Watts family murders

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Watts family murders
LocationFrederick, Colorado, U.S.
DateAugust 13, 2018
PerpetratorChris Watts
ConvictionsFive counts of first-degree murder, for killing his wife and daughters, and other lesser charges

The Watts family murders occurred on the early morning of August 13, 2018, in Frederick, Colorado, US. While being interviewed by police, Christopher Lee Watts (born May 16, 1985) admitted to killing his pregnant wife Shan'ann Cathryn Watts (née Rzucek, born January 10, 1984) by strangulation. Their daughters, four-year-old Bella, and three-year-old Celeste, died by asphyxiation due to smothering. Watts then disposed of his daughters' bodies in oil tanks and buried his wife in a shallow grave at his work-site. He pleaded guilty on November 6, 2018, to multiple counts of first-degree murder as part of a plea deal when the death penalty was removed from sentencing. He was sentenced to five life sentences without the possibility of parole, three to be served consecutively and two to be served concurrently.


Christopher Lee Watts and Shan'ann Cathryn Watts were natives of Spring Lake and Aberdeen, North Carolina, respectively. They met in 2010, and were married in Mecklenburg County on November 3, 2012, according to online records.[1] 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, purchased in 2013;[2] the couple declared bankruptcy in 2015.[3] Chris Watts was employed by Anadarko Petroleum, while Shan'ann was an independent representative for the multi-level marketing company Le-vel, selling a product called Thrive.[3] At the time of her death, she was fifteen weeks pregnant with a child which they planned to name Niko Lee Watts; her due date was January 31, 2019.[2][4]


Shan'ann returned home from a business trip to Arizona at about 1:48 a.m. on August 13, 2018, having received a ride from friend and colleague Nickole Utoft Atkinson. Chris was home with the children.[5] Later that day, Shan'ann and the two children were reported missing by Atkinson, who had become concerned when Shan'ann missed a scheduled OB-GYN appointment and failed to return text messages. After Shan'ann missed a business meeting, Atkinson went to the Watts' home at approximately 12:10 p.m.[6][7] When the doorbell and knocks went unanswered, Atkinson notified Chris and called the Frederick Police Department. Officers arrived to conduct a welfare check at about 1:40 p.m.[8] Chris, who had arrived home from work, talked with the officers and discussed ways to locate his missing family.[9] During the welfare check, he gave the police permission to search the house, but none of the family was found. The searchers discovered Shan'ann's purse containing her phone, wedding ring and keys. Her car, which still contained the children's car seats, was in the garage.[10]

The FBI and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation joined the investigation the next day, August 14. Chris gave interviews to Denver stations KMGH-TV and KUSA-TV outside his house pleading for his family's return. Investigators with cadaver and search dogs could be heard on the property during the interview.[11][12]

Legal proceedings[edit]

Christopher Watts
Christopher Lee Watts

(1985-05-16) May 16, 1985 (age 34)
StatusIncarcerated at Dodge Correctional Institution
EmployerAnadarko Petroleum (former)
Shan'Ann Watts (Rzucek)
(m. 2012; died 2018)
ChildrenBella (deceased), Celeste (deceased), and Niko (15-week, fetal death)
Criminal chargeFive 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 84 years
Date apprehended
August 15, 2018

Arrest and charges[edit]

Chris Watts was arrested late on August 15, 2018. According to the arrest affidavit, Watts failed a polygraph test and subsequently confessed to murdering Shan'ann. He asked to speak to his father before confessing. According to the affidavit, Watts was having an affair and claimed to have asked for a separation from his wife. During the investigation, he claimed Shan'ann 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.[13]

The authorities located the bodies of Watts' family on the property of his former employer, Anadarko Petroleum, on August 16. Watts had been fired from his job on August 15, the day of his arrest. The children's bodies were found hidden in the oil tanks. Shan'ann was buried in a shallow grave nearby.[14]

On August 21, Watts 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.[15]

The case has been connected in the media to the crime of family annihilation.[16] Many of these crimes occur in August, before school starts, which may delay detection and investigation.[17] According to former FBI profiler Candice DeLong, cases such as Chris Watts' are rare, because "family annihilators usually commit suicide after the murders,"[18] an action that Watts claimed to have contemplated out of guilt for his actions.[19] Also, Watts had a new girlfriend, that he was very excited about, on the side.

In an interview with Dr. Phil, Watts' lawyer claimed that he confessed to killing Shan'ann after an argument regarding divorce. During the murder, Bella walked in. Watts then told his daughter that her mother was sick. He loaded Shan'ann's body into the back of his work truck and his daughters without car seats in the back. Later he smothered both children, one after the other, with a blanket in the back seat of his truck.[20] Chris later confessed in a letter to Cheryln Cadle (published in her book, Letters from Christopher) that he attempted to smother his daughters first, however after doing so and proceeding to Shan'ann, his daughters awoke from unconsciousness and discovered him with Shan'ann wrapped in a sheet, at which point he told them that she "was sick".

Plea deal and sentencing[edit]

Chris Watts pleaded guilty to the murders on November 6. The death penalty was not put forward by the district attorney on the request of Shan'ann's family who did not wish for any further deaths. They were supportive of the decision to accept the plea deal. On November 19, 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.[21][22]

On December 3, 2018, Watts was moved to an out-of-state location due to "security concerns".[23] On December 5, 2018, he arrived at the Dodge Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison, in Waupun, Wisconsin, to continue serving his life sentences.[24][25]

Media accounts[edit]

On a December 2018 episode of the ABC News television news magazine 20/20, Shan'ann's parents, Frank and Sandra Rzucek, were interviewed for the first time since their daughter and granddaughters' murders.[26][27]

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 Kessinger, she revealed his behavioral changes in the days prior to the murders.[28][29]

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.[30]

On a January 2019 episode of the talk show The Dr. Oz Show, commentary is provided on the Watts case by the neighbor who helped build the case against Watts, who is interviewed in-studio.[31]


On January 26, 2020, Lifetime released a film called Chris Watts: Confession of a Killer as part of its "Ripped from the Headlines" feature film. The film stars Sean Kleier as Chris Watts and Ashley Williams as Shan'ann Watts.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chris Watts: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Heavy. August 16, 2018. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Sady Swanson (August 23, 2018). "Christopher Watts and Shannnon Watts: Their friends saw a 'perfect' family. What happened?". Fort Collins Coloradoan. USA Today Network. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Colorado family struggled with finances before man allegedly killed pregnant wife, kids". CBS News. August 17, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  4. ^ Kathleen Foody; Jonathan Drew (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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Annelene Oberholzer (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.
  7. ^ Amelia McDonell-Parry (August 21, 2018). "Colorado Man Claims He Killed Pregnant Wife After She Strangled Their Daughters". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  8. ^ "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.
  9. ^ "Video: Police interview Chris Watts after he murdered his family". Daily Mail. YouTube. December 3, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  10. ^ Sady Swanson (August 21, 2018). "Timeline: Key dates in investigation of deaths of Shannon Watts, 2 daughters in Colorado". Fort Collins Coloradoan. USA Today Network. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  11. ^ Rob Low (August 17, 2018). "The scent of death: Police dogs and the Chris Watts investigation". Denver, Colorado: KDVR.
  12. ^ Blair Miller (August 21, 2018). "Chris Watts murder case: Everything we know so far about the deaths of his wife, daughters". Frederick, Colorado: KMGH-TV.
  13. ^ "Chris Watts: Wife killed our girls, so I strangled her". Houston: KTRK-TV. August 20, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  14. ^ Swanson, Sady Swanson; Coltrain, Nick. "Christopher Watts will serve 3 life sentences for murdering wife Shannon, 2 daughters". Fort Collins Coloradoan. Retrieved February 2, 2019.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Madison Park (August 20, 2018). "Chris Watts case: What we learned from unsealed affidavit". CNN. Cable News Network.
  16. ^ News, A. B. C. (August 21, 2018). "When people kill close relatives: Explaining 'family annihilators'". ABC News. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  17. ^ Emily Shapiro (August 21, 2018). "When people kill close relatives: Explaining 'family annihilators'". ABC News.
  18. ^ "'Chris Watts Is What We Call A Family Annihilator,' Says Former FBI Criminal Profiles". Dr. Phil. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  19. ^ Harfenist, Ethan (March 8, 2019). "Chris Watts Says He Contemplated Suicide After Murdering His Wife And Two Daughters". Oxygen. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  20. ^ "Dr. Phil exclusive: Chris Watts' confession and his daughter's final words". WRAL.com. March 5, 2019. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ McLaughlin, Eliott C.; Murray, Kelly. "Chris Watts sentenced to life for 'inhumane' killings of two daughters and pregnant wife". CNN. Retrieved February 2, 2019.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  23. ^ Hatziefstathiou, Nik (December 14, 2018). "Killer Chris Watts Moved To Unknown Prison Due To 'Safety Concerns'". RadarOnline. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  24. ^ Hatziefstathiou, Nik (December 5, 2018). "Final Rotting Place: Chris Watts Arrives At Wisconsin Prison To Serve Life Sentence". RadarOnline. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  25. ^ Anderson, Hannah (December 14, 2018). "NBC15 Investigates: Inmate transfer process, Chris Watts confirmed in WI". Madison, Wisconsin: WMTV. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ Peltz, Kyle (December 13, 2018). "Chris Watts appears nervous in hours after murder, new video shows". Shreveport, Louisiana: KTBS-TV. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  29. ^ "New evidence released in Chris Watts case". WKTV News. December 14, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  30. ^ "Dr. Phil | TV Guide". TV Guide. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  31. ^ "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.
  32. ^ Pederson, Erik. "More 'Ripped From The Headlines' Pics Set At Lifetime With Nia Vardalos, Lyndsy Fonseca, Kirstie Alley, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Jenn Lyon". Deadline. Archived from the original on December 15, 2019. Retrieved 2019-12-15.

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