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Saturday, January 20, 2024

Gabe Watson and The Honeymoon Murder Case

     On October 11, 2003, 26-year-old David Gabriel "Gabe" Watson married Tina Thomas, the human resources manager for a small southern department store chain. The couple met while students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Shortly before getting married, Tina, in anticipation of her honeymoon, took beginning scuba diving lessons that included eleven dives in a flooded Alabama quarry. Gabe, a more experienced diver, had taken advanced courses. He had also made a total of 55 dives, 40 of which had been in the quarry. In 1999 he became certified as a rescue diver.

     Ten days after the wedding Gabe Watson and his 26-year-old wife began their Australian honeymoon. In Sydney they visited the Taronga Zoo and attended a Shakespeare play at the Sydney Opera House. On October 22, 2003 the honeymooners began a 7-day dive expedition on the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Day one of the adventure involved being taken on the Townsville Dive Company's vessel "Spoilsport" to the historic Yolonga shipwreck, 48 nautical miles southeast of Townsville in Queensland, Australia. Gabe and Tina were accompanied by rescue divers Dr. Doug Milsap and Dr. Stanley Stutz, an emergency room physician from Chicago.

     Shortly into the dive Dr. Stutz saw Mr. Watson swim to his wife and embrace her. When they separated, Gabe began rising to the surface as she sank to the sea bed where she drowned. Rescuers recovered Tina Watson's body not far from the shipwreck.

     When asked to explain what happened to his wife Gabe said he and Tina, shortly after going into the sea, had encountered strong currents. She panicked and as he approached to help she knocked off his mask and air regulator. He couldn't hold her and she floated away and began to sink. Because of an ear problem Gabe said he was unable to go after her. As she drifted to the bottom of the ocean he swam to the surface to summon help.

     On October 27, 2003, five days after the drowning, detectives with the Townsville Police Department questioned Gabe Watson. He said that during the struggle he had tried but failed to activate his wife's buoyancy control vest. "I remember," he said, "shouting through my regulator, 'Tina, Tina, Tina.' In the back of my mind I was thinking these people [the other divers] could see us, or at least think something odd was going on. I pretty much lost it."

     Members of the Australian State Dive Squad assisted in the investigation of Tina Watson's drowning by conducting reenactments of her dive. Several members of the investigation team had problems with Gabe Watson's explanation of the drowning and suspected foul play. In the meantime, the tabloid press in Australia, England and the United States called Tina's death "The Honeymoon Murder," and by implication, portrayed Gabe Watson as a cold-blooded killer motivated by his wife's life insurance.

     Four years passed with nothing happening in the case. Then on November 13, 2007 the story jumped back in the news when the authorities in Australia held an inquest into Tina Watson's death. (I'm not sure why, after four years the authorities decided to re-open the case. Perhaps it was pressure from Tina Watson's family.) Back in the U.S. on August 15, 2008, Gabe Watson married a woman named Kim Lewis. Three months after his second marriage an Australian grand jury indicted him for murdering his first wife in October 2003.

     Watson, in May 2009, returned to Australia on his own accord to face the murder charge. A month later, in the Queensland Supreme Court in Brisbane, he pleaded guilty to the crime of manslaughter. While he had not intentionally killed his wife, Watson was admitting that he had been criminally negligent in not saving her. The Australian judge, believing that the defendant had not murdered his wife, that he had loved her and felt guilty that he hadn't saved her, sentenced Watson to one year in prison. The judge criticized the media he believed had journalistically convicted Watson of murdering his wife.

     The one-year prison stretch infuriated Tina Watson's family and prompted the Australian prosecutor to appeal the sentence to the Queensland Court of Appeals. In September 2009 the three-judge appeals panel upped Watson's punishment to 18 months behind bars.

     If Gabe Watson thought the matter of his first wife's 2003 death was behind him he was wrong. In October 2010 a grand jury sitting in Birmingham, Alabama indicted him on charges of murder for pecuniary (monetary) gain and kidnapping by deception--allegedly luring her to Australia so he could drown her. A month after the Alabama indictment, Watson, having served his 18 months in the Australian prison was free. 

     On November 25, 2010 the Australian authorities deported Mr. Watson back to America. Before they did, however, the U.S. Attorney General gave them assurances that if convicted he would not be sentenced to the death penalty. As soon as he got off he plane in the U.S. Gabe Watson was taken into custody. The prosecutor in Alabama asked the judge to deny Watson bail, but in December a judge set his bond at $100,000. The defendant made bail and was able to help his attorneys prepare for his trial.

     Watson's defense team presented two key legal arguments. First, that the United States did not have jurisdiction in a death that occurred in Australia; and second, that trying him twice for the same drowning amounted to double jeopardy. The prosecutor in Alabama argued successfully that he had jurisdiction because, according to his theory of the case, Watson had planned to kill his wife in Alabama for the travel and life insurance benefits. (As it turned out, Watson was not the beneficiary of his wife's life insurance policy, her father was.) Double jeopardy didn't apply in this case because Watson's first conviction was in another country.

     Gabe Watson's attorneys were prepared to argue that Tina Watson's death had been a tragic accident caused by her inexperience as a diver and a previously diagnosed heart problem. On the other side, the prosecutor hoped to convince the Alabama jury that Watson had switched off his wife's air supply, held her in a bear hug until she died, turned her air back on, then let her sink to the ocean floor.

     Colin McKenzie, a diving expert involved in the original Australian investigation had concluded that "a diver with Watson's training should have been able to bring Tina up." But after reviewing Tina's and Gabe's diver logs certificates and her medical history, Mr. McKenzie changed his mind. Based on this new information, the expert concluded that Gabe Watson should not have been allowed in the sea with a woman with no open water scuba diving experience.

     The Watson murder trial got underway on February 13, 2012 in the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama. Once the jury of eight women and four men were empaneled, the prosecutor, Don Valeska and defense attorney Joe Basgier made their opening statements.

     On February 21, after prosecutor Valeska had presented the bulk of his case the trial took a bad turn for the prosecution. Valeska had put funeral director Sam Shelton on the stand and was directing his testimony toward how, at Tina Watson's funeral, the defendant had asked about retrieving his wife's engagement ring from the casket. The prosecutor intended this line of questioning to establish the monetary motive behind the killing. Judge Tommy Nail, from neighboring Montgomery County, did not like what he heard. Interrupting the prosecutor's direct examination, the judge said, "I took my grandmother's engagement ring when she was buried. I think it's quite common." Turning to the witness, Judge Nail asked, "Is it common?" In response to the judge's question the funeral director answered, "It's quite common."

     Still fuming, Judge Nail excused the jury, then spoke to prosecutor Valeska: "You mean to tell me that [Gabe Watson] bought the engagement ring, married her, he and his family paid for a wedding, he planned and paid for a honeymoon half way around the world, all so he could kill her to get an engagement ring he had bought for her in the first place?"

     Although the jurors didn't hear Judge Nail rip the heart out of the prosecutor's case, it became clear where the judge stood on the issue of the defendant's guilt. Suddenly a conviction, a risky proposition from the beginning, looked like a long shot.

     Judge Tommy Nail, on Thursday, February 23, 2012, directed a verdict of not guilty after the prosecutor rested his case. In the judge's opinion, viewed in a light most favorable to the state, there was not enough evidence to make a prima facie case of guilt against Gabe Watson. As a result there was no need for a defense. The trial was over.

     Only Gabe Watson knows if he killed his wife. The Alabama prosecutor should have left well enough alone after Watson's 2009 guilty plea and his 18 months in the Australian prison. There was simply no hard evidence in this case of a premeditated murder. Moreover, this weak case cost the state of Alabama a lot of money. Several of the prosecution's witnesses had been flown over from Australia. Sometimes prosecutors, attracted by the limelight and the chance of convicting a big-fish defendant, go too far. Both of the judges in this case--the one in Australia, and Judge Nail--did not believe Gabe Watson had murdered his wife. The prosecutor knew this but went ahead with the case anyway.

     A book about the case called A Second Chance for Justice by a pair of Australian criminology teachers came out in February 2013. Dr. Asher Flynn lectured at Monash University. Dr. Kate Fitz-Gibbon taught criminology at Deakin University. According to the authors the Australian authorities accepted Watson's guilty plea to save money. The authors believed that Gabe Watson had murdered his wife.


  1. I believe Gabe Watson is the kind of guy that sees red when he is angry. Tina panicked, knocked gabes mask and regulator off. She forgot how to use her bcd while sinking. He wanted to stay but he panicked and probably got angry at her for panicking and knocking his mask and reg off. So he left. The thing is, is he didnt count on her dying.

    1. So...he knew she was in trouble but thought she would survive being abandoned without oxygen flow & sinking to the bottom of the ocean?

    2. I agree with your analogy. Also, if his motive was life insurance surely he would have been in more of a rush to marry her. In every case that I have researched were the husband or wife married just for the life insurance they married very quickly after meeting their victim.

  2. August 23, 2014
    I don't know Gabe Watson personally. I don't think he murdered his first wife, Tina Thomas. I think the accident which turned into death of Tina Thomas was caused by her not being an experienced diver. I believe that Gabe Watson understands the pain that the Thomas family is going through, and they want justice for Tina. I don't think he should serve life in prison. If he actually did commit any crime due to Tina Thomas Watson's death, then I think he should serve either manslaughter or double jeopardy. Also, Gabe is remarried and I don't think he wants to be away from his wife. This is my opinion.
    Thanks for listening to what I have to say.


  3. I do not believe anything Mr. Watson says makes sense - I do not believe anything Mr. Watson says, period! Only naivete or a covert agenda, I believe, would persuade an objective observer to come to any other conclusion. There isn't enough room for me to expound, but I can sum it up this way: It just doesn't add up. I agree with the authors of the investigative book by the Australian criminology teachers. .

    1. I agree he new enough to do a controlled accent but couldn't inflate BCD and who set her weights on dive boats they check to see how much you have I have to lobby to get the amount I need. she came up the first time no problem.

    2. This is such bullshit. Where is the justice for Tina. Again I sT, aren't there any mercenaries out here willing to take this case pro bono and without the fAther's knowledge? Gable is misogynist with control issues. I bet his new wife is terrified. What is America coming to?

  4. Every murder has a motive and Gabe Watson executed & planned a nefarious plot to that end. Years of investigating crimes involving insurance fraud; the action of Gabe Watson could have worked quite well for him except for Tina's misinforming him (likely due to his anger issues) that he was in fact her beneficiary on her life insurance policy while she knew her dad had held off in hesitation of her decision. Unfortunately, women often fail to take charge when their instincts tell them otherwise and fall for the very men who knowingly pray on them. It's most unfortunate that Tina is buried not only with Gabe's name, but rest in the Watson family plot of hell.

    1. I've dated men that only love money and power...charming and dominating...to marry another girl that looked similar to Tina gives me the creeps...his history is unsuitable for any wife.

    2. Gabe Watson is a liar -- he never loved his wife and he did indeed murder Tina Thomas, of that there is no doubt in my mind. The thing that puzzles me, however, is the investigative evidence proving that he's the one who's been desecrating her grave site -- why does he appear to hate her so much even after she's dead? Why so much blatant disrespect to both her and her family? Why refuse to turn over her old photos and mementos to her family as requested? This guy isn't just an assh*le, he's way beyond that. His new wife is a gullible fool involved with a very dangerous man.

  5. He got away with murder, plain and simple.
    His new wife should sleep with one eye open!
    Alabama should reopen the case and give closure to Tina's family - justice has not been served.

    From Australia "we know you did it"

    1. Agreed but he was acquitted and cannot be tried again. Now a civil trial would be interesting and get him where he lives: in his wallet.

  6. Just watched gabe Watson story I believe him to be guilty of Tina Tomas's murder

  7. Only God knows what truly went down that day, but Gabe exhibited suspicious behavior before he and Tina were married and those Red flags should never be ignored. Hr seems to have been very manipulating and took advantage of her honest nature.

  8. If it is true what he says it was an accident death why did he not share his oxygen with her?Why did he swim with her going down instead of swimming up?If you love someone you will never let go like he did and when he went to the cemetery he did not bring her flowers but only took the flowers her parents left her and put it in the trash really?He asked her father about the life insurance in 2 weeks who does that why not wait for a year and ask?I would have never married him after waiting for him to give her the ring in 6 months he played mine games with her since the beginning.I hope he never visits her grave so that she can rest in peace.

  9. Karma still works in this world, yeah?

    1. What a bunch of moron's....
      Believe the "published" and twisted truth of supposed experts who also hide other evidence that ruins their case for "fame" and you get god fearing, religious always right...

      M O R O N ' S

  10. I think he killed her. In the first place it was her honeymoon y did it had to be in the water if she didnt want that trip he didnt think about her happiness an she was not happy been thr oh it was what he wanted. Karma will get to him before he dies an on top of that he took her ring y wud he do something like that. She was scared of him an was he was suppose to ask her. Wr do u want to go for our honeymoon. He is an asshole hope one day he pays for what he did. She didnt wany to be thr so he had to respect her descion. I think his new. Wife deep inside doubt about his inocence

  11. I believe the media twisted the truth in there favor. I've worked on dive boats with strong currents and big waves. It's the job of the boat crew to know the experience of there divers in order to make them as save as possible. Even knowing the divers experience . The ocean can be very powerful. I've seen lots of inexperienced divers panic and had to assist them.

  12. I've seen even experienced divers panic in strong ocean conditions it is very common for novice divers to underestimate the oceans powers. I'm a dive instructor and have worked on dive boats. We see this all the time this is why we ask our divers questions to help evaluating the ones that may need more attention. Tina had no dives in the ocean. She became overwhelmed and panic

  13. He murdered her. The statements of her father, the police and witnesses have remained unchanged. Gabe, on the other hand, has changed his story many times. Australian Story "unfathomable" provides a good overview of the incident.

  14. If he HAD actually collected insurance money than he most likely would have been convicted of her murder. I think he did it, & I think it's a sad miscarriage of justice that the case in Alabama was dismissed.

    Based on his actions preceding & following the death of his first wife, I'd say he's a narcissistic jerk who got away with murder. He has shown no sympathy toward Tina's family. He exhumed her body & had it moved from her family plot for crying out loud! He was her family for only a few days, but he broke her parent's heart's. He ripped their flowers from her grave! That's not the normal reaction of a grieving widow. Those are the actions of a man who is seeking revenge against the people that he feels are stirring up alot of bad publicity for someone trying to get away with murder.

    There is no way I would leave my spouse lying on the ocean floor. Wild horses couldn't have dragged me away.

    My heart goes out to Tina's family.

    I'm not in any way an expert of any kind. My opinion is merely that. An opinion. He's free one way or another. Whatever the truth may be... Only He & God know.

  15. Nonsense he did not commit murder, manslaughter maybe but not murder watch 20/20 death down under to see my point don't get me wrong Gabe Watson is a jackass but being a jackass does not make one a murderer and I agree that the Alabama prosecutor really should have known better and not tried a case when they have no real evidence (he killed her for her ring what?) That when I knew that had this case had gone to a jury they would have came out with not guilty within the hour.

    1. A ring...really? That was what the clueless judge implied! He murdered her for the insurance money that he thought he was the benefactor of. Nice try though. She was afraid to tell him that her father didn't trust the hot head to be on the policy. She may be alive today if she didn't lie to him about it. He is one ugly, pmpkinheaded, wife murdering pos! These girls who fall for him are totally out of touch. Good God! Why would anyone even hire this OJ wannabe? He should be in jail, not married and employed. There will be justice Gabey boy. Karma is coming!

    2. Did you hear the attorney Bret will never know if Gabe could have saved Tina she is dead dumb ass I think we all know. and that expert on 20/20 another way water goes through you regulator is when someone cuts off your air. did he get her weights to make sure she was over weighted. he couldn't swim down and get her nothing he says sounds right. he didn't know they were sharks and current in the ocean. every guy I see on dive boats are checking their girls gear weights every thing. also when judges do that their doing someone they know a favor.

  16. Just saw the LMN movie with Billy Miller yesterday. I had heard about this case/guy long ago, but not the details. He clearly set her up for a murder. the life insurance policy? that was the huge kicker. He THOUGHT it was going to HIM? sure did. He made sure he questioned her before the ceremony? who does that? All his story changes? Not being by her side while they tried to revive her? Avoided contact/questions from get go? The GUY is guilty as sin! Digging her up? DISGUSTING. Revenge for not getting the money. taking the flowers and trashing them? REVENGE again. There may have just been a lack of evidence and it was clear that he planned it that way. He was very clever and one day? He will pay with his karma. As far as his new wife? Most likely safe as he is already a convicted murderer in Australia? another suspicious death would land him in prison for life. He knows this. But I feel sorry for his look alike 2nd wife. She has a psychopath in her bed. and it was MURDER; it just went awry and gave him an OUT when the insurance did not fall his way? who does that? keeps a ring 6 mos? plans a honeymoon she is not comfortable with? controls every move they make? total psycho. he will get his just reward one day. 18mos in prison? is but a mere slap on the wrist for this narcissist?

  17. Gabe Watson was a Rescue Diver.

    I too was a Rescue Diver / Supervisor for the largest diving pontoon in the southern hemisphere ( at the time ) on the Great Barrier Reef.

    My responsibility was the in-water safety of up to 300 international tourists per day, swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving. Back in those days, I performed my duties alone.

    At the time, approximately 90% of our guests could not speak english and could not swim.
    Rescues were performed daily, from the simple to the serious.

    After hundreds of thousands of people under my supervision over many years, thankfully and luckily for me, I never lost anyone.
    To me, I think it is my greatest achievement.
    Because if I had lost someone, I don't think I could have lived with myself.

    In my job, in all honesty, eventually I would have lost someone.
    To be blunt and realistic, unfortunately it's a numbers game.
    Percentages and strike rates.
    But it wouldn't have ever been through lack of trying to save someone.

    I have read over this case many times, and listened to peoples different opinions and perspectives. Professional and public.

    There are three things I know are from all my years diving:

    Mr.Watson's account of the details and events are untrue.
    And physically cannot be true.
    Gabe Watson murdered his wife on the Great Barrier Reef.
    Gabe Watson never tried to save his wife's life.

    And I'd bet my left nut on it !

    He is a cold-blooded killer with no conscience.
    He will never admit the crime he has committed.
    He should not get away with what he did to Tina.

    I don't think even a clinical psychologist could help him grow a conscience and admit the truth. But i'd like to try.

    I would instil the same fear he put into Tina and take him on a Night Dive he has nightmares about, every night,
    for the rest of his life.

    Only we can now speak for Tina and at least continue to seek justice, for her and her family.

    RIP Tina

    1. RIP Tina! Gabe is GUILTY, GUILTY, GUILTY! He got away with cold-blooded murder!! God will make him pay throughout the rest of his shameful life. His new wife should be sleeping with one eye open every night.

  18. i Do think he did something to her, because if he didn't how come you don't go get your new bride who's sinkin to the bottom of the sea immediately as she is sinkin right there with you?. and u being an apparent experienced diver which he was braging to being. i mean, and then two months later he goes and marries a look alike of her, something smells like death fish and that is mr gabe watson because somethin in his story doesn't make sense. when he came up he told the family he was with her the whole entire time when in reality he was in a separate boat, he wasn't with her when she was dyin if she wasn't dead already. something's not right here and then the court says that there's not sufficient evidence, if i were his new wife i wouldn't have married him in the 1st place but now that she did, i'd be aware of my surroundings u never know when he my might do something

  19. I think he is guilty of murder.
    It was also him who told Tina to add the extra weights.
    Why would you let go, if you know your partner is in trouble, and then swim off? You wouldn't if you were innocent.
    His behaviour, by not bringing her up to the surface, not swimming to the boat she was on getting cpr, lying that he was with her when she was getting cpr, then giving multiple different stories as to what happened all reek of a murderer.
    No one in Australia believes his innocence.
    It is just a shame and continual embarrassment that we have such lenient sentencing in Australia, but i bet he already knew that when planning the honeymoon from hell!

  20. Have a look at a few more facts than are presented here and what experts think in Fatal Honeymoon Dive. It's an e-book on Amazon.

  21. He's a coward and an ass - no doubt about it. I thought he was plainly guilty but, the money doesn't add up, and if you believe Wikipedia...

    "Colin McKenzie, a key diving expert in the original investigation who had maintained that "a diver with Watson's training should have been able to bring Tina up", subsequently retracted much of his testimony after being provided with Tina and Gabe's diver logs, certificates and medical histories, to which he had not previously had access.

    McKenzie claimed Gabe Watson should not have been allowed in the water and never as a dive buddy for his wife, who had no open water scuba experience. Tina Watson had had heart surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat two years earlier but on her dive application had stated that she had never had heart problems or surgery. Professor Michael "Mike" Bennett, a leading expert in dive medicine, stated that Tina was unfit to dive without clearance from a cardiologist. Gabe Watson had received his rescue certification, normally a four-day course, after completing a two-day course in an Alabama quarry. He had no rescue experience and little open water experience.

    According to McKenzie, "He had no hope of being competent, he could barely save himself [that day] let alone his wife; I don't believe he intended to kill her." Revelations that Watson needed help to don his diving equipment that day underscored that he was a "dangerous amateur" who showed "a complete lack of courage" when he abandoned his wife. The dive company had offered an orientation and guided dive with a dive master, which both Tina and Gabe Watson had refused. Company head Mike Ball said his people took Watson at his word, believing he was an experienced and certified rescue diver. The company later pleaded guilty to contravening safety standards (their code of conduct said both Gabe and Tina must be supervised by at least a divemaster on the dive in question) and was fined $6500, plus costs of $1500."