I cannot believe this was 2 years ago. I remember it like it was only a few months ago. Reading about the missing mother and children in Colorado, watching the news coverage, sharing their information on Facebook. Given my affinity for true crime, of course I thought the husband was involved, but was still shocked to find out what happened.
In the early morning of August 13, 2018 in Frederick, Colorado, Christopher Watts, a husband and father of 2, soon to be 3, murdered his family. He strangled his wife to death before smothering his daughters. He disposed of his daughters' bodies in oil tanks, and buried his wife in a shallow grave at his work site.
On August 15, he was arrested, and eventually admitted to the crime. He pleaded guilty on November 6, 2018, and was sentenced to 5 life sentences without the possibility of parole.
BACKGROUND AND DISAPPEARANCE
Christopher Watts and his wife, Shannan Watts, were both from North Carolina. They met in 2019 and married in 2012. They had 2 daughters together, Bella Marie and Celeste "Cece" Cathryn. They moved to Colorado into a 5-bedroom home, which they purchased in 2013, declaring bankruptcy in 2015.
Chris worked for Anadarko Petroleum, and Shannan worked from home for a multi-level marketing company selling Thrive. Shannan was pregnant with the couple's 3rd child, and 1st son, who they planned to name Nico Lee. He was due on January 31, 2019.
Shannan had been in Arizona for a few days for a business trip, and returned home at around 1:48 AM on August 13. Her colleague, Nickole Atkinson, drove her home. Chris had been home with the kids. Atkinson reported Shannan missing the following day when she missed an OB-GYN check up for her son, wouldn't respond to any messages, and missed a meeting.
Atkinson went to the Watts' home at 12:10 PM, but nobody was home. She called Chris to notify him, and then called the Frederick Police Department. An officer came to the home for a welfare check.
When the officer searched the home, he found no sign of Shannan or the 2 girls, but found her purse and keys. Her wedding ring was on the bed, and her car, with the children's car seats, were in the garage.
On August 14, the FBI joined the case. Chris told police he had no idea where his wife or children could be, and claimed he hadn't seen then since leaving for work early in the morning on the 13th. He gave interviews, pleading for his family's safe return. The case garnered media attention, and while some were skeptical of his relatively calm demeanor, many people sympathized with him, sharing information in hopes of finding the family alive.
LEGAL PROCEEDINGS AND CONFESSION
He couldn't hold up the sad, loving husband act for any longer. On August 15, 2018, he was arrested after failing a polygraph test, which ultimately lead to a confession. He asked to speak to his father before he confessed.
Ultimately, he told police that he was having an affair, and asked his wife for a separation. This angered his wife, who killed their daughters. Then, in a fit of rage, he strangled her to death for killing their children. Then, he transported all 3 bodies to a remote oil storage site where he worked.
The bodies were found on the property of Anadarko Petroleum, who had fired him on the day he was arrested. The girls were found in oil tanks, and Shannan was buried in a shallow grave nearby.
Police didn't believe his story of Shannan's involvement in the murders, and he was charged with 5 counts of first-degree murder on August 21, 2018. The case is similar to a family annihilation case, where the patriarch of the family murders everyone, typically because he thinks it will benefit them (from financial issues or something of that nature), and then kills himself. However, Chris Watts' case was rare because he didn't kill himself.
In a Dr. Phil interview, Watt's lawyer claimed that Chris had confessed to the entire massacre. He had gotten into an argument with his wife about divorce and strangled her to death, and afterwards, 4-year-old Bella walked in. He told the child her mother was sick, and loaded her body into his truck, along with his daughters in their car seats. Then, he smothered the girls with a blanket in his truck.
Chris plead guilty on November 6. The death penalty was not considered, as Shannan's family wished for no more deaths. He was sentenced on November 19, and will remain in jail for the rest of his life.
THE MOTIVE AND FURTHER CONFESSIONS
For a long time, the motive for a seemingly loving, family man murdering his beloved wife and children was a mystery. And while the reasons are still not totally clear, more information has been provided and dug up in the 2 years since the horrific crime was committed.
One reason was that the family had a rocky marriage because of their financial issues, as they declared bankruptcy in 2015. Financial problems or job loss are both common reasons for family annihilation, so this certainly makes sense. But it appears that, while this may have been the reason for their rocky marriage, it wasn't the reason for the murders.
The reasoning gets a little bit murky when Nichol Kessinger is brought into the mix. Watts was having an affair with a coworker, whom he had apparently become obsessed with. In his confession, he said he strangled his wife after an argument regarding separation, likely because of his relationship with Nichol.
At the beginning of his affair, he told her that he was already separated from his wife, and was in the process of filing for divorce. As such, he began dating Nichol in July 2018, a month before he would kill his entire family. Nichol said that he was not wearing a wedding band when they met. He told him about his children, but made it seem like his wife was no longer in the picture.
When Nichol found out that Shannan, Bella and Celeste were missing, she went to the police. According to the book Letters from Christopher, his ultimate goal was to be free with Nichol. He believed that she was his soulmate, and even tried to force Shannan's miscarriage to achieve this goal.
"I thought it would be easier to be with Nichol if Shannan wasn't pregnant," he said of his attempt to terminate his wife's pregnancy. He also admitted he had considered killing his wife for weeks before he did it.
And ultimately, he did it. "All the weeks of me thinking about killing her, and now I was faced with it," he said in his letter to Cherlyn Cadle for her book. He said he tried to kill the girls before Shannan, but they woke up, bruised and traumatized. He squeezed his wife jugular until she passed out. "I knew if I took my hands off of her, she would still keep me from Nikki," he said. He said her eyes filled with blood as she stared at her husband, once the love of her life, as she died.
His daughter didn't see him kill Shannan, but she did watch him smother her 3-year-old sister, Celest (Cece). Apparently, her final words were, "Please daddy, don't do to me what you just did to Cece," before he smothered his first-born child to death. "There were signs that she fought for her life," a lawyer said.
Media interest has been renewed in recent months when Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer was released on Netflix. The original hate, and the renewed interest, has resulted in Nichol Kessinger's retreat from the public eye. Reportedly, she was offered witness protection after the trial and she has moved into a new life. People were quick to place blame on her for her passive involvement in the murders. Watts said he regrets that Nichol was pulled into the case in such a way.
This story is one I remember following so well. I still simply cannot understand how a man can stand on national television and plead for the safe return of his family, a family he knew wouldn't come back. I don't understand how one day, he can strangle his wife to death and suffocate his children, dumping their bodies in barrels, and then put on the face of a terrified, devastated husband.
It is believed that his further confession, finally closing the loop on what actually happened was a result of his remorse. A lawyer said that he couldn't get anything from the confession, as he had nothing to trade, so the information likely came from "jailhouse religion" or remorse because he found God.
In some absolutely not-relatable way, I can at least see a semblance of a motive for killing his wife. He told his girlfriend she was out of the picture, he thought the divorce would be messy, he was a terrible person. It is a motive that makes no logical sense to a normal person, but it is at least a motive. But his children? My God. The girlfriend knew about them... wouldn't it seem odd for them to just be gone? They didn't see their mother die, but saw her body. However, they didn't seem to know what was going on. He wanted to be free with Nichol and free of his responsibilities, but again, she knew about them. How was that going to work?
I personally believe he was scared he'd have to raise them alone. If just his wife was missing, perhaps he'd get away with that lie, but then he'd be a single father trying to make it work with Nichol. Even though it made no sense to his story, his children were in his way. They were 3 and 4 years old, and he suffocated them, shoved their bodies into barrels, and buried them.
Chris Watts is a monster, and I feel some sense of relief that he will never see the outside of a prison again, but it doesn't make up for the innocent lives he took. To kill your wife and your 2 young children is a special type of evil that deserves absolutely nothing.
Rest in peace, Shannan, Bella, Celeste and Nico. Rot in prison, Chris Watts.