs, and Dawson thought Watts (who was having an affair with Dawson’s wife) should pay it.

Watts, who is cooperating with investigators, is charged with one count of first-degree murder, but faces probation, while Kent Bobell is charged with five counts and is facing life in prison. All three men have been free on bond.

Terry Bobell’s case was to be the first one tried.

His attorney, Paul Whitcombe of Dixon, has said in motions that Watts lied about Terry’s involvement in the crime, that his indictment was based on false grand jury testimony on the part of the detectives, and that there was “absolutely no physical evidence that places Terry Bobell at the scene of the alleged kidnapping, the alleged beating, or the dumping of Dawson’s body. There will be no physical evidence that Terry Bobell ever met Gary Dawson or was ever in his presence.”

The obstruction charge to which he pleaded, however, says Terry Bobell admits he was with his brother, Watts and Dawson the day of Dawson’s death.

It also says he left Illinois and went to Florida after the murder “while possessing knowledge material to the subject of Gary Dawson’s death,” and that, while in Florida, he lied to Lee County investigators when he told them he’d never met Watts, all in an attempt to keep his brother and Watts from being prosecuted.

Kent Bobell was charged with Dawson’s murder in September 1983, and Terry fled to Florida when he learned of his arrest, but those charges were dropped without explanation the following July.

As for the remaining two cases, the prosecution says Watts and others will testify:

Gordon Bobell, Watts and Dawson ere members of the Peoria-based Brothers Motorcycle Club.

Watts and the Bobells – who had worked security for Watts when he was running large amounts of marijuana to Peoria – kidnapped Dawson from his mother’s home that night, where he was last seen working on his motorcycle in the garage.

As Watts drove to Kent’s home in Chillicothe, the brothers sat in the back of the car, beating Dawson. Watts also told at least one person that he participated, pummeling Dawson with the butt of a .357 Magnum.

When they got to Kent’s home, the brothers duct-taped Dawson’s hands, legs and mouth, and stuffed him in the trunk.

Leaving the Bobells in Chillicothe, Watts drove to a mobile home in Rock Falls where Randy Wilson lived, opened the trunk and found Dawson dead.

It was Wilson’s idea to take the body to the hog farm, which was owned by a man he knew. Once there, Watts undressed Dawson and removed the tape before the two carried his body over the fence and into a swine shelter.

Dawson, whose body still was bleeding when it was found the next day, died of blunt-force trauma to the head and suffocation, and was beaten by more than one person, his autopsy showed.

Also discovered was a roll of duct tape with a bloody thumbprint later identified as Kent Bobell’s, and material “consistent with a blood-like substance containing the DNA of Gary Dawson.”

That’s when Kent Bobell was charged with Dawson’s murder the first time.

Watts, too, was arrested about a month after Dawson’s death. He was charged with obstruction of justice, and in January 1987 he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 2 and a half years’ probation.

The prosecution acknowledges that Watts was offered “leniency for his truthful cooperation and testimony,” and that he will be “testifying as an accomplice who has a motive to fabricate.”

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