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The Tragic Murders by Christopher Lee Watts: A Case That Shocked the Nation
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In August 2018, Christopher Lee Watts murdered his pregnant wife Shanann and their two young daughters, Bella and Celeste, in Frederick, Colorado. The shocking crime, which Watts initially denied involvement in before confessing, garnered national attention and was the subject of the Netflix documentary "American Murder: The Family Next Door".

 

The Watts Family Background: Tracing Their Story Before the Tragedy

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Christopher Lee Watts and Shanann Cathryn Rzucek met in North Carolina in 2010 through a Facebook friend request. Christopher was from Spring Lake, while Shanann was from Aberdeen. They married on November 3, 2012 in Mecklenburg County. The couple had two daughters - Bella Marie Watts (born December 17, 2013) and Celeste Cathryn "CeCe" Watts (born July 17, 2015). At the time of the murders in August 2018, Shanann was 15 weeks pregnant with a son they planned to name Nico. The Watts family resided in a five-bedroom home at 2825 Saratoga Trail in Frederick, Colorado, which they purchased in 2013 after moving from North Carolina. Despite Christopher's employment with Anadarko Petroleum and Shanann's work selling nutrition supplements, the family had filed for bankruptcy in 2015 due to a combined $70,000 in unsecured debt on top of mortgages and loans. On the surface, the Watts clan appeared to be a typical happy American family frequently documented on Shanann's social media accounts. However, unbeknownst to most, Chris Watts had been engaged in a secret affair in the months prior and was exploring options to leave his wife, setting the stage for the brutal killings that would soon transpire.
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Watts Family Murders Details

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In the early morning hours of August 13, 2018, Chris Watts strangled his pregnant wife Shanann to death in their Frederick, Colorado home after an argument about separating. Watts then drove with Shanann's body to a remote oil site where he worked for Anadarko Petroleum. There, he smothered his two daughters, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste, one after the other. He buried Shanann's body in a shallow grave and dumped the girls' bodies into separate crude oil tanks. In his eventual confession, Watts provided chilling details of how he killed his family. He claimed Shanann had told him he would never see the kids again after he admitted not loving her, prompting him to strangle her in a rage. Watts said he loaded all three bodies into his truck, with the girls' bodies on the truck's bench seat. At the oil site, Watts recalled smothering Celeste first while Bella watched, then smothering Bella next inside the truck. He described the horrific act as if he had an "out-of-body experience," stating "I didn't want to do this, but I did it." The murders sent shockwaves through the Frederick community and around the world. Watts initially lied to police, claiming he had no idea what happened to his family after Shanann allegedly took the girls and left. However, he failed a polygraph test, and surveillance footage showed him backing his truck into the garage after Shanann arrived home, contradicting his story. Faced with mounting evidence, Watts eventually confessed to killing his entire family.
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Chris Watts' Deception and Confession

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Initially, Chris Watts lied to everyone, including law enforcement and the media, claiming he had no idea what happened to his pregnant wife Shanann and their two young daughters after they went missing. He made public pleas for their safe return and feigned concern over their disappearance. However, Watts soon failed a polygraph test administered by investigators, and surveillance footage contradicted his story by showing him backing his truck into the garage after Shanann arrived home that morning. Faced with mounting evidence, Watts eventually confessed to killing Shanann, but he initially claimed she had strangled their daughters Bella and Celeste first after he told her he wanted to separate. This was proven false when Watts later provided a full confession, admitting he killed his entire family after Shanann threatened to leave and never let him see the children again following his admission of no longer loving her. Watts revealed disturbing details of smothering Celeste while Bella watched, then smothering Bella next, before disposing of their bodies in crude oil tanks.
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Public Outrage and Sentencing

The murders of Shanann, Bella, and Celeste Watts sparked immense public outrage and garnered intense media scrutiny. People were horrified that Chris Watts could commit such heinous acts against his own pregnant wife and young daughters. In November 2018, Watts pleaded guilty to multiple counts of first-degree murder, unlawful termination of a pregnancy, and tampering with a deceased human body to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to five life sentences plus 84 years in prison without the possibility of parole. During the sentencing hearing, Shanann's family members delivered powerful victim impact statements condemning Watts as a "monster" and an "evil" person for his unforgivable crimes against their loved ones. Shanann's father described Watts as "a heartless monster" who deserved the maximum punishment. Her mother stated, "I have no more words to say to a murderer like you. You don't deserve them." The emotional statements highlighted the immense grief and anger felt by Shanann's loved ones over the loss of her and her daughters at the hands of the man who pledged to protect them.
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Watts' Chilling Prison Confession

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In a shocking prison confession, Chris Watts revealed disturbing new details about the murders of his pregnant wife Shanann and their two young daughters, Bella and Celeste. Speaking to investigators from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and FBI in February 2019, Watts admitted to smothering both girls after strangling Shanann and dumping her body at an oil site where he worked. Watts described how his eldest daughter Bella, 4, walked in on him wrapping Shanann's body in a sheet and asked, "What are you doing with Mommy?" He then loaded Shanann's body and the still-living girls into his truck, driving them to the oil site. There, Watts smothered Celeste, 3, with her favorite blanket as a traumatized Bella watched from the truck. Shockingly, after Watts returned from disposing of Celeste's body in an oil tank, Bella asked him in her final words, "Is the same thing gonna happen to me as Cece?" Watts then smothered Bella, who fought back, with the same blanket before dumping her in a separate oil tank. The killer dad told investigators he hears his eldest daughter's heartbreaking last words every day. "I hear it every day, when Bella was talking to me," Watts said. "When she said, 'Daddy, no!'" The chilling confession provided a glimpse into the unimaginable horror Bella witnessed in her final moments at the hands of her father. Watts' confession left even hardened investigators stunned at the brutality of his actions. The case garnered immense public outrage, with people horrified that a father could so callously murder his own children. Watts' own attorneys would later describe him as "the most hated man in America" for his heinous crimes against his family. The shocking details of the murders, as confessed by Watts himself, only solidified his reputation as a "heartless monster" and "evil" killer who will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
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The Watts Family (Photos)

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Chris Watts's Infidelity: A Key Factor in the Tragic Murders

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Chris Watts was having an affair with a coworker in the months leading up to the murders, which prosecutors cited as a potential motive for wanting to start a new life without his family. While Shanann attempted to repair their marriage, sending self-help books and pleading with Chris via text, he was making secretive plans with his mistress, including shopping for jewelry and looking at secluded vacation spots. The mistress initially deleted evidence of their communication from her phone before speaking to authorities. Investigators also pointed to financial struggles and marital problems as possible contributing factors. In the weeks before the killings, Watts had made calls about selling the family home and unenrolling the children from school. Prosecutors stated Watts "slowly took" Shanann's life, contradicting his claim of killing in a rage, suggesting premeditation. Overall, Watts' desire to be free of his family obligations to pursue a new relationship appeared to be the primary motive behind the calculated murders.
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Psychological Profile of Chris Watts

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Chris Watts exhibited some characteristics of psychopathy, such as superficial charm, lack of empathy, and poor behavioral controls, but experts disagree on whether he meets the full criteria for the disorder. He also showed signs of both grandiose and vulnerable narcissism, including being callous, unemotional, hypersensitive to criticism, and prone to anger. Watts' ability to maintain a "nice guy" persona while harboring resentment and rage suggests an emotionally inadequate man who bottled up his feelings until he snapped, rather than a true psychopath, according to forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes.
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The Role of Social Media in the Case

The Watts family's social media presence painted a picture of a happy, loving household, making the murders even more shocking to the public. Investigators carefully examined Shanann Watts' social media posts, which frequently praised her husband, and compared them to interviews with family and friends to gain insight into the couple's true relationship. Some have pointed out that the case highlights how social media allows people to curate an idealized image that may hide a much darker reality. Despite the seemingly perfect family life portrayed online, Chris Watts was secretly harboring thoughts that led him to brutally murder his wife and children.
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Netflix Documentary Archival Footage

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In 2020, Netflix released the documentary "American Murder: The Family Next Door" directed by Jenny Popplewell, which examined the Watts family murders using raw archival footage. The film employed a unique approach, utilizing social media posts, law enforcement recordings, text messages, and home videos to depict the events without any present-day interviews. It played out in a found-footage style, not revealing until midway that Chris Watts had killed his family, interspersing his interviews with those of friends, family, and his mistress. The documentary explored potential motives and public theories surrounding the murders. Despite its unconventional structure, the film garnered praise for its immersive and chilling portrayal of the case, becoming Netflix's most-watched documentary at the time with 52 million households viewing it in the first month.
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American Murder: The Family Next Door (Trailer)

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Watch

 

Closing Thoughts

Chris Watts is currently serving five life sentences plus 84 years in prison without the possibility of parole at Dodge Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in Waupun, Wisconsin. He was transferred there from Colorado due to security concerns as a high-profile offender. Watts spends 23 hours a day in lockdown, with one hour allotted for showers or exercise. He reportedly found religion in prison and reads scriptures to photos of his slain wife and daughters that he keeps in his cell. Despite his crimes, Watts receives letters from female pen pals, with one even claiming he shared disturbing details of how he planned the murders. The horrific case and Watts' shocking confession sent shockwaves across the nation, forever branding him as a "heartless monster" and "killer dad" who brutally murdered his pregnant wife and two innocent daughters.
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