The reason why I picked this story for this particular week is because Netflix is about to put out a documentary depicting this case. It’s due to release on September 30th. I’m unsure if it’s going to be a series, or a movie. I’m leaning toward the latter. But, Netflix has described the new documentary as “an immersive and truthful examination of a police investigation and a disintegrating marriage”, told “entirely through archival footage that includes social media posts, law enforcement recordings, text messages, and never-before-seen home videos.” This is the case of the Watts family murders.
About four months before her death, Shanann Watts went onto Facebook live and said, “I believe that everything in life happens for a reason, and I also believe people are placed in our life for a reason.” The Facebook live initially starts off with Shanann holding one of her daughters in her lap as she states that it’s around 8:30 a.m on a Saturday. She states that she loves Saturdays because she gets to spend time with her family; that they never really have anywhere to go or anything to do. She lays out that she’s even more excited that Summer is around the corner because she has so much going on- a trip to San Diego with just her husband, a trip with her daughters and father to visit her family and friends in North Carolina, then a trip to Arizona for a retreat. (She’s literally counting down the days until her death.) As she explains her plans, she flips her camera to watch her daughters and husband playing. She reiterates that she’s very blessed to be able to spend so much time with her family. (She wishes that her husband can join her more.) The video goes on for almost 30 minutes, and acted as an outreach to her friends and clients of her direct-marketing business as a seller of health supplements. In it, Shanann promotes her own growing confidence and independence while conceding she has battled through insecurities, including “health challenges” after she bought her first home at age 25. She went on to say, “I met Chris because of those health challenges.” A mutual contact had sent her a Facebook prompt suggesting Chris as a possible friend. She initially deleted it. Two months later she received a diagnosis- Shanann had lupus. “..and I went through one of the, I would say, darkest times of my life, because things just got scarier.” Shanann eventually quit her job of nine years, lost friends “because they didn’t understand that I looked perfectly fine, and I felt horribly inside,” and “was in a really, really, really bad place, and I got a friend request from Chris on Facebook.” “I was like, oh what the heck, I’m never going to meet him,” she said. “Accept.” “Well, one thing led to another, and eight years later we have two kids, we live in Colorado, and he’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.” Shanann said she hoped her love story with Chris would inspire others, and she added: “Because I got so sick, I let him in, and he only knew me… at my worst. And he accepted me.” She details that she initially tried to push him away- gave him every excuse for him to run. But, she adds that Chris stuck around through all the “torture” because “he was the one for me.”
Let’s backtrack a tad. Christopher Lee Watts and Shanann Cathryn Rzucek were natives of Spring Lake and Aberdeen, North Carolina, respectively. They met in 2010. (And it has already been established that it was through Facebook.) According to online records, Chris and Shanann were married in Mecklenburg County on November 3rd, 2012. Eventually, they migrated to Frederick, Colorado and purchased a five-bedroom home in 2013. They went on to have two daughters- Bella Marie Watts born on December 17th, 2013, and Celeste Cathryn “CeCe” Watts born on July 17th, 2015. But also in 2015, Chris and Shanann filed for bankruptcy. Chris was employed by Anadarko Petroleum, while Shanann was an independent representative for the multi-level marketing company Le-vel, selling a product called Thrive. By all appearances, even though they were having money problems (Honestly, what family doesn’t at some point?) it seemed as though they lived the all-American dream. Before going into the details surrounding the case, I want to lay out the timeline leading up to the crime(s). That way, you as a reader, can understand when, where and how a little easier.
On June 11th, 2018, Shanann recorded a video of her surprising Chris with the news that she was pregnant with their third child. Chris seemed genuinely excited as he said “that’s awesome” before kissing Shanann. He goes on to say, “I guess when you want to, it happens.”
On June 14th, 2018, Shanann recorded a video of 4-year-old Bella singing a song about how much she loves her dad. “My daddy is a hero/ He helps me grow up strong/ He helps me snuggle too/ He reads me books/ He ties my shoes/ You’re a hero through and through/ Daddy, Daddy, I love you.” ALSO, on June 14th, Chris Watts entered his worker- Nichol Kessinger’s contact information into his phone. Nichol would later become his mistress- she said later that she started dating Chris *seriously* at the end of June.
On June 17th, 2018, Shanann wrote a tribute to Chris on her Facebook in honor of Father’s Day. (Nichol had later told police that sometime before Father’s day, Chris told her that he was married and that he had kids, but that he was in the process of a divorce.) Here is Shanann’s tribute to Chris: “Chris, we are so incredibly blessed to have you! You do so much everyday for us and take such great care of us. You are the reason I was brave enough to agree to number 3!”
On June 19th, 2018, Shanann shared a picture from her first ultrasound and wrote that Chris is the “best dad us girls could ask for.”
On June 27th, 2018, Shanann took both of her daughters to North Carolina for a five-week vacation, while Chris stayed home and worked- and continued his affair with Nichol.
On July 4th, 2018, Nicol went to Chris’ house for the first time to “set up his diet and weight loss and exercise goals.” Chris had cooked lunch for the two of them, they ate, then Nichol left. (This is all according to police documents.) (Chris told a different story to investigators in February 2019. He said that he woke up at Nichol’s house the morning of July 4th to several missed calls from Shanann. He told Nichol that he needed to go home in case his wife called back, and that Nichol got mad- realizing that she would always be the “other person” and that he would put his wife first. He told investigators that Nichol told him it would be best if they didn’t see each other for the rest of the day, but later invited him back to her house.)
On July 7th, 2018, the first phone call was logged between Chris and Nichol.
On July 10th, 2018, signs of tension began to show in the Watts’ marriage, according to their text messages. On this day, Shanann asked Chris “You ok? It’s like you don’t want to talk. I kept trying to talk and I had to dig it out of you?” Chris replied, “I’m fine baby. The last few days at work have put a lot of responsibility on me with new people. I didn’t mean to seem short Boo. I love you to the moon and back.” (He included a heart and kissing emoji.) Shanann responded, “I miss you and I feel like you want to work out and run.” Chris claimed running helps “clear my head. It’s a way to free it all.” Shanann didn’t buy the excuse, “I wish my husband wanted to talk to me.”
On July 14th, 2018, Chris and Nichol went on a date to a car museum in Boulder, Colorado. That afternoon, Shanann made four unanswered calls to Chris.
On July 18th, 2018, Nichol sent Chris seminude photos of herself, which he stored on his secret calculator app on his phone. (Chris later told investigators that the part of what drew him to Nichol was the feeling that she was pursuing him, instead of the other way around.)
On July 28th, 2018, Chris and Nichol visited the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and spent the night at a nearby campground.
On July 30th, 2018, Chris gave Nichol a love letter before leaving town to join Shanann and the girls on their summer vacation. Inside the letter, contained lyrics to the song “Down to Earth” by the band Through the Roots.
On July 31st, 2018, Chris flew to North Carolina for the final week of his family’s vacation. His reunion with Shanann did not appear to be happy, according to a copy of a text message Shanann sent to Chris, which she later forwarded to a friend.
On August 4th, 2018 at 12:45 a.m, Shanann sent her husband a long text message accusing him of failing to stand up for her after his parents exposed their daughter Celeste to nuts, which she was allergic to. (Chris later told investigators that he should have ended things with Nichol and focused on his family after learning about the peanut fracas, which he referred to as “nutgate”. Shanann appeared to have had a fight with her in-laws, which caused them to skip Celeste’s birthday party that summer. Shannan also tells Chris that he hasn’t shown any signs of missing her in the weeks they have been apart. Also on August 4th, while Chris was away, Nichol searched for wedding dresses on the internet for over two hours, according to a review of her cellphone data.
On August 7th, 2018, Shanann started confiding in friends about her problems with her husband.
On August 9th, 2018, Shanann told a friend that Chris went to her ultrasound, but was cold to her, so she decided to cancel the baby’s gender-reveal party. Also on August 9th, Shanann left for a quick business trip to Arizona. On the way there, she told a friend that she had her “best talk yet” with Chris the night before. She also texted a friend a handwritten letter she had drafted to give to Chris, in which she says she doesn’t know how they “fell out of compatibility”.
On August 11th, 2018, Chris hired a babysitter, saying that he was going to a Colorado Rockies game with his coworkers. In reality, he took Nichol on a date to a sports bar in Erie, Colorado.
On August 12th, 2018, Shanann sent a friend a draft of a speech she planned to give to Chris when she returned to Colorado. The message read: “Can you please tell me something, because just like you, I’m in my head? I try to fix things and make them better and this is making me crazy. I know that you need time. I want to give you what you’re asking for and respect your space, I need some time. This place that I’m in, in my head, is not a good place. It is not healthy for me, or for Nico. I need you to me help you. I need you to give just a little bit of what I did, or didn’t do, so I’m not going crazy in my head to figure it out. I know I can’t fix this by myself; that, we are going to have to work together.”
On August 13th, 2018 at 1:48 a.m, a neighbor’s surveillance camera captured Shanann returning home from her business trip. She had received a ride home from a friend and colleague Nickole Utoft Atkinson.
(Chris later told investigators that he was sleeping when his wife came home. He said that she initiated sex, and then they both went to bed.) At 5:27 a.m, surveillance footage shows Chris loading up his work truck, and leaving home.
Later that day, Shanann and the two children were reported missing by Atkinson, who had become concerned when Shanann missed a scheduled OB-GYN appointment and failed to return text messages. After Shanann missed a business meeting, Atkinson went to the Watts’ home at approximately 12:10 p.m. When the doorbell and knocks went unanswered, Atkinson notified Chris, who was at work, and called the Frederick Police Department. At 12:27 p.m, the Watts’ realtor reached out to the couple, and Chris chatted with her about the current state of their home and what they’re looking for in a new house. At one point during the conversation, the realtor questioned why Shanann hadn’t weighed in on their conversation. “She hasn’t been around all day,” Chris responds. “It’s very odd.”
An officer arrived to conduct a welfare check at about 1:40 p.m. Chris arrived home and talked with the officer and discussed ways to locate his missing family. During the welfare check, he gave the police officer permission to search the house, but there was no sign of Shanann or their daughters. The searchers discovered Shanann’s purse containing her phone and keys. Her car, which still contained the children’s car seats, was in the garage. Her wedding ring was found on the couple’s bed. While investigators were searching the home, Chris told police that Shanann told him she was taking the girls to a friend’s house, but never specified which friend. After looking through the house, a neighbor invited Chris and a police officer over to his property to review his home-surveillance footage, which disproved Chris’ story that his wife left with the girls while he was at work.
On August 14th, 2018, the FBI and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation joined the investigation. Chris initially told police he had no idea where Shanann, Bella, or Celeste might be and had not seen his wife since 5:15 a.m. on the 13th, when he left for work. He gave interviews to Denver stations KMGH-TV and KUSA-TV outside his house pleading for his family’s return. At one point, he said: “Shanann, Bella, Celeste, if you’re out there, just come back. If somebody has her, just please bring her back. I need to see everybody, I need to see everybody again. This house is not complete without anybody here.” Investigators with cadaver and search dogs could be heard on the property during the interview.
On August 15th, 2018, Chris Watts was arrested on suspicion of three first-degree-murder charges and three charges of tampering with a deceased body. According to the arrest affidavit, Chris failed a polygraph test and subsequently confessed to murdering Shanann. He asked to speak to his father before confessing. According to the affidavit, Chris was having an affair and claimed to have asked for a separation from his wife. During the investigation, he claimed Shanann had strangled the children in response to his request for separation, and in a fit of rage, he strangled her and then transported the three bodies to a remote oil-storage site where he worked.
On August 16th, 2018 (afternoon), Shanann’s body was found in a shallow grave near a pair of oil tanks. The bodies of the girls were found in the two oil tanks. The authorities found the bodies on the property of his former employer, Anadarko Petroleum. Chris had been fired from Anadarko Petroleum the day before- the day of his arrest.
On August 21st, 2018, Chris was charged with five counts of first-degree murder, including an additional one count per child cited as “death of a child who had not yet attained 12 years of age and the defendant was in a position of trust”; unlawful termination of a pregnancy; and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body. Chris was denied bail at his first court appearance. At a later hearing, bail was set at $5 million, with Chris being required to put down 15% to be released. Shanann Watts’ family appeared in court as Chris was arraigned.
On September 1st, 2018, Chris Watts posted $750,000 and was released pending legal proceedings.
On November 6th, 2018, Chris pleaded guilty to all nine counts against him. In pleading guilty, Chris negated his initial story that Shanann killed their daughters and assumed responsibility for killing the three himself. The death penalty was not put forward by the district attorney on the request of Shanann’s family who did not wish for any further deaths. They were supportive of the decision to accept the plea deal.
On November 15th, 2018, Nichol spoke out in an interview with the Denver Post. In the interview, Nichol said Chris told her that he was separating from his wife, and that she never knew that Shanann was pregnant. “He lied about everything,” she said.
On November 19th, 2018, Chris Watts was sentenced to five life sentences – three consecutive and two concurrent – without the possibility of parole. He received an additional 48 years for the unlawful termination of his wife’s pregnancy and 36 years for three charges of tampering with a deceased body. After this, Chris had his $5 million bail revoked, and was immediately remanded to custody.
On December 3rd, 2018, Watts was moved to an out-of-state location due to “security concerns”.
On December 5th, 2018, Chris arrived at the Dodge Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in Waupun, Wisconsin, to continue serving his life sentences.
On a December 2018 episode of the ABC News television news magazine 20/20, Shanann’s parents, Frank and Sandra Rzucek, were interviewed for the first time since their daughter and granddaughters’ murders. HLN aired a special report show in December 2018 titled ‘Family Massacre: Chris Watts Exposed’ in which police body cam and video recorded police interviews of Chris Watts were revealed. In a newly released Colorado Bureau of Investigation video-recorded interview with Watts’ mistress Nichol, she revealed his behavioral changes in the days prior to the murders. On a December 2018 episode of the American talk show Dr. Phil, Dr. Phil consulted with four crime experts: former prosecutor and TV journalist Nancy Grace, former FBI profiler Candice DeLong, law enforcement consultant Steve Kardian, and body language expert Susan Constantine. The experts analyzed the motivation, secret life, and profiling of Chris Watts. On a January 2019 episode of the talk show The Dr. Oz Show, commentary was provided on the Watts case by the neighbor who helped build the case against Watts, who was interviewed in-studio.
(Please note, that the next segment is very triggering, and accounts in detail the death of children.)
On February 18th, 2019, three investigators spoke to Chris Watts at the federal prison where he’s serving his three life sentences. It marked the first time Chris detailed how he killed his two daughters. He said when his wife came home from her business trip, she got in bed and about a half hour later, initiated sex. He told investigators he felt like it was a “test” and the sex felt “strange”. He theorized that it may have been a “trigger point… or like you hit the push button on a bomb and it just blows up.” According to Chris’ version of events, the two apparently fell asleep after sex, and he woke up a few hours later to get ready for work. He said he woke up his wife to talk before he left, straddling her as she lay in bed. He said the two had a 15-20 minute conversation, during which Shanann cried and said she knew there was someone else. While Watts denied the affair, he said he admitted he didn’t love Shanann anymore and said they weren’t compatible. That’s when he said Shanann told him “you’re never gonna see the kids again.” He said she also told him to get off of her because he was hurting the baby. Chris said he “snapped” and put his hands around his wife’s throat and began to strangle her. Chris said there’s a part of him that feels like the idea of killing his wife was “implanted” in his mind and he “had no control over it.” During the trial, when a prosecutor said that it takes two to four minutes to strangle someone, Chris said he wondered, “Why couldn’t I just let go?” Chris told investigators Shanann never fought back or screamed. When it was all over, he said he was shaking when Bella came into the room and asked what was wrong with Mommy. “Mommy didn’t feel good,” he remembered saying. He said he then wrapped Shanann’s body face down in a bed sheet and dragged her down the stairs to put in his truck. Bella watched the whole scene and cried, asking again, “Is Mommy okay?” Chris said he told her again that Shanann wasn’t feeling good, but said his daughter is a smart girl, and believes she knew what was going on. When he came back inside the house, Celeste was waking up in her bedroom, so he took both girls and put them in the back of the truck on the bench seat. He said each brought a blanket, and Celeste brought a stuffed animal. At that point, Chris said it felt like someone else had control over him. When they got to the site, Watts said he pulled Shanann’s body out of the truck and laid it down on the ground near where he would eventually bury it in a shallow grave. He said both girls asked him, “What are you doing to Mommy?” Then he said he returned to the truck and “CeCe was first.” He said he strangled her with a blue Yankees blanket as Bella watched sitting next to her, not saying anything. When investigators asked what he was thinking as he did this, Chris said: “I wasn’t… If I was thinking, this wouldn’t have happened.” After he killed Celeste, he said he carried her body over to an oil tank and dropped her in. When he walked back to the truck, he said Bella asked him, “What happened to CeCe?,” then in a softer voice, “Is the same thing gonna happen to me as CeCe?” Watts said he’s not sure if he gave her an answer. He said he then used the same blanket to smother her, then dropped her body into another oil tank. He said her last words were, “Daddy, no!” Watts said he hears Bella saying those two words every time he closes his eyes.
Looking back, Watts told investigators that he thinks he may have taken his pent up anger with Shanann out on everyone that morning. He said he had never been that angry before, and believes it may have stemmed from the feeling that Shanann drove a wedge between him and his family. He said his mother never approved of Shanann and that the family felt like she had taken him away from them when the couple moved to Colorado. “It’s like a long fuse that finally just went to its end,” he said. He also went on to say he looks outside every day and wonders what he would be doing if he hadn’t killed his family. (Uh, I don’t know… maybe packing school lunches, playing with your now three children at a park, signing your girls up for dance lessons, and maybe getting Nico into preschool…!)
This case is tragic. It’s gut-wrenching and honestly, it’s done a number on me while I took a deep nose-dive into the specifics of this case. I can’t tell you what it was like, watching Shanann’s facebook lives, especially when they involved Bella and CeCe. It was heartbreaking watching her surprise Chris with her third pregnancy announcement. And… to be completely honest, I almost scrapped this blog once I came across Bella’s song about loving her daddy. I. was. a. Wreck. But, what’s also really upsetting, is that this case could have been prevented. Four lives could have been spared. (Yes… I am counting Shanann’s unborn son, Nico.)
If you were interested in this case, then don’t forget to check out Netflix’s ‘American Murder: The Family Next Door’ which premieres on the platform on September 30th.
Rest Easy Angels.