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San Diego Police Investigating Angel Investor’s Death as Homicide

Xconomy San Diego — 

San Diego police have launched a homicide investigation into the death of John G. Watson, a retired biotech executive and board member of the San Diego Tech Coast Angels, according to members of the startup investment group who were close to Watson.

Watson’s body was found in the bedroom of his La Jolla Apartment on June 8th when he failed to appear for a regular TCA board meeting and dinner event at the UC San Diego faculty club, said Steve Flaim, who is current president of the TCA’s San Diego chapter. Flaim says he notified TCA members by e-mail yesterday that Watson’s death “appeared suspicious” to San Diego police and that Watson also “was the subject of fraud and embezzlement.” Flaim says his e-mail prompted Frank Peters, a TCA member in Orange County, to report that Watson had been murdered in an item published on his website yesterday.

San Diego police have made an arrest, Flaim told me, although I was unable to confirm that with the police last night, and it isn’t clear whether the arrest is related to the fraud or murder investigation—or both.

“We’re all angry and shocked and upset that something like this could happen to one of us,” Flaim said in a phone call last night. He described Watson, who was 65, as “a happy bachelor” who had retired in La Jolla, and was active with Connect, San Diego’s nonprofit group for technology and entrepreneurship, and as an angel investor.

Two TCA members found Watson’s body on the floor of his bedroom 11 days ago, Flaim said. Watson had missed the group’s afternoon board meeting, and was expected to serve as master of ceremonies during the dinner event, which included presentations by several entrepreneurs. Watson also had failed to respond for several days before the event to e-mails from the event coordinator, Flaim said.

“He’s way too reliable for that, and I said something is definitely wrong,” said Barry Kassar, a TCA member who was close to Watson. Kassar said he went to Watson’s apartment in La Jolla with another TCA member. After finding Watson’s car, they sought help to enter the apartment, where they found Watson’s body on the floor. Kassar, a retired doctor, told TCA members he saw no obvious signs of foul play at the time. Kassar declined to discuss details of the case last night, saying, “I don’t want to say anything that might jeopardize the investigation.’

Several TCA members later learned that police viewed Watson’s death as suspicious, Flaim said. “We’ve been very measured,” he said. “We sat on this information for at least a week, and I didn’t want it to go out under the TCA banner until police said it was OK.” Flaim said investigators gave him that clearance on Thursday.

Homicide investigators were not available after regular business hours yesterday, and did not return messages. A San Diego Police watch commander said he had no information about the case.

Watson, a former pharmaceutical industry and biotech CEO, joined the angel group in 2008, Flaim said. Watson quickly became an active member, joining a committee that pre-screens biomedical business plans submitted by local entrepreneurs who are seeking funding for their ventures. Watson was elected to the San Diego TCA Board of Directors in 2009, and became co-chair of the local chapter’s 2010 “Quick Pitch Competition,” which is usually held in the fall.

Watson came to San Diego about six years ago to head Ionian Technologies, a local life sciences company, Flaim said. Watson had spent much of his career in the pharmaceutical industry at companies like Johnson & Johnson, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, and at such smaller companies as Vestar, Galagen, and Carbomed, Flaim said.

A memorial service for Watson has been set for 10 a.m. today, June 19, at El Camino Memorial Park—Sorrento Valley Chapel, 5600 Carroll Canyon Road, San Diego, CA .

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  • How horrible and tragic. Boston sends its condolences to our friends in San Diego.