Some Mondays are crazier than others, and this one was particularly whack, with the news that ex-New Times staff writer Joe Watson was popped Friday for allegedly sticking up six Valley businesses, including three salons in Scottsdale, hence the catchy sobriquet "the salon bandit." Scottsdale detectives arrested Watson 1:40 p.m. on March 30, doing one of his favorite things -- playing poker at Casino Arizona. No surprise to that part of it, at least. Watson confided to having a gambling addiction to other New Times writers before he resigned his position with the paper a year ago. According to Scottsdale PD flack, Sgt. Mark Clark, Watson admitted his problem to detectives, stating that he'd committed the robberies to feed his gambling habit. He's currently being held by the MCSO on five counts of armed robbery. A sixth charge is pending. And cops suspect Watson of robberies in Phoenix and Tempe as well.
During his tenure at New Times, Watson penned what's become one of the most popular NT cover stories ever, the tale of "Baby Man," a Phoenix eccentric who wears nothing but diapers 'round town and sleeps in a crib the size of a Volkswagen. Watson was well-connected in PHX journalism circles, having worked as an editor for ASU's State Press Magazine and State Press newspaper. He also worked on the East Valley Tribune's sports desk, until famously being fired for skipping work to attend the World Series, when he'd been emphatically warned not to do so by his boss, then sports editor Slim Smith, who, ironically, is currently doing four months for extreme DUI. He had a brief stint as the editor of the glossy Scottsdale mag 944, and once sat on the board of the Arizona Press Club. (He also did a spate of sports stories back in 2002/2003 for the Arizona Republic.) In addition, Watson'd freelanced under the pseudonym "Zachary Best" for Phoenix magazine, where his fiancee Managing Editor Ashlea Deahl still works. Deahl declined comment when contacted for this post. They were engaged to be wed later this year.
According to Sgt. Clark, Watson wore a hat as some sort of disguise during the robberies, and used what may have been a simulated weapon in a paper bag or with a towel over it. Close friends of Watson's did not know whether or not he owned a gun. Video surveillance footage from one of the robberies was shown on a 10 p.m. newscast, Thursday. Someone recognized Joe and dropped a dime. Clark stated that Watson didn't resist arrest at the casino. (Wonder what kind of hand he was holding?) Watson's made threats of suicide in the past. Hopefully, authorities are aware that his mental state can be volatile.
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Personally, I'm in a state of shock. I knew Watson had been battling an obsession with gambling for some time (he once spoke rapturously of the seedy 1998 poker flick Rounders with Matt Damon and Ed Norton), and I know he'd sunk low in the past because of it. But I had no idea he'd go so far. Watson's a talented guy, and had been working at some sort of medical publishing house in Phoenix of late. I kept in touch with him, and played pool with him once or twice. He was upfront about his addiction, and I told him that it was beyond me. I can understand physical addiction to illicit substances, food or sex, but to gambling? It's all in your head, which perhaps makes it even more dangerous. The reality that he's facing some hard time if convicted is chilling. Nothing excuses what's been done. But I hope the dude finds a way to turn his life around and doesn't spend the rest of it in the pen.