Careaga family murder: Trio convicted in 2017 killing of four in Washington over drug dispute

Careaga family murder: Trio convicted in 2017 killing of four in Washington over drug dispute
Danie Kelly Jr, Robert Watson III, and Johnny Watson were convicted on April 5 (King/screengrab)

Warning: This article contains a recollection of crime and can be triggering to some, readers’ discretion advised.

PORT ORCHARD, WASHINGTON: A jury has found three men guilty of the heinous murder of a family in Washington state in 2017, shedding light on a crime rooted in a deadly dispute over drugs and money.

Danie Kelly Jr, Robert Watson III, and Watson’s younger brother, Johnny Watson, were each convicted on Friday, April 5, of multiple counts including premeditated first-degree murder, first-degree murder, attempted murder, and first-degree arson, according to reports from KING5.

The tragic quadruple killing

The harrowing incident unfolded on January 27, 2017, when the bodies of Christale Careaga, 37, Hunter Schaap, and Johnathon Higgins, both 16, were discovered inside their burned home on the Kitsap Peninsula, located west of Seattle. Two days later, the remains of John Careaga, 43, were found inside a scorched truck at a tree farm in Mason County.

The victims, proprietors of the successful Mexican restaurant Juanito’s Taqueria in Bremerton, were allegedly targeted due to their involvement in the local drug trade.

Careaga had been trafficking cocaine from California, with Watson identified as one of his buyers, reportedly linked to a local chapter of the Bandidos motorcycle club.

As tensions escalated between Careaga and Watson, culminating in a fatal confrontation, investigators uncovered a web of deceit and greed. Careaga's attorney disclosed that the victim had stashed away substantial sums of money beneath his residence, a fortune that remains missing to this day.

Key testimonies and evidence unveiled during trial

Further revelations emerged during the trial, implicating Watson, formerly employed by Kitsap County Public Works, who abruptly ceased working and was subsequently dismissed in September 2017.

Detectives traced significant financial transactions totaling around $303,000 into Watson's accounts that year, with “numerous cash deposits that the source could not be identified.”


Kelly, described as a "hang-around" associated with the Bandidos, had a prior friendship with Careaga that soured over time, according to investigators. Eyewitness testimonies placed him at the scene of the crime, allegedly fleeing in Careaga's truck on the day of the murders, accompanied by another vehicle.

Throughout the exhaustive legal proceedings, defense attorneys endeavored to sow doubt, challenging the prosecution's timeline and the reliability of cellphone tower data used to track the defendants' movements. They also underscored the absence of evidence indicating theft from the Careaga household.

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