Trigger Warning: Honestly, y’all, I don’t even know how to word this or what to say. I wrote in a post earlier last week that I was going to revisit the Watts Family murders and this is that post. It pertains to abuse and violence and it will be graphic. After Christopher Watts confessed what he actually did to his family, I just feel like I HAVE to say more about this case specifically – but also about domestic violence in general.
This is an unusually lengthy post as well. There is just a lot to say.
Two months ago, I felt prompted by what I knew of the murders of Shanann, Bella, Celeste, and Niko Watts by their husband and father, Christopher Watts, to write this post about abuse and helping our loved ones when they are in potentially abusive situations:
At that time, I felt drawn to the situation and so troubled for the Rzucek family (Shanann’s parents and brother) and it just broke my heart – but there is SO much more to say now that I just don’t almost don’t know where to begin.
For those completely unfamiliar with what happened, I’ll go over the case from the start as briefly as I can:
Chris, Shanann, Bella, and Celeste Watts lived in Frederick, Colorado in a lovely five bedroom home with their dog, Deiter (who was the only survivor and is now with Shanann’s brother). Shanann was 15 weeks pregnant with their son, Niko.
Chris worked for a large oil company, Anadarko, in their area, and Shanann had worked her way up in Thrive multi-level marketing company, to the point of earning trips and even having her car paid for. Because of her work, much of her life was on Facebook and she appeared to have a happy family.
Apparently, underneath, there were financial issues such as $500 per week bills at a prestigious preschool, maxed out credit cards, and a mortgage that was three months behind when Shanann and the girls went to spend five weeks with extended family in North Carolina in June of 2018.
At that time, Chris Watts became heavily involved with an affair with his coworker, Nichol Kessenger.
Shanann noticed a significant difference in her husband during the second week of her trip (not taking her calls, not answering texts) and also had a major run-in with his mother – who already didn’t like her – over exposing Celeste to nuts when she was allergic to them. This caused even more issues within the marriage.
By the time Chris joined them in North Carolina at the end of July, Shanann was texting friends that he said he didn’t want the baby, she didn’t know who he was, and she didn’t feel safe with him. Her mother would report to police that she tried to convince Shanann to stay in North Carolina due to the changes in Chris’ behavior – and Shanann had considered staying. Ultimately, however, she returned to Colorado with him.
After they returned, she had a brief business trip with friends to Arizona and the girls remained home with Chris. Her friends stated she was upset and not feeling well all weekend.
They also reported that she spent the weekend reading a book to help save her marriage and had sent a copy to Chris who was “reading” it as well. His copy was found, still in the Amazon packaging, in the garage trash can of their home.
On the morning of August 13th, her friend Nickole Atkinson dropped her off at home at around 2 AM and told Shanann to let her know if she needed help going to her OB/GYN appointment at 9 AM, expecting to hear from her in a few hours.
When Shanann didn’t text the next morning and Nickole couldn’t reach her, she became concerned. Nickole went to Shanann’s house – where she had the entry code – but the top latch was in place, which was unusual. She then noticed Shanann’s car still in the garage and the flip flops she wore every day inside the entry way of her home. She then contacted her OB/GYN and learned that she had missed her appointment. She called Chris, who told her not to contact police and to leave the house because she was setting off the Ring. Nickole contacted another friend who was on the Arizona trip as well as Shanann’s mother and decided to reach out to the police anyway.
Thankfully she did, as this would trigger a series of events that would ultimately lead to Chris Watts confessing, a few days later, that he had buried Shanann in a shallow grave at one of his work sites and then dumped Bella and Celeste in side by side oil tanks. At the time, he attempted to blame Shanann for the death of the girls – but would ultimately admit to all of their murders.
His sentencing, on November 6th of last year, was aired publicly and was the first time that the details of the autopsy reports were revealed, It was reported that Shanann died of manual strangulation and that both of the girls were suffocated. It was also revealed that Bella appeared to have fought for her life. Absolutely heartbreaking.
The judge gave maximum penalties on all charges, though Chris was spared the death penalty. The judge did not mince words as to the horrific nature of the crimes.
At the time, Chris provided no information as to what happened that night.
Speculation was that he had attacked the family in their sleep and that perhaps Bella had awakened and fought – but still hopefully did not see her attacker.
Still, this was one of those cases that many of us just desperately needed to somehow UNDERSTAND.
Like, how the hell does this HAPPEN?
It was the like the Laci and Connor Peterson case – but even more horrifying, you know?
The Laci Peterson case for anyone who has forgotten:
I get that the Watts family had some big financial issues going on – but in this world PLENTY of people do – and you have tons of videos of this doting father and husband and literally everyone who knew them all saying that was true of him – and all of the sudden THIS?
What the actual hell????
So, after the trial, the prosecution released the discovery files on November 21, 2018. Seeking to understand, I have read through all 1,960 of them – and thought I had pieced the situation together as best I could.
(I have a strong Rachel Maddow streak in me – I read ALL the legal files ALL the time. It’s my jam.)
Here is the link to the files:
Some of them are full pages; some are officer’s handwritten post-it notes. All of this information was available before my first blog post.
NOTHING prepared me – or anybody else who had followed this case – for what Chris Watts would reveal when he sat down with investigators and confessed to what he actually did in February of this year. Even the prosecutor of the case said it is brutal beyond ANYTHING they could have imagined. When I heard, I called Sara upstairs to come sit with me for a bit and I had nightmares for several days. So be warned again before you continue reading.
According to his confession, after he had already been sentenced and is now serving his time, he straddled Shanann while they were talking at around 4 AM. She told him to get off her, that he was hurting the baby. At that point, with her looking at him, he strangled her to death.
He then began to wrap her body in their fitted bed sheet and the noise woke Bella, the five year old, who came in and asked what was wrong with Mommy. He told her Mommy was sick and they were going to take her to the hospital.
He proceeded to load Shanann’s body in the back of his work truck and then both of his daughters, Bella and Celeste, who were still alive, with the body of their mother at their feet, and to drive 45 minutes to his work site (that he had volunteered to go check alone for the first time ever the day before).
There he calmly confessed to the investigators that he buried Shanann while the girls were seatbelted in the truck. He then smothered Celeste with her favorite blanket while Bella was watching next to her and carried her up the ladder and dropped her in the first oil tank.
He returned and Bella said something to the effect of, “Daddy, please don’t do to me what you did to Cece.” He then suffocated her. Her last words were, “Daddy, no!” And he disposed of her body in the other tank.
(He claims that he hears this every day. As generally lacking in remorse as he has been, I doubt it but I certainly hope that is true.)
When his coworkers did arrive to the site, other than noticing he looked a bit more disheveled than usual, they reported he was acting PERFECTLY NORMAL until his phone started ringing about his missing family.
His phone records would later reveal he called the preschool his wife had worked so hard to get the girls into to report the family was moving and they wouldn’t be back (the preschool later called police), he emailed their realtor to talk about putting the house on the market, he booked a trip with his mistress, and he sent her pictures of wildflowers from his work sites that morning.
He also answered an email that he was “in” for fantasy football while his family was “missing” and everyone was searching for them.
While many people were still telling police they could say nothing bad about him, this was his level of callous.
And, again, this crime is ONLY the fault of the evil monstrosity who committed it – but the final confession and the horror it contained made me look back through some of the videos as well as the discovery files to see again where this might have been stopped – only to help us be more aware in our own lives. Because, unfortunately, domestic violence injuries (physical and psychological) and deaths are happening every day.
In my own community, this was in the news yesterday:
It is the murder/suicide of a couple who have apparently been married for many years. When it was posted on Facebook, the comments in the community were from people who had gone to high school with the couple 25 years ago and some had seen them recently and they were in total and complete disbelief.
We NEVER know.
So, let’s REALLY talk about what was going on with Shanann and Chris prior to this that might have triggered a greater response – and perhaps why it wasn’t addressed.
First, let me say that I learned a BIG something new as to why Shanann likely returned to Colorado from North Carolina after even her mom wanted her to stay: it was a requirement for Thrive that they be a “happy family.”
Through the research of Nick van der Leek, I actually saw in the Thrive contract where, if a couple divorces, they must either continue to present as if they are together for marketing purposes or they forfeit their business. In Shanann’s case, anticipating crossing the $200,000 level sales threshold in 2018, she may have felt that she would have lost the ability to support herself and the girls if she moved away from Chris.
However, that doesn’t mean her mom’s instincts were wrong. The entire family saw that something was very off and very different about Chris while he was in North Carolina. Her mom even reported an episode when he was driving his family to a restaurant and she was following him and he was driving so recklessly that she couldn’t keep up – totally out of character. So there definitely was reason to be concerned.
At the same time, Chris was telling Shanann that he didn’t want the baby, and Shanann’s brother, Frankie, observed that Shanann had not been ill until Chris arrived, but, after he did, she was overcome with migraines, nausea, and vomiting.
Even after she returned to Colorado, and then went on her business trip with her friends to Arizona, they all observed her to be ill and deeply upset all weekend. They were with her when she received the notification from her bank that confirmed, more or less, that Chris was out to dinner with someone. They also knew of her concerns about Chris’ feelings towards the pregnancy, which he had expressed repeatedly.
All things considered, with the sheer brutality of this crime especially, here are some things I think we should all be aware of:
- The “I/we don’t know him.” It’s one thing if a person is growing and changing and it’s the midlife crisis and they want to go to India and meditate for two months. Okay. Harmless enough. But when everyone is witnessing genuinely hurtful and harmful behavior – even from someone who has previously been Mr. Good Guy – it’s time to stand up and do something because he clearly isn’t that person anymore. I know it’s hard to consider that he might actually be dangerous, but, when he has said things as alarming as that he no longer wants the child his wife is carrying, it is time to seriously talk about safety with your friend. That is nothing to be taken lightly. Always, always better safe than sorry.
- In the midst of these personality changes, he was speaking of divorce. He had also become emotionally abusive, being kind to Shanann one minute, then cancelling his Facebook, which was necessary for her business, literally five minutes later. She didn’t know which way was up and this had been going on for a few months at the time of her death. Chris confessed that the fight they had immediately before her murder was about divorce and the children, so I want to be clear: A WOMAN IS 70X MORE LIKELY TO BE MURDERED BY AN INTIMATE PARTNER IN THE FEW WEEKS AROUND LEAVING THEM. If a friend is in a situation where divorce or separation is being considered and things are clearly not okay, encourage them to leave, going to a safe place, with others present helping them to do so.
- Shanann only once said, “I don’t feel safe with him.” I’m sure it was true – and I’m sure that was hard as hell to say. If a friend says that EVER, take them very seriously and encourage them strongly to come stay with you or stay somewhere else they feel safe – but NOT with the person that has them feeling unsafe, even for a night.
- Even with all of this going on, her friends, wanting to comfort her, I’m sure, would respond to her texts about some of the craziness coming from Chris with “He loves you!” and that sort of thing. This is not appropriate or helpful – even when we mean well. When a friend is telling us that their significant other is having a MAJOR change and they are really concerned, let’s be sure we are listening and truly hearing what’s going on in the situation, rather than just trying to band-aid it.
- A friend who lived with them for a period of time reported that Shanann was stressed at one point about how they were going to buy food. Even though they lived in a large home and appeared well off, clearly they were under a great deal of financial stress and this was a close enough friend to be living with them – so the rule is “if you see something, say something.” Ask your friend if they need to talk and if they are okay. That occurred a year and a half before the murders and apparently the financial situation did play into his motive. Perhaps even then something could have been done to help get her and the babies out of this situation.
In the case of Chris Watts, I also had to consider whether he had some sort of personality disorder or psychological defect that would allow him to do this. Of course, in the wake of this horrific crime, there have been many experts that have looked at his home videos and police interviews and weighed in.
I’ve listened to numerous opinions and watched many of the videos as well.
At the the end of the day, I’m going to hitch my wagon to the theory that he is a covert narcissist:
Some of the features of sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists blend – and he may well be some combination though. They are all anti-social personality types.
What is most frightening is that he managed to go “undetected,” for lack of a better word, for so long. Still, we all need to be aware that it is the truth.
Several experts in these anti-social personality types have gleaned a few things from Shanann’s Facebook posts that I have seen mentioned across the board that I would be remiss not to point out:
- Shanann continually said in her videos that Chris appeared at the LOWEST point in her life – with her lupus diagnosis, her friends had abandoned her, she had to stop working. . . Normally, support during a hard time is a positive, but with a narcissist this is preying on someone who is weak. Be conscious of this.
- Shanann also would say that he “wouldn’t take no for an answer” when it came to dating her. Of course, that is unacceptable in any situation, but it can be a sign of narcissistic behavior as well. In general, it is just a red flag.
- Finally, Shanann talked often about how he “puts up with us.” With a narcissist, this is by design because he did appear at the “lowest” point in her life so she always felt as though she was less than. Be aware of this.
Finally, if you are in a situation where you feel uncomfortable in anyway, trust your instincts. If you have a trusted friend or family member to go to, do so. If not, here is the National Domestic Violence Hotline. They will help you find appropriate resources to keep yourself (as well as your children if you have them) safe:
Be well, everybody. Take care of yourselves and each other.
Grace and Blessings.