Watts family murders

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Watts family murders
LocationFrederick, Colorado, U.S.
DateAugust 13, 2018; 2 years ago (2018-08-13)
PerpetratorChris Watts
ConvictionsFive counts of first-degree murder, for killing his pregnant wife and daughters, and other lesser charges

The Watts family murders occurred in the early morning hours of August 13, 2018, in Frederick, Colorado, U.S. While being interviewed by police, Christopher Lee Watts (born May 16, 1985) admitted to killing 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. 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 Shanann 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). They lived in a five-bedroom home in Frederick, Colorado, purchased in 2013,[2] and they declared bankruptcy in 2015.[3] Chris was employed by Anadarko Petroleum, while Shanann was an independent representative for the multi-level marketing company Le-Vel,[4] selling a product called Thrive.[3] At the time of her death, she was 15 weeks pregnant with a son whom they had named Nico Lee Watts.[5]


Shanann returned home from a business trip to Arizona at about 1:48 am on August 13, 2018, after being driven home by her friend and colleague, Nickole Utoft Atkinson. Chris was home with the girls.[6] Later that day, Shanann and the girls were reported missing by Atkinson, who became concerned when Shanann missed a scheduled OB-GYN appointment and failed to return text messages. After she missed a business meeting, Atkinson went to the Watts' home at about 12:10 pm.[7][8] When the doorbell and knocks went unanswered, Atkinson notified Chris, who was at work, and called the Frederick Police Department. An officer arrived to conduct a welfare check at about 1:40 pm.[9] Chris arrived home and talked with the officer and discussed ways to locate his missing family.[10] During the welfare check, he gave the police officer permission to search the house but there was no sign of Shanann or the girls. The searchers discovered her purse containing her phone and keys. Her car, which still contained the girls' car seats, was in the garage. Her wedding ring was found on the master bed.[11]

The FBI and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation joined the investigation the next day, August 14. Chris initially told police he had no idea where Shanann, Bella, or Celeste might be and had not seen his wife since 5:15 am on the 13th, when he left for work.[12] He gave interviews to Denver stations KMGH-TV and KUSA-TV outside the house pleading for their return. Investigators with cadaver and search dogs could be heard on the property during the interview.[13][14]

Legal proceedings[edit]

Chris Watts
Christopher Lee Watts

(1985-05-16) May 16, 1985 (age 35)
StatusIncarcerated at Dodge Correctional Institution
EmployerAnadarko Petroleum (former)
Shanann Cathryn Watts (born Rzucek)
(m. 2012; died 2018)
ChildrenBella (deceased), Celeste (deceased), and Nico (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]

Watts was arrested late on August 15, 2018. According to the arrest affidavit, 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 she had strangled the girls in response to his request for separation and in a fit of rage, he strangled her and then transported the bodies to a remote oil-storage site where he worked.[15]

The authorities located the bodies of the Watts family on the property of his former employer, Anadarko Petroleum, on August 16. He was fired on August 15, the day of his arrest. The girls' bodies were found hidden in oil tanks. Shanann was buried in a shallow grave nearby.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18] Many of these crimes occur in August, before school starts, which may delay detection and investigation.[19] According to former FBI profiler Candice DeLong, cases such as Watts' are rare, because "family annihilators usually commit suicide after the murders,"[20] an action that he claimed to have contemplated out of guilt for his actions.[21]

In an interview on Dr. Phil, Watts's lawyer claimed that he confessed to killing Shanann after an argument regarding divorce. During the murder, Bella walked in. He 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. Later he smothered them, one after the other, with a blanket there.[22]

Plea deal and sentencing[edit]

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 did not wish for any further deaths. They were supportive of the 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. After this, he had his $5 million bail revoked, and was immediately remanded to custody.[23][24]

On December 3, 2018, Watts was moved to an out-of-state location due to "security concerns".[25] On December 5, 2018, he arrived at the Dodge Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison, in Waupun, Wisconsin, to continue serving his life sentences.[26][27]

Media accounts[edit]

On a December 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 her and the girls' murders.[28][29] 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 Watts were revealed. In a released Colorado Bureau of Investigation video-recorded interview with his mistress, Nichol Kessinger, she revealed his behavioral changes in the days prior to the murders.[30][31]

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 Watts.[32] 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.[33]


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 Chris and Ashley Williams as Shanann.[34] Shanann's family spoke out against it. They said the family had not been consulted about it, and were not aware of its making until it was already in production. They have 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.[12]

On September 30, 2020, Netflix released American Murder: The Family Next Door, a documentary about the Watts family murders.[5] The documentary features archival footage including home movies, social media posts, text messages and law enforcement recordings.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chris Watts: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Heavy. August 16, 2018. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  2. ^ 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.
  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. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b "American Murder: The Family Next Door | Netflix Official Site". www.netflix.com. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ McDonell-Parry, Amelia (August 21, 2018). "Colorado Man Claims He Killed Pregnant Wife After She Strangled Their Daughters". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  9. ^ "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.
  10. ^ "Video: Police interview Chris Watts after he murdered his family". Daily Mail. YouTube. December 3, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  11. ^ Swanson, Sady (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.
  12. ^ a b WTVD (January 16, 2020). "Shanann Watts' family denounces upcoming Lifetime movie about daughter's murder". ABC11 Raleigh-Durham. Retrieved August 4, 2020.
  13. ^ Low, Rob (August 17, 2018). "The scent of death: Police dogs and the Chris Watts investigation". Denver, Colorado: KDVR.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "Chris Watts: Wife killed our girls, so I strangled her". Houston: KTRK-TV. August 20, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  16. ^ Swanson, Sady; Coltrain, Nick. "Christopher Watts will serve 3 life sentences for murdering wife Shanann, 2 daughters". Fort Collins Coloradoan. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  17. ^ Park, Madison (August 20, 2018). "Chris Watts case: What we learned from unsealed affidavit". CNN. Cable News Network.
  18. ^ "When people kill close relatives: Explaining 'family annihilators'". ABC News. August 21, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  19. ^ Shapiro, Emily (August 21, 2018). "When people kill close relatives: Explaining 'family annihilators'". ABC News.
  20. ^ "'Chris Watts Is What We Call A Family Annihilator,' Says Former FBI Criminal Profiles". Dr. Phil. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  21. ^ Harfenist, Ethan (March 8, 2019). "Chris Watts Says He Contemplated Suicide After Murdering His Wife And Two Daughters". Oxygen. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  22. ^ "Dr. Phil exclusive: Chris Watts' confession and his daughter's final words". WRAL. March 5, 2019. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ McLaughlin, Eliott C.; Murray, Kelly. "Chris Watts sentenced to life for 'inhumane' killings of two daughters and pregnant wife". CNN. Retrieved February 2, 2019. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |1= (help)
  25. ^ Hatziefstathiou, Nik (December 14, 2018). "Killer Chris Watts Moved To Unknown Prison Due To 'Safety Concerns'". RadarOnline. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  26. ^ Hatziefstathiou, Nik (December 5, 2018). "Final Rotting Place: Chris Watts Arrives At Wisconsin Prison To Serve Life Sentence". RadarOnline. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  27. ^ Anderson, Hannah (December 14, 2018). "NBC15 Investigates: Inmate transfer process, Chris Watts confirmed in WI". Madison, Wisconsin: WMTV. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ Peltz, Kyle (December 13, 2018). "Chris Watts appears nervous in hours after murder, new video shows". Shreveport, Louisiana: KTBS-TV. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  31. ^ "New evidence released in Chris Watts case". WKTV News. December 14, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  32. ^ "Dr. Phil | TV Guide". TV Guide. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  33. ^ "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.
  34. ^ 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.
  35. ^ "American Murder The Family Next Door Trailer Released By Netflix: Describes The Story Of The 2018's Watts Family Murders". Moviespie. 18 September 2020. Retrieved 25 September 2020.

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