KITSAP COUNTY, WA- On January 27, 2017, four members of a Port Orchard, Washington home were executed, three inside their family home and one who was killed inside a truck which was subsequently set ablaze by the suspects.
The murders left members of the community searching for answers as the execution of Johnny and Christale Lynn Careaga and their two sons, Hunter E. Schaap and Johnathon F. Higgins shocked the community.
This week, five-plus years after the murders, Kitsap County Sheriff’s detectives arrested three suspects in the killings, accusing each of participating in the deaths of the family.
— David Rose (@DavidRoseFOX13) June 6, 2022
A task force of some 70 officers were involved in the three arrests Monday, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Lt. Ken Dickinson said, according to USA Today. One was arrested during a traffic stop, another at a home in central Kitsap County, and the third in a residence in South Kitsap. Dickinson said all three were taken into custody without incident.
The three men—Danie J. Kelly Jr., 43; Robert J. Watson III, 50; and Johnny J. Watson, 49, were arrested and charged by Kitsap County prosecutors with 16 different crimes, including aggravated first-degree murder, a penalty that carries life without parole if convicted. All suspects are being held without bail in the Kitsap County Jail.
According to documents filed by investigators, an argument of some type took place between Johnny Careaga and the suspects. While no weapon has yet been recovered, investigators identified a number of circumstances in which the three attempted to cover up their crime.
By all indications and according to detectives, Johnny Careaga was “a family man” who “stood up for himself,” while being very “protective of his family. That was the cover, however the secret was that when he wasn’t operating a successful taqueria, he was trafficking up to a kilo of cocaine from California to Kitsap County “every couple of months.”
Investigators said a friend of Careaga’s began selling cocaine to one of the suspects, Robert Watson who is a leader in a local chapter of the Bandidos motorcycle gang. However when Careaga’s friend stopped selling to Watson, he began direct communications with Careaga. Investigators say that on Careaga’s next trip to California to acquire drugs, Watson followed “on John’s heels.” Detectives say communications between the two “intensified” until the day of the murders.
It was also discovered that Watson had taken Kelly “under his wing” as a member of the motorcycle gang, and since he was new to the group, Kelly “would have to do anything Robert asked of him.”
Kelly and Careaga were no strangers to each other, and in fact had at one time been very close, with Kelly serving as best man at Careaga’s first wedding. However they had a “falling out” according to detectives, with Careaga accusing Kelly of stealing money from him. Kelly’s family had at one time owned the Careaga home.
On the night of the murders, the Careaga’s had friends over, with one telling detectives Johnny Careaga was in a good mood, however that changed after he received a phone call from an unknown person. After getting the call, he left to “meet someone” and told his guests he would return shortly. He never did.
Surveillance video from the Camp Union Grocery at about 9:00 p.m. showed Careaga’s truck pulling up and stopping next to an unidentified vehicle. After he left the lot, the other vehicle drove to a church parking lot where it stopped and turned its lights off.
A short while later, a vehicle came up the Careaga’s driveway, with Christale Careaga claiming, “Johnny’s back,” however he never came back inside. One of the guests went outside to check on him, however, couldn’t find him in an attached garage. He did however hear three men talking in “raised voices,” investigators said.
The guest said he couldn’t make out what they were saying, however when he “accidentally made a noise,” the men stopped talking. As Christale was walking to the garage to check for herself, the guests left.
Investigators described an especially brutal scene at the home, describing the killings as “executions.” Christale was shot in the head, and Jonathon Higgins, who apparently overheard the commotion, came out of his room, and was likewise shot in the head. Finally Hunter, who was carrying a pizza into the home was apparently ambushed by at least one of the gunmen, detectives said.
“…It appeared, based on the evidence, that he surprised the killer(s),” detectives wrote. They said it appeared the first shot missed; however he was struck by two subsequent shots and “left for dead.”
However he didn’t immediately succumb to his wounds and was able to call 911.
“Help! I’m dying…my family is dead! Come now!” he told the 911 operators at 11:28 p.m.
Thirty-eight seconds later, the line went dead, with investigators believing his phone was “take or dropped,” and that “a pillow was put to the back of his head” before he was killed by a third fatal gun shot wound to the head.
After the three were shot and killed, the killers tried to cover their tracks by setting the home on fire. According to the Kitsap County Fire Marshal’s Office, fire-starting logs were placed on beds on opposite ends of the home, and appeared to have been soaked with some type of accelerant. The suspects also threw rocks through the home’s windows in order to help accelerate the fire. The rocks were tested by authorities for DNA, with detectives saying in court documents that Kelly and Robert Watson were ruled out, however not Johnny Watson.
Two days later, Johnny Careaga was found by Mason County deputies in a burned-out truck at a tree farm.
About four hours after the killings, Robert Watson showed up at the home of a fellow Bandido member in Pierce County, not wearing pants. He asked if he could borrow some. He washed his hands and told the friend he had been in a fight with a “homeless black man.” He left the house in a vehicle, which surprised those he visited who believed he arrived on foot.
That same evening, Watson called 911 and reported his truck had been broken into “several days earlier” and a loaded Glock and a second loaded magazine had been stolen. Watson claimed they entered by breaking a passenger window, and said he’d already cleaned up the glass.
Watson stopped showing up for work at his employer, Kitsap County Public Works and was terminated in September 2017. In the meantime, detectives say that about $303,000 was deposited into his accounts during that year, and “numerous cash deposits” were made where “the source could not be identified.” Careaga’s lawyer told detectives his client had placed $200,000 underneath the home; however it was never found, he said.
A neighbor told detectives he believed he heard gunshots on the night of the murders, and while he was outside moving his truck, he saw Careaga’s truck driving “at a high rate of speed” down the street. Detectives said the driver was Danie Kelly, whose parents he was acquainted with because they’d lived at the Careaga’s home prior to their moving in.
He also said there was a silver car driving “bumper to bumper” behind the truck, detectives wrote. “Danie and John hated each other such that Danie would have no business being at John’s house or driving his truck” investigators wrote.
Less than a week after releasing video of Careaga’s truck and the “unidentified” car at the Camp Union grocery store, Johnny Watson’s car, a 2006 Mercedes was found “stripped and dumped in the Puyallup River,” detectives said.
Investigators said the that items “generally stolen” were still present in the Mercedes when it was found, however porous surfaces such as carpeting, seats, seatbelts, as well as headlights were removed,” detectives said.
The car was also missing its registration tags, and had not been reported stolen. However later on, Robert and Johnny Watson paid $1,500 to get the vehicle back,” investigators said.
In court documents, detectives said they used cell phone tracking, or “geotracking” to show the location of Careaga and the different suspects before, during and after the killings. That included Danie Kelly Jr.’s purchase of a prepaid “burn phone” at a local Target. The phone, police said, was used to communicate almost exclusively with John Careaga for 10 days leading up to the killings, but mysteriously not after, despite not expiring until after April 2017, detectives said.
Investigators obtained a search and seizure warrant in January 2020 for Robert Watson’s cellphone at a time when the sheriff’s office released information that members of the Bandidos—in town for a funeral—were suspects in the homicides.
“A lil fucking humid today,” Kelly texted Robert Watson on Jan.2 3, 2020.
For members of the Careaga family, the arrest of suspects in the murders of their loved ones comes as a welcome relief and will hopefully provide some closure.
Fox-13 in Seattle said Hunter’s mom, Carly Schaap is happy there will be some answers.
“I’m happy that there’s gonna be some answers. We’ve been waiting for over five years for an arrest to be made, so this is a huge step in the right direction. A huge step,” she said.
She promised to be in court on Tuesday when the suspects are arraigned.
“Its indescribable. To be where we are today—I didn’t think we would get here, to be honest. I didn’t have much faith left in humanity, but to know that people care about our family and love us and because of them, we’re here,” said Ashlynn Whitem, Christale Careaga’s daughter to Fox 13. “It’s such a huge relief off our shoulders…”
Despite the three arrests, detectives say their work is not done, and there may be others besides the three suspects involved. They say more information will be released as the investigation progresses.
“It’s been a long road. We’ve never given up. Our detectives have poured blood, sweat and tears into this case,” said Lt. Ken Dickinson with the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office. “This is the result of years of tremendous hard work on the part of so many people to finally bring some measure of justice—or at least begin the process of that—for the Careaga family.”
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