Afraid of the Dark

The "Salon Bandit" never used violence, but the troubled talent still terrorized a community

So imagine this.

You're home on a Thursday night, watching TV. You live with your college sweetheart, a fellow journalist, a guy you'd once planned to marry. But you broke up a couple of months ago, and although you're still living together, he hasn't been home in two days.

Then you see him — on the 10 o'clock news. On the surveillance tape they're playing, he's guiding a young woman to the back of the tanning salon where she works. He's wearing the flannel shirt you bought him.

Joe Watson, in his pre-Tent City days.
Joe Watson, in his pre-Tent City days.

And he's brandishing what looks like a gun under a paper bag.

That's when you realize: Your fiancé is the "Salon Bandit."

That is the story spelled out in a Scottsdale Police Department affidavit, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court last month, and reported here for the first time. The story was confirmed in an e-mail by Ashlea Deahl, who recently acknowledged her role in the Salon Bandit's capture to me.

The Salon Bandit.

Deahl's former fiancé, and my former co-worker, Joe Watson.

The affidavit tells us that Deahl called Scottsdale Police at 10:40 p.m. on March 29 to report that she'd recognized Watson on the news. She was "very emotional," the police reported.

According to Deahl's account, Watson is a gambling addict. I can tell you he was also a talented journalist. But that's before he bottomed out, before he left New Times and his career took a sad trajectory.

By the time Deahl called, police had said the Salon Bandit held up at least five stores in Scottsdale, claiming to have a gun and demanding contents of their registers. In each case, he targeted small shops or salons where women were closing up alone.

He threatened to shoot one of the women. He ordered another to give him "the fucking money" and promised a third that if she didn't comply, "it's not going to be good for you."

That's Joe Watson.

And thanks to the love of his life, a woman brave enough to do the right thing, he's now facing a few decades in prison.

Good riddance.

I used to be one of those dumb girls who drank too much and depended on the kindness of strangers to get me home. I used to go running after dark, in the not-so-great part of town. And, yeah, I hitchhiked. Just twice, but still, I did it armed only with cheery smile and a sense of my own invincibility.

I was young. And I'd always been lucky.

Things changed for me not because of Joe Watson, but because of a pair of cases that had the entire area on edge last summer. I'd always felt safe wherever I was — until we had two serial killers in the headlines. For a while, it seemed as if someone was getting murdered or raped every day.

Both sets of killers struck within a few blocks of my apartment. And both of their attacks were so random, so senseless, that, suddenly, it wasn't enough to be young(ish) and lucky. It never had been, I suppose. But last summer, that idea finally hit home, and I haven't slept well since.

I remember reading about Robin Blasnek. Twenty-two years old and so carefree that she left her home in her pajamas and slippers to visit a friend who lived a few blocks away. The Serial Shooters got her that hot July night, right before the police got them. I cried, even though I'd never met her, cried even though I felt stupid crying. It's the pajamas that get me, even today — the sheer innocence that comes with believing your neighborhood is safe, that the world is a good place, that screwed-up assholes don't gun down young women in the street just because they can.

You can safely rely on the kindness of strangers 500 times. It takes only one awful person, that 501st stranger, to make you realize that you never should have been so trusting.

That's when everything changes. Suddenly that bump in the night may not be your cat. That man smiling at you in the parking lot may be carrying a knife.

You can't hitchhike anymore. You don't even walk alone after dark.

Now, I know that my old colleague Joe Watson isn't a serial killer. As best we know, he was never actually violent in a single robbery. Not physically, anyway. That's what the Scottsdale Police affidavit says, and that certainly fits with the Watson I knew.

But just because he never hit anyone, or shot anyone, doesn't mean he didn't terrorize a whole group of people. It wasn't only the five women that he's known to have threatened. Even the women at the central Phoenix salon where I get my hair cut knew about the Salon Bandit, knew about his robberies long before his ex-fiancée outed him to the cops as a successful journalist.

They knew because they worked at a salon. Sometimes they had to close up, alone, at night. And they were afraid.

Joe Watson was — and I suppose still is — a gifted writer. He was also charming. He told several people on staff here that he hoped they'd mentor him, that they were great writers and he wanted to learn everything they could teach him. (Believe me, that sort of flattery works on journalists, who tend to be a needy crew.)

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Family Member
Family Member

Sarah you are an ignorant bitch. Jeanne so are you. None of you know Joey and what he has been through OR what made him snap that day and has caused his distortion of judgment. Only people like me who grew up with him in the same household and are in our family know Joey. He is far from being placed in a category of hardened criminals. Hes someone who needs help THAT NO ONE EVER LISTENED TO HIS CRYS FOR! Yes he is accountable for his actions, yes he should be and IS being punished for his wrong doings. Rehabilitation, Therapy, and Medication are needed, not 25 to life. He had no weapon, just simulated one. My heart does go out to those girls who were cornered and scared, but Ive been through MUCH worse trauma in my life and am stronger because of it. Apparently you are just a weak bitch trying to find something to write about because you lack creativity. So lets pick the easy route and make Joey the scapegoat! You are a pig.

Shari P
Shari P

This was a good column, Sarah. You blended the personal side of things with some actual reporting, which is what your paper's coverage of this story previously has been lacking. It's not that big of a story in the scheme of things, but you put some stuff into perspective to make it more interesting and meaningful than the crap I've seen about the guy in other parts of the paper.


Sarah,This is an excellent article and you touched on a lot of really nice points. I know Joe and agree with most of what you say, including his refusal to accept responsibility. However, I don't think you can read his letter asking for legal fees as evidence of him lacking contrition (although there is plenty of other evidence of that)... given the phase of the criminal process Joe is currently in, if he said anything along the lines of "I'm sorry to the people I hurt," or "to the women I scared," it would be an admission that would certainly come back to haunt him by way of additional jail time. I'm sure he's accepted that he'll be in jail for a while, but that doesn't mean he should cavalierly double his time by apologizing in that forum when there will be plenty of time to do that later. Whether he'll do that later is another story.


This guy is a F$cking LOSER. He is in tent city where he belongs. Its so funny how he is asking people to support his cause, well whoopty f#cking do. How about supporting your child you abandoned. How about leaving your responsibilities, thank GOD for her real dad that takes care of that child. You are a loser and I hope you rot in tent city with your pink panties and green bologna. B$TCH


So Sarah I didn't get to finish my rant on your answering machine, but again thank you for not sensationalizing Joe Watson!! He is and has always been a manipulator and has never had the balls to admit that he and only he is responsible for his actions and bad judgement in his life! I met Joey about 10 years ago and he showed the same puppy dog eyes to me and well 4 months later I was pregnent. I can't explain what came over me but I needed to "Loose the Looser", and so I did. I later found out by his own sister that Joey had racked up substancial bills calling phone sex companies. To make a long story short after seven years of him bouncing from job to job because the state would find him and start garnishing his wages, I gave up and agreed to him relinquishing his rights without him having to pay a cent of the over $30,000.00 in back child support that had incurred. The kicker is that the last time he ever saw my child was 9 years ago, and the only times that he contacted me was when the state started garnishing his wages! I just want those who are even contemplating donating to Joe Watsons cause to read this and think for a minute, if he wouldn't pay for his own child, do you really think he would give you a cent if you were in the same situation? Well personally I can tell you absolutilly not!!

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