Watts family murders

Watts family murders
Christopher Lee Watts

(1985-05-16) May 16, 1985 (age 36)
StatusIncarcerated at Dodge Correctional Institution
Shanann Rzucek
(m. 2012; died 2018)
Criminal chargeFour counts of first-degree murder, unlawful termination of a pregnancy, and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body
PenaltyFive life sentences without the possibility of parole, plus 48 years
VictimsShanann (wife), Bella Marie (daughter), Celeste "CeCe" (daughter), Nico (unborn son)
Date apprehended
August 15, 2018

The Watts family murders occurred in Frederick, Colorado, during the early morning hours of August 13, 2018. While being interviewed by police, Christopher Lee Watts (born May 16, 1985)[1] admitted to murdering his pregnant wife Shanann Cathryn Watts (née Rzucek; born January 10, 1984) by strangulation. He later admitted to killing their daughters, four-year-old Bella and three-year-old Celeste, by smothering them with a blanket over their heads. On November 6, 2018, he pleaded guilty to multiple counts of first-degree murder as part of a plea deal when the death penalty (which was later abolished in Colorado in 2020) was removed from sentencing. He was sentenced to five life sentences without the possibility of parole, three to be served consecutively.


Christopher and Shanann were from North Carolina, Christopher from Spring Lake and Shanann from Aberdeen. They met in 2010 and were married in Mecklenburg County on November 3, 2012, according to online records.[2] They had two daughters: Bella Marie Watts (born December 17, 2013) and Celeste Cathryn "CeCe" Watts (born July 17, 2015). The family lived in a five-bedroom home in Frederick, Colorado, which they purchased in 2013,[3] and declared bankruptcy in 2015.[4] Christopher was employed by Anadarko Petroleum, while Shanann worked from home selling a product called Thrive for the multi-level marketing company Le-Vel.[4][5] At the time of her death, she was 15 weeks pregnant with a son who was to be named Nico.[6]


Shanann returned home from a business trip to Arizona at about 1:48 a.m. on August 13, 2018, after being driven home by friend and colleague Nickole Utoft Atkinson. Christopher was home with their daughters.[7] Later that day, Shanann and the girls were reported missing by Atkinson, who became concerned when Shanann missed a scheduled obstetrics and gynaecology appointment and failed to return her text messages. After Shanann missed a business meeting, Atkinson went to the Watts' home at about 12:10 p.m.[8][9] When the doorbell and knocks went unanswered, Atkinson notified Christopher, who was at work, and called the Frederick Police Department. An officer arrived to conduct a welfare check at about 1:40 p.m.[10] During the welfare check, Christopher gave the police officer permission to search the house,[11] where the family dog was discovered unharmed, but no sign of Shanann or the girls was found.[12] The searchers discovered her purse containing her phone and keys.[11] Her car, which still contained the girls' car seats, was in the garage.[13] Shanann's wedding ring was found on the bedside table at Shanann's side of the bed.[11]

The FBI and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation joined the investigation the next day. Christopher initially told police he had no idea where Shanann and the girls might be and had not seen his wife since 5:15 a.m. the previous day, when he left for work.[14] He gave interviews to Denver stations KMGH-TV and KUSA-TV outside the house, pleading for the return of his wife and daughters. Investigators with search dogs could be heard on the property during the interview.[15][16]

Legal proceedings

Arrest and charges

Christopher was arrested late on August 15, 2018. According to the arrest affidavit and footage from a security camera in the interview room, he failed a polygraph test and subsequently confessed to murdering Shanann. He asked to speak to his father before confessing. According to the affidavit, he was having an affair and claimed he asked for a separation from Shanann. During the investigation, he claimed Shanann had strangled the girls in response to his request for separation and that he had then strangled her in a fit of rage and transported the bodies to a remote oil-storage site leased by his employer, Anadarko Petroleum.[17]

Christopher was fired by the company on August 15, the day of his arrest. The authorities located the bodies of the Watts family on the Anadarko Petroleum site on August 16. The girls' bodies were found in crude oil storage tanks, while Shanann was buried in a shallow grave nearby.[18]

On August 21, Christopher 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.[19] He was denied bail at his first court appearance. At a later hearing, his bail was set at $5 million, with him being required to put down 15% to be released.

The case has been connected in the media to the crime of family annihilation (familicide).[20] Many of these crimes occur in August, before school starts, which may delay detection and investigation.[21] According to former FBI profiler Candice DeLong, cases such as the Watts' are rare because "family annihilators usually commit suicide after the murders",[22] an action that Christopher claimed to have contemplated out of guilt for his actions.[23]

In an interview on Dr. Phil, Christopher's lawyer claimed that Christopher confessed to killing Shanann after an argument regarding divorce. During the murder, Bella walked in on the couple. Christopher then told her that Shanann was sick. He loaded Shanann's body and the girls, without their car seats, into the back seat of his work truck. He later smothered the girls, one after the other, with a blanket there.[24]

Plea deal and sentencing

Christopher pleaded guilty to the murders on November 6. 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 his decision to accept the plea deal. On November 19, he 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 Shanann's pregnancy and 36 years for three charges of tampering with a deceased body. His sentence began immediately.[25][26]

On December 3, 2018, Christopher was moved to an out-of-state location due to "security concerns".[27] On December 5, he arrived at Dodge Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in Waupun, Wisconsin, to continue serving his life sentences.[28][29]

Media accounts

On a December 2018 episode of the ABC News series 20/20, Shanann's parents were interviewed for the first time since she and the girls were murdered.[30][31] HLN aired a special report show that same month titled Family Massacre: Chris Watts Exposed, in which footage of Christopher from police body cameras and security cameras in the police station's interview room were revealed. In a recorded interview released by Colorado Bureau of Investigation with Christopher's mistress, Nichol Kessinger, she revealed his behavioral changes in the days prior to the murders.[32][33]

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 Christopher.[34] On a January 2019 episode of the talk show The Dr. Oz Show, commentary is provided on his case by the neighbor who helped build the case against him, who is interviewed in-studio.[35]


On January 26, 2020, Lifetime released a film called Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer as part of its "Ripped from the Headlines" feature film. It stars Sean Kleier as Christopher and Ashley Williams as Shanann.[36] Shanann's family spoke out against the film, stating that they had not been consulted about it and were not aware of its making until it was already in production. They have also said they are not making any money from it and fear that it will only increase the harassment online that they had already been receiving.[14]

On September 30, 2020, Netflix released American Murder: The Family Next Door, a documentary about the murders.[6] The documentary features archival footage including home movies, social media posts, text messages, and law enforcement recordings.[37]

See also


  1. ^ "Chris Watts has 'no hope for his future' after killing wife, kids". New Zealand Herald. May 14, 2020. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  2. ^ "Chris Watts: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Heavy. August 16, 2018. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  3. ^ Swanson, Sady (August 23, 2018). "Christopher Watts and Shanann Watts: Their friends saw a 'perfect' family. What happened?". Fort Collins Coloradoan. USA Today Network. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Colorado family struggled with finances before man allegedly killed pregnant wife, kids". CBS News. August 17, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  5. ^ Foody, Kathleen; Drew, Jonathan (August 17, 2018). "Colorado man arrested as hunt for family leads to body of pregnant wife, possible remains of young daughters". National Post. Frederick, Colorado: Postmedia Network Inc. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  6. ^ a b "American Murder: The Family Next Door | Netflix Official Site". www.netflix.com. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  7. ^ Helling, Steve (September 18, 2018). "Mom & Kids Vanish, Husband Pleads for Help – Then 3 Bodies Turn Up: How Watts Murder Case Unfolded". People. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  8. ^ Oberholzer, Annelene (August 17, 2018). "Man arrested for killing his pregnant wife and daughters, days after pleading for their return". Cape Town: News24. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  9. ^ McDonell-Parry, Amelia (August 21, 2018). "Colorado Man Claims He Killed Pregnant Wife After She Strangled Their Daughters". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  10. ^ "Chris Watts case: Everything to know so far about the alleged murders of his wife, daughters". Atlanta: WGCL-TV. August 17, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  11. ^ a b c MacBeth, Carmen (August 27, 2020). "Chris Watts update: Is he "haunted" by the murder of his family?". Film Daily. Retrieved January 27, 2021.
  12. ^ Agee, Chris (August 7, 2018). "Neighbor says Chris Watts "cared more about the dog" than pregnant wife and 2 toddlers he allegedly killed". Crime Online. Retrieved January 27, 2021.
  13. ^ Bonvillian, Crystal (August 23, 2018). "Shanann Watts' girls may have been dead when she got home, husband's charges show". KIRO-TV. Seattle, WA.
  14. ^ a b WTVD (January 16, 2020). "Shanann Watts' family denounces upcoming Lifetime movie about daughter's murder". ABC11 Raleigh-Durham. Retrieved August 4, 2020.
  15. ^ Low, Rob (August 17, 2018). "The scent of death: Police dogs and the Chris Watts investigation". Denver, Colorado: KDVR.
  16. ^ Miller, Blair (August 21, 2018). "Chris Watts murder case: Everything we know so far about the deaths of his wife, daughters". Frederick, Colorado: KMGH-TV.
  17. ^ "Chris Watts: Wife killed our girls, so I strangled her". Houston: KTRK-TV. August 20, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  18. ^ Swanson, Sady; Coltrain, Nick. "Christopher Watts will serve 3 life sentences for murdering wife Shanann, 2 daughters". Fort Collins Coloradoan. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  19. ^ Park, Madison (August 20, 2018). "Chris Watts case: What we learned from unsealed affidavit". CNN. Cable News Network.
  20. ^ "When people kill close relatives: Explaining 'family annihilators'". ABC News. August 21, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  21. ^ Shapiro, Emily (August 21, 2018). "When people kill close relatives: Explaining 'family annihilators'". ABC News.
  22. ^ "'Chris Watts Is What We Call A Family Annihilator,' Says Former FBI Criminal Profiles". Dr. Phil. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  23. ^ Harfenist, Ethan (March 8, 2019). "Chris Watts Says He Contemplated Suicide After Murdering His Wife And Two Daughters". Oxygen. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  24. ^ "Dr. Phil exclusive: Chris Watts' confession and his daughter's final words". WRAL. March 5, 2019. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
  25. ^ Burke, Minyvonne (November 19, 2018). "Christopher Watts sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing his pregnant wife and young daughters". NBC News. Retrieved November 19, 2018.
  26. ^ McLaughlin, Eliott C.; Murray, Kelly. "Chris Watts sentenced to life for 'inhumane' killings of two daughters and pregnant wife". CNN. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  27. ^ Hatziefstathiou, Nik (December 14, 2018). "Killer Chris Watts Moved To Unknown Prison Due To 'Safety Concerns'". RadarOnline. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  28. ^ Hatziefstathiou, Nik (December 5, 2018). "Final Rotting Place: Chris Watts Arrives At Wisconsin Prison To Serve Life Sentence". RadarOnline. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  29. ^ Anderson, Hannah (December 14, 2018). "NBC15 Investigates: Inmate transfer process, Chris Watts confirmed in WI". Madison, Wisconsin: WMTV. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  30. ^ Carlson, Adam (December 7, 2018). "Chris Watts' In-Laws Didn't Want Him to Go on TV When Family Vanished – but They 'Thank God He Did'". People. Meredith Corporation. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  31. ^ Collman, Ashley (December 7, 2018). "'He didn't give a flying flip': Shannon Watts' mother speaks about how emotionless her daughter's husband was when she was first reported missing". Insider. Insider Inc. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  32. ^ Peltz, Kyle (December 13, 2018). "Chris Watts appears nervous in hours after murder, new video shows". Shreveport, Louisiana: KTBS-TV. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  33. ^ "New evidence released in Chris Watts case". WKTV News. December 14, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  34. ^ "Dr. Phil | TV Guide". TV Guide. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  35. ^ "Dr. Oz to feature episode on Chris Watts case Tuesday afternoon on KOAA 5". Pueblo, Colorado: KOAA-TV. January 15, 2019. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  36. ^ Pederson, Erik. "More 'Ripped From The Headlines' With Nia Vardalos, Lyndsy Fonseca, Kirstie Alley, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Jenn Lyon". Deadline. Archived from the original on December 15, 2019. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
  37. ^ "American Murder The Family Next Door Trailer Released By Netflix: Describes The Story Of The 2018's Watts Family Murders". Moviespie. September 18, 2020. Retrieved September 25, 2020.

Further reading


External links


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