The Untold Truth Of The Chris Watts Case

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In August 2018, Chris Watts made a televised plea for the safe return of his missing wife, Shanann Watts, and their two daughters, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste, after the three were reported missing by a family friend. "I hope that she's somewhere safe right now and with the kids," Chris told Denver7 in an interview. 

Sadly, only two days after the interview, bodies thought to belong to Shanann and the children were discovered by police at Chris' former place of employment, Anadarko Petroleum Company. Bella and Celeste's remains were reportedly located in crude oil tanks, while Shanann, who was 15 weeks pregnant, was found in a shallow grave on the property. Chris was arrested one day before the remains were recovered, and he confessed to killing Shannan in anger after allegedly witnessing her strangle their two kids (via People). In a sworn affidavit, Chris claimed the killings happened after he told Shanann that he wanted a separation. 

Prosecutors charged him with nine felonies, including three counts of first-degree murder, as reported by the Fort Collins Coloradoan. In a shocking twist, Chris pled guilty to all of the murder charges on Nov. 6, 2018, just months after he pointed the finger at Shanann. He was eventually sentenced to three consecutive life terms for his horrific crimes. But just when you thought the case couldn't get more tragic, in February 2019 the convicted killer gave a full confession detailing the horrific crimes. Brace yourself, as we explore the untold truth of the Chris Watts case.

Why did Chris Watts finally confess?

Many people were shocked when Chris Watts confessed to murdering his family on Nov. 6, 2018, almost three months after he pleaded not guilty to the charges. 

So, why did Chris finally admit to his alleged involvement in the slayings? His plan of action reportedly shifted when prosecutors said they wouldn't seek the death penalty if he confessed to the terrifying crimes. Shanann Watts' mother approved the idea, reportedly telling Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke, according to The Coloradoan, "He made the choice to take those lives, I do not want to be in the position of making the choice to take his."

Although Chris was "angry" about the plea deal, he knew the odds were against him if the case went to trial. "There was physical evidence and his own words that would convict him," a source told People. "His story didn't work. He got angry. He didn't want to plead guilty. But he really had no choice, considering the evidence. It took a little bit of time for him to come around, but he did."

Rourke expressed relief that Shanann's name was cleared in the murders of Bella and Celeste Watts, stating, as reported by NBC News, "What I can tell you most affirmatively today, by what happened in the court room, is the spotlight that he tried to shine on Shanann falsely, incorrectly and, frankly, a flat-out lie has been corrected." He added, "The spotlight shines directly where it belongs: on him."

Why were the autopsies of Chris Watts' murder victims sealed?

Shortly after Shanann Watts' and her daughters' remains were discovered, there was a lot of speculation about how they died. Although the autopsy reports were completed, the public has not been able to learn about the findings because the documents are sealed. Prosecutors filed for this motion in September 2018 — a request the presiding judge granted — to avoid "tainting witnesses that have not yet been interviewed and impacting future jurors," according to court docs.

"Shanann Watts, Bella Watts and Celeste Watts were murdered and their bodies moved from the initial crime scene," Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke wrote in his request to the judge, according to the Associated Press. "There is a great deal of interest surrounding this case and at this time, the cause of the deaths has not been made public. Consequently, the observations and findings contained in the coroner's autopsy report will be critical evidence at trial."

Nico Watts' death in the eyes of the law

Considering Shanann was 15 weeks pregnant at the time of her death, it's reasonable for people to wonder why Chris wasn't charged with killing his unborn son, who they reportedly were to name Nico (via the Daily Mail). The explanation? Colorado doesn't have fetal homicide laws in place, which means authorities weren't able to include Nico on its victim list. A total of 38 states recognize unborn children in murder cases, while eight states — Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wyoming — have laws against harming pregnant women. Prosecutors in Colorado, where Shanann and her daughters were murdered, charged Chris with the unlawful termination of a pregnancy in accordance with state law. Although everyone might not agree about fetal homicide laws, authorities in this case must prosecute by the book.

Additionally, some might argue that charging Chris with an additional death wouldn't affect his punishment, since he's already serving three consecutive life sentences in prison, meaning there is no possible chance for parole. 

The timeline of Bella and Celeste Watts' deaths

One of the devastating questions about this case rests on whether Bella and Celeste Watts were already dead when Shanann Watts arrived home from a business trip in Arizona. All we know for sure is this: On the night of Aug. 13, 2018, Shanann was dropped off at her home around 2 a.m, by a friend, Nickole Atkinson, and prosecutors believe it's possible that she and her daughters died "between and including Aug. 12, 2018, and Aug. 13, 2018" (via AJC). This timeline suggests Chris Watts possibly harmed his daughters before Shanann arrived home. It's worth noting that authorities charged him with two counts of "killing a child under the age of 12 while the defendant was in a position of trust."

We'll probably never know exactly what happened that night, but Chris clarified the timeline when he spoke with investigators from jail in February 2019. Chris claimed that, after arguing with Shanann about their marriage, he strangled her to death. Bella supposedly woke up during the commotion and asked, "What's wrong with mommy," according to the interview transcript by The Coloradan. Chris said he then placed the girls and Shanann's body into his truck, drove approximately 45 minutes his worksite, and killed the girls one by one after burying his wife in a shallow grave. He claimed to have smothered Cece first and then Bella, who supposedly pleaded for her life before she was killed.

Of course, there's always the possibility Chris fabricated these new details given his history with lying. But there's no denying the scenario wrecked Shanann's family, as Shanann's brother, Frank Rzueck Jr., told Dr. Phil McGraw in March 2019: "It's worse than we even thought."

Pointing the finger at Shanann Watts

Before Chris Watts pleaded guilty to the murders, it looked like his defense team was preparing to place the blame on Shanann Watts. Want proof? Chris' lawyers filed a motion for investigators to swab the girls' necks and hands for possible DNA evidence (via The Washington Post). Additionally, the defense requested that a DNA expert of their choosing be present during the collection process, as reported by CNN. The defense was likely trying to back up Chris' past claim that Shanann had strangled their daughters to death following a fight about their marriage.

But likely to Chris' chagrin, the judge denied all of the defense's requests. "The court cannot order the prosecution and/or coroner how to conduct their investigation," the ruling stated, according to CNN.

After the release of the joint law enforcement interview of Chris in February 2019, during which he confessed to killing his daughters in addition to his wife, Shanann's loved ones expressed relief that her name was finally cleared. Speaking with Southern Colorado NBC affiliate KOAA News 5, Rzucek family attorney Stephen Lambert said, "These tapes put to rest any kind of that speculation, and that Shanann's memory can be put to rest as a loving mother and a caring wife." 

What was Chris Watts' motive for the murders?

Whenever a murder occurs, many people look for answers, and this case is no different, as the public has been at a loss as to why Chris Watts murdered Shanann Watts and their two daughters. 

One of Chris' possible motives involves financial struggles, a common source of tension between married couples. Chris and Shanann filed for bankruptcy in June 2015, after they bought their $400,000 house in Colorado, according to CNN. The two were reportedly $70,000 in debt, a total they racked up thanks to student loans and credit card purchases. Their savings appeared to be a total of $9.51 in one account and $864 in a joint checking account.

Although Shanann was doing well financially (she reportedly made $80,000 a year), it's possible Chris was concerned about the cost of another child. This alleged motive, however, has not been confirmed.

Another potential motive? Chris' alleged affair. Denise Mowder, a former prosecutor and an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at MSU Denver, theorized that Chris allegedly murdered his family in order to live a care-free life with his rumored mistress. "I think he had a vision of another life with this other woman — carefree, no responsibilities," Mowder told Denver7

Chris denied these theories, however, claiming he felt rage after Shanann supposedly threatened to take their kids away. "I didn't want to do this, but I did it," he plainly told investigators in February 2019, in audio transcribed by The Coloradan.

Chris Watts lied from the start

There are a few discrepancies in Chris Watts' version of what happened the night of Aug. 13, 2018, something the public is well aware of by now. But what many people don't know is that Chris allegedly lied about Shanann Watts' whereabouts from the very beginning.

Nickole Atkinson, a friend who was reportedly the last to see Shanann alive, said she knew something was wrong when Chris was supposedly evasive about where his wife went on the morning of her disappearance. Atkinson, who was concerned after Shanann missed an important pregnancy checkup, opened up about her bizarre exchange with Chris to Good Morning America on Aug. 20.

"He just kept saying that he didn't know where she was and that she was on a playdate," Atkinson stated, regarding a phone call conversation she had with Chris shortly after Shanann disappeared (via ABC News). "But he couldn't give us the name of the friend. I knew he had something to do with it the day I was at his house with him, but I didn't want to think that."

The real deal with Chris Watts' alleged affairs

Chris Watts was allegedly having an affair with a co-worker at the time he murdered his family. The disturbing detail came to light in Chris' arrest affidavit, in which police claimed they found evidence of his cheating following an investigation. The co-worker Chris supposedly had an affair with — who reportedly cooperated with the investigation (via People), was later identified as Nichol Kessinger.

In addition to Kessinger, an unnamed man took to HLN's Crime & Justice with Ashleigh Banfield in August 2018 to claim he carried on a relationship with Chris for ten months (via People). The alleged lover said he met Chris online, and that they parted ways sometime in March or April 2018, as reported by Us Weekly. But multiple news outlets couldn't confirm the man's account, and it's not clear if police have investigated his allegations. What is obvious? Many people weren't happy that the show's host, Ashleigh Banfield, went ahead with the interview given the lack of corroborating details.

Whether Shanann Watts knew about Chris' alleged affairs or not, the answer isn't clear. "There was speculation [about an affair], but she didn't want to believe that either," Shanann's friend Nickole Atkinson said in an interview (via ABC News). "He wasn't being the loving Chris that he normally was. He wasn't touching or hugging or doing stuff like that. And he wasn't being as attentive to the girls as he normally is."

Was Shanann and Chris Watts' relationship for show?

One of the most haunting aspects of the Watts murder case is Shanann Watts' social media presence. Shanann's Facebook account featured countless photos of the mom happily posing with Chris Watts and their two daughters, as well as snaps of the couple enjoying romantic vacations together. Translation: Shanann and Chris' lives seemed picture perfect.

Given the tragic events that occurred, it's fair to wonder if Shanann and Chris were putting on a front for the outside world. A neighbor named Melinda Phillips suggested as much in an interview with People, recalling an "argument" she witnessed between the two earlier in the summer of 2018. "Their body language was really angry, and they were just fighting back and forth," Phillips described. "He was gesturing his hands and they were shaking their heads, and it was definitely an argument."

But things took a strange turn when Shanann and Chris supposedly caught Phillips' eye mid-fight. "They caught my eye and suddenly, everything changed," she said. "They stopped being so angry, and they started talking a lot more calmly. He even gave her a hug. Mind you, this was in the space of 30 seconds to a minute." Phillips added, "From a full-blown fight to hugs in less than a minute, it was incredible." 

Chris Watts' old friends say he's a nice guy

In television and film, murder suspects are often portrayed in an unflattering light. Whether they're a loner or are emotionally disturbed or angry, there's typically something off about someone who is accused of a violent crime. But in the case of Chris Watts, this stereotype doesn't seem to fit.

One high school friend, for instance, couldn't believe the Watts she knew had been charged with murder. "Most of our conversations that I recall were about music and things like that," former classmate Brandi Smith told the Daily Beast. "I was a bit of an outcast and he kinda just seemed to understand me."

"Everyone liked him," Smith added. "It's actually amazing how many people that knew him have completely turned on him and think he's this monster when he hasn't even been convicted."

Then there's Lance Alfonso, who played football with Watts. "I've never seen him ever get angry at anybody, even on the football field," Alfonso revealed to the Daily Beast.

Of course, a lot can change between high school and adulthood, and you can never know what's truly going on inside another person's head.

Did Chris Watts' weight loss play a role in the murders?

Prior to the murders, Chris Watts developed a healthier diet and adopted more active lifestyle changes that led him to lose a decent amount of weight. Some speculated that Chris' body transformation might have had something to do with the murders of his family, a sentiment one reporter touched on in an interview with the couple's close friends. "When he lost weight, did you notice any changes in his confidence levels?" a 9News journalist asked Chris' former buddy Nick Thayer.

As captured in a video, Thayer responded, "The only kind of difference I saw change in confidence was with his running ability. I had been running for quite a bit more time than he was and he was just getting into it. So, you know, I would text him, 'Hey, I'm gonna go for a seven-mile run,' and then he, after that, would be like, 'Yeah, I just ran seven miles.'"

As for Chris' personality, Thayer said he didn't note anything off about his ex-pal's persona. "That part didn't change," he shared. "It was always shy Chris."

Did police waste time in the investigation?

Shanann Watts' younger brother, Frank Rzucek Jr. (above right), took to Facebook shortly after Chris Watts' arrest to express his rage and sadness about the situation. "I just want to know why. My precious family my one and only sibling, my sister Shanann, 2 adorable nieces Bella and Celeste and her soon to be found out unborn son Niko," he wrote, according to a screenshot obtained by The Sun. "I just want 30 seconds alone with that heartless psychopath. May Satan have mercy on his soul."

But Chris wasn't Frank's only target. He also went after investigators for supposedly taking too long to arrest Shanann's husband, writing, "The cops drug their feet. He was the only one with them and backed his truck into the garage. Doesn't take a genius to know who was suspect. My blood is boiling and the pain and anger and sadness I have in my heart."

Frank ended his post with a message for Chris, saying, "Nothing absolutely nothing would get in my way of taking away his life like he did mine and my ENTIRE FAMILY."

Regarding the timeline of the investigation, cops arrested Chris two days after Shanann was reported missing. It's likely Shanann's brother was frustrated that authorities didn't take Chris into custody the same day his sister went missing.

Letters from Christopher

Other than investigators' jailhouse interview with Chris Watts in February 2019, the convicted killer hasn't spoken out. That is, until first-time author Cherlyn Cadle published a book in September 2019 detailing her written correspondence and prison visits with Chris, titled, Letters from Christopher: The Tragic Confessions of the Watts Family Murder. Many shocking claims were made in the book, which Cadle reviewed during a November 2019 appearance on Dr. Oz, where she alleged Chris confessed to smothering his daughters before killing Shanann Watts. And then after Chris murdered Shanann, Bella and Celeste Watts supposedly woke up. "Bella, the oldest one, was crying," Cadle told Dr. Oz about the girls allegedly walking in on the murder scene. "Also, Cece was more, kind confused. She was awake, the younger one." This version of events contradicts Chris' claim to police that the only time he harmed the girls was at the worksite where the bodies were found.

Additionally, Chris changed his story about acting on impulse. "August 12th when I finished putting the girls to bed, I walked away and said, 'That's the last time I'm going to be tucking my babies in," he supposedly wrote in a letter to Cadle obtained by the Daily Mail, "I knew what was going to happen the day before."

Although the book is compelling, these revelations might be inaccurate. Cadle's book — according to multiple reviews on Goodreads — was supposedly riddled with grammatical errors and misinformation. What's more? Authorities haven't confirmed her findings.

What broke the Watts murder case wide open

After Shanann Watts and her daughters were reported missing, Chris Watts' secrets quickly began to unravel. And one of those secrets might have been what blew the case wide open, at least according to Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke. "Nichol Kessinger turned out to have information that I can best describe as being a bombshell," Rourke said in an Investigation Discovery special about Chris' mistress coming forward with details about their affair. Although this might seem obvious, it wasn't only telling because it showed Chris was seemingly intent on starting a new life — it was big because it painted the picture of him as a habitual liar. And if Chris lied about Kessinger (he denied the infidelity to investigators at first), then what else might he be hiding?

As it turns out, Chris was supposedly lying to Kessinger, too. "He informed me that he did have two kids, that he was currently in the process of a separation from his wife," Kessinger said in police recordings shown in the special. "As far as I knew, that was becoming pretty finalized."

It was revealed that Chris had been untruthful with Kessinger, as he was lying to both her and Shanann to keep his plates of deceit spinning. It's unsettling to think about, but who knows how quickly those lies would have been uncovered if Kessinger might not have come forward or had been cooperative with police. We suspect justice would have been delayed, though it's impossible to say.

Shanann Watts' mother says she still communicates with Shanann, Bella, and Celeste

Shanann Watts' family was under no obligation to speak out about their tragic losses, but they bravely decided to share their story with Dr. Phil McGraw in March 2019. A lot of revelations were made during the episode, including Shanann's mother Sandy Rzucek's story about communicating with Shanann, Celeste, and Bella after their deaths. "I felt my daughter's spirit the moment she died," Sandy explained to Dr. Phil. "I knew. I swear to God I knew. ... I woke up Frankie — I woke up the whole house. I said, 'Something's wrong with Shanann.'" Not only that, but the bereaved mom said she spoke with Shanann directly. "That night I was laying in bed and I just felt a presence and I heard my daughter. I felt her, and I heard her say, 'I love you mommy and I'm sorry,'" she said. "She told me she was at peace."

Bella, as Sandy recalled, expressed happiness about visiting Disney World "any time" she wanted. "I said, that's right, Bella," Sandy shared.

Whether you believe Sandy's account or not, it's clear she loved her family dearly. Our hearts go out to her and the rest of Shanann's loved ones.

Chris Watts will never personally profit from the murders

Although Chris Watts is serving three consecutive life sentences for pleading guilty to murdering his family, it doesn't mean the case is over. One development that might have flown under your radar is Watts being ordered to pay $6 million to the Rzucek family for the deaths of his wife and two young daughters. The ruling occurred in November 2019, one year after Shanann Watts' parents, Frank and Sandy Rzucek filed a wrongful death suit against Chris, as The Denver Post reported. The amount "includes $1 million for each of the deaths and $3 million for emotional pain," and "will grow at an 8 percent annual interest rate," according to court docs obtained by The Denver Post. Watts reportedly didn't fight the suit and agreed to the terms on Nov. 5, 2019.

To explain why a family might file a wrongful death suit, it effectively ensures the perpetrator can't ever profit off their victims' deaths. This was the motivation for the Rzuceks, as their attorney, Steven Lambert, told The Denver Post, "Just in case 20 years down the line from now he decides to write a book we could come for that money."

Even with this insurance, it doesn't bring peace of mind to Shanann Watts' family. Frank Rzucek Sr., Shanann's father, hasn't been back to work due to post-traumatic stress disorder, while Sandy Rzucek, Shanann's mother, has described her life as "being adrift in a lifeboat, surrounded by water and without a port in sight," according to court docs. It's all very heartbreaking.

The Watts murder case deeply affected everyone involved

In such a disturbing case as the Watts family murders, sometimes the horrific details can overshadow the people who worked the case. So it was powerful when Frederick police Detective Dave Baumhover, the lead detective on the Watts case, spoke to The Denver Post in August 2019 about struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). "It's like when you're a kid and you go on the wrong carnival ride and all you want to do is get off," he told the outlet about his emotional struggles. "But you can't. You have no choice until the ride shuts off."

As Baumhover told the outlet, he stopped working in March 2019 after interviewing Chris Watts in prison for his full confession. It's unclear if he has since returned to law enforcement, but he sounded unsure about his professional future in the candid conversation. "I have a hard time dealing with the probability that my career is ended, and not the way that I wanted it to," he explained. "Some days you feel defeated."

Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent Tammy Lee (pictured above) had a similar reaction, once breaking down sobbing in a hair salon. "I felt like I knew them," Lee told The Denver Post about her pain. "I've been to many homicides of children. This one was different."

Baumhover and Lee, along with others, spoke out to draw awareness to mental health services for law enforcement. And this just goes to show how many people the case affected.