1999 Cold Case Murder of Jennifer Watkins Solved With Identification of Killer Ricky Severt

Jennifer Watkins allegedly murdered by co-worker Ricky Servert in 1999
Colorado Springs Police Department

Both worked together at the same Colorado hospital.

The 1999 murder of a 23-year-old Colorado woman has been solved after DNA and genetic genealogy helped lead police to the alleged killer, who died in a car accident nearly two decades ago, officials said. 

Two weeks prior to her death, Jennifer Watkins was hired as a dietary aide at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, authorities said. On Nov. 6, 1999, Watkins’ husband reported her missing when she did not return home from her shift. Two days later, her body was discovered under a stairwell in an area of the hospital under construction by two elevator personnel who noticed a “distinctive smell." Watkins’ body was “wrapped in plastic and bound with duct tape," officials said.

The coroner’s office revealed that Watkins died of blunt force trauma to the head and that she had been sexually assaulted. Semen and DNA were found at the scene. Her death was ruled a homicide.

Jennifer’s husband, Michael Watkins, was interviewed several times and fully cooperated with any request made by investigators. After an extensive investigation, no suspect was ever identified and eventually, the case went cold.

But then, between 2017 and 2018, detectives collaborated with Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA company based in Virginia that utilized DNA phenotyping to develop a composite of the suspect, who was likely a white man around 25 years old with blue or green eyes, police said. 

In 2019, a DNA profile developed from the semen found at the scene was submitted for genetic research at Parabon. In August 2020, police were notified of a potential lead on the unknown DNA profile. The person of interest was identified as Ricky Severt. 

Severt, who was 29 at the time of Watkins' murder, worked in the maintenance department at the Colorado Springs Hospital since April 1998. Severt was part of the initial homicide investigation and was interviewed by detectives, who he told he was working on a swing shift the day Watkins disappeared. He denied having seen her before. Further investigation revealed that Severt was killed in a traffic accident on Nov. 2, 2001 on Highway 94, just east of Colorado Springs, officials said. 

CBI conducted an analysis of familial DNA collected from surviving relatives of Severt to determine that 99.99994% of the population could be excluded. Severt could not be excluded, police said. 

On Oct. 1, 2020, the case was sent to the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office for review. And in December, officials determined that Severt was responsible for Watkins' murder.   

The case has now been closed.

“After all these years, we are grateful to finally give Jennifer Watkins’ family the answers they deserve,” Colorado Springs Police Department Chief Vince Niski said in a statement. He thanked all the agencies and units who helped in solving the case for the last 21 years. “Not for one moment did they ever lose sight of what was important: Finding the truth for the Watkins’ family.”