Watts family homicides

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Watts family homicides
LocationFrederick, Colorado, U.S.
DateAugust 13, 2018
Attack type
Mass murder, Familicide
Deaths4 (including unborn child)
PerpetratorChris Watts

The Watts family homicides occurred on the early morning of August 13, 2018. While being interviewed by the Frederick Police Department, Christopher Lee Watts (born May 16, 1985) admitted to having a five week affair with co-worker Nichol Lee Kessinger, as well as killing his pregnant wife Shanann Cathryn Watts (née Rzucek) (born January 10, 1984) in their home in Colorado, and then smothering their daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, at his job site shortly afterwards. He then disposed of his daughters' bodies in oil tanks and buried his wife in a shallow grave at the job site. Watts pleaded guilty on November 6, 2018, to multiple counts of first-degree murder. 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 Shanann Cathryn Watts (née Rzucek), were natives of Spring Lake and Aberdeen, North Carolina respectively; they were married for six years and had two daughters: Bella Marie Watts (born December 17, 2013) and Celeste Cathryn Watts (born July 17, 2015). The family lived in a five-bedroom home in Frederick, Colorado, purchased in 2013;[1] the couple declared bankruptcy in 2015.[2] Chris Watts was employed by Anadarko Petroleum, while Shanann was an independent representative for the multi-level marketing company Le-vel, selling a product called Thrive.[2] At the time of her death, she was fifteen weeks pregnant with a son they planned to name Niko Lee Watts.[1][3]


Shanann returned home from a business trip to Arizona, 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.[4]

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.[5][6] When the doorbell and knocks went unanswered, Atkinson notified Chris and called the Frederick Police Department. Officers arrived to conduct a welfare check about 1:40 p.m.[7] Chris, who had arrived home from work, talked with the officers and discussed ways to locate his missing family.[8] During the welfare check, Chris had also given the police permission to search the house, which was empty. The police discovered Shanann's purse, phone, wedding ring, and keys inside; her car and the children's car seats were also at the house.[9]

The FBI and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation joined the investigation the next day, August 14. Chris gave an interview to Denver station KMGH-TV outside his house pleading for his family's return. Investigators with cadaver and search dogs could be seen on the property during the interview.[10][11]

Legal proceedings[edit]

Chris Watts
Christopher Lee Watts

(1985-05-16) May 16, 1985 (age 33)
ResidenceFrederick, Colorado
EmployerAnadarko Petroleum (former)
Shanann Rzucek
(m. 2012; died 2018)
ChildrenBella (deceased), Celeste (deceased), and Nico (15-week fetus, 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
Killed4 (including an unborn child)
Date apprehended
August 15, 2018
Imprisoned atDodge Correctional Institution

Arrest and charges[edit]

Watts was arrested late on August 15, 2018. According to the arrest affidavit, Watts failed a polygraph test and subsequently confessed to murdering Shanann. Watts asked to speak to his father before making the confession. According to the affidavit, Watts was having an affair and claimed to have asked for a separation from his wife but lied about it to begin with. During the investigation, Watts 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 an oil site where he worked.[12]

The bodies of Watts' family were located by the authorities on the property of Watts's former employer on August 16. Watts had been fired from his job on August 15, the day of his arrest. The children's bodies were found in oil tanks, while Shanann was buried in a shallow grave nearby.[13]

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.[14]

The case has been connected in the media to the crime of family annihilation.[15] Many of these crimes occur in August, before school starts, which may delay detection and investigation.[16] According to former FBI profiler Candice DeLong, cases such as Chris Watts's are rare, because "family annihilators usually commit suicide after the murders".[17] In an interview with Dr. Phil, Watts's lawyer claimed that Chris confessed to killing Shanann after an argument regarding divorce. During the murder, Bella walked in.[18]

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 Shanann's family who didn't wish for any further deaths. They were supportive of the decision to accept the plea deal. On November 19, Watts was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.[19][20]

On December 3, 2018, Watts was moved to an out-of-state location due to "security concerns".[21] On December 5, 2018, he arrived at the Dodge Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison, in Waupun, Wisconsin, to serve the remainder of his life sentences.[22][23]


The funeral for the victims was held in Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pinehurst, North Carolina.[24] Many of the stuffed animals left at the memorial in front of the Watts home were repurposed by the local fire and police departments for young children in crisis situations.[25]

In other media[edit]

In "The Devil in Disguise", a December 7, 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.[26][27]

HLN (Headline News) aired a special report show titled Family Massacre: Chris Watts Exposed in which police body cam and video recorded police interviews of Chris Watts are revealed. In a newly released Colorado Bureau of Investigation video recorded interview with Watts's mistress, she reveals his behavioral changes in the days prior the murders. It originally aired on December 13, 2018.[28][29]

In "Husband, Father, Murderer: Inside The Chris Watts Case", an 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 Constatine. The experts analyzed the motivation, secret life and profiling of Chris Watts, which aired on December 18, 2018.[30]

In "True Crime Exclusive: The Secret Life of Killer Dad Chris Watts", the January 15, 2019, episode of the talk show The Dr. Oz Show, commentary is provided on the Watts case. The neighbor who helped build the case against Watts is interviewed in-studio.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sady Swanson (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.
  2. ^ a b "Colorado family struggled with finances before man allegedly killed pregnant wife, kids". CBS News. August 17, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Amelia McDonell-Parry (August 21, 2018). "Colorado Man Claims He Killed Pregnant Wife After She Strangled Their Daughters". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  7. ^ "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.
  8. ^ "Video: Police interview Chris Watts after he murdered his family". Daily Mail. YouTube. December 3, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  9. ^ Sady Swanson (August 21, 2018). "Timeline: Key dates in investigation of deaths of Shanann Watts, 2 daughters in Colorado". Fort Collins Coloradoan. USA Today Network. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  10. ^ Rob Low (August 17, 2018). "The scent of death: Police dogs and the Chris Watts investigation". Denver, Colorado: KDVR.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "Chris Watts: Wife killed our girls, so I strangled her". Houston: KTRK-TV. August 20, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  13. ^ Swanson, Sady Swanson; Coltrain, Nick. "Christopher Watts will serve 3 life sentences for murdering wife Shanann, 2 daughters". Fort Collins Coloradoan. Retrieved February 2, 2019.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Madison Park (August 20, 2018). "Chris Watts case: What we learned from unsealed affidavit". CNN. Cable News Network.
  15. ^ News, A. B. C. (August 21, 2018). "When people kill close relatives: Explaining 'family annihilators'". ABC News. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  16. ^ Emily Shapiro (August 21, 2018). "When people kill close relatives: Explaining 'family annihilators'". ABC News.
  17. ^ "'Chris Watts Is What We Call A Family Annihilator,' Says Former FBI Criminal Profiler". Dr. Phil. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  18. ^ WRAL (2019-03-05). "Dr. Phil exclusive: Chris Watts' confession and his daughter's final words :". WRAL.com. Retrieved 2019-03-05.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ 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)
  21. ^ Hatziefstathiou, Nik (December 14, 2018). "Killer Chris Watts Moved To Unknown Prison Due To 'Safety Concerns'". RadarOnline. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  22. ^ Hatziefstathiou, Nik (December 5, 2018). "Final Rotting Place: Chris Watts Arrives At Wisconsin Prison To Serve Life Sentence". RadarOnline. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  23. ^ Anderson, Hannah (December 14, 2018). "NBC15 Investigates: Inmate transfer process, Chris Watts confirmed in WI". Madison, Wisconsin: WMTV. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  24. ^ Hanna, Jason (September 1, 2018). "Shanann Watts and her daughters are mourned at their funeral". CNN. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  25. ^ Jennifer Kovaleski; Miller, Blair (August 24, 2018). "Man leading effort to repurpose stuffed animals from Watts memorial after meeting Shanann's father". KZCO-LD. Retrieved February 2, 2019.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  26. ^ Carlson, Adam (December 7, 2018). "Chris Watts's 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': Shanann Watts's 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.

External links[edit]