The following content contains disturbing accounts of violence. Discretion is advised.
Christopher Lee Watts, 33, seemed to have it all. His wife, Shanann, was 15 weeks pregnant with their third child: a son they planned to name “Niko.” They were the proud parents of two young daughters: Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3. They owned a five-bedroom homein Frederick, Colorado near Denver, and Watts had a stable job at Anadarko Petroleum.
So how did Chris Watts end up where he is today, serving three life sentences without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty on November 6, 2018 to killing his wife and children last August? How did Shanann’s half-dressed corpse wind up buried in a shallow grave at Watts’ job site; the bodies of her daughters stuffed in two hulking tanks of oil?
On August 16—three days after the triple murder—the bodies of Shanann, Bella and Celeste were uncovered at Anadarko. Watts was arrested, but not before elaborately pretending he had no idea where his family was, begging on TV for their safe return home.
During Watts’ police interrogation, he failed a polygraph test. He later confessed to strangling his wife and burying her body, as well as dumping his daughters’ bodies in the tanks of oil. Claiming he killed Shanann in a fit of rage after he caught her attacking their daughters, Watts said he had told Shanann, during an “emotional conversation,” that he wanted a separation. He said she lashed out at the kids in revenge.
But the evidence was not on Watts’ side. He was charged with all three murders, as well as with unlawful termination of a pregnancy. He took a plea deal to avoid the death penalty, and was sentenced to life in prison. During his November sentencing, prosecutors revealed the girls had been smothered, while Shanann had been strangled. It appears to have happened as they slept.
[Watch Beyond the Headlines: The Watts Family Tragedy on A&E Crime Central.]
But why? Laura Richards, criminal behavioral analyst, domestic violence expert and co-host of the podcast “Real Crime Profile,” says, “When I was analyzing Shanann’s [Facebook] messages, it was always [about him]: ‘I’m so lucky to have you. You stuck with me. The girls are so lucky to have you.’ My analysis is that he felt less than.”
Richards continues, “He was a good-looking guy. People believe him because of the way that he looks, and Shanann is not alive to tell her story. He changed his story not once [or] twice, but three times. Why is it so unbelievable that Chris Watts could do this?”
On November 21, the Weld County District Attorney released a 2,000-page document known as the discovery (i.e., the prosecution’s evidence against Watts). The file contained a massive trove of surveillance photos, search warrants, FBI interviews, text messages, call logs and police interviews with friends and family of Shanann and Chris Watts.
Here are some of the most shocking details that have been revealed since the discovery was released. (Additional materials have emerged since the initial release.)
Watts was having an affair with a co-worker when he killed his family
In June 2018, while Shanann was on an extended trip to visit her family in North Carolina, Chris Watts struck up an illicit relationship with a colleague at his workplace. Nichol Kessinger, 30, described their relationship in a series of police interviews (many of which can be viewed on YouTube).
Kessinger deleted Watts’ contact info—as well as their texts and call logs—from her phone before contacting local police to disclose their affair. Still, relics from their relationship can be found in the discovery, including texts, love letters, phone logs and photos of the two together on overnight trips. (They used an app called Secret Calculator to send each other nude selfies, private messages and more.)
Though Kessinger, who has not been charged with a crime, says she and Chris only dated for about two months, they had reportedly exchanged “I love you’s.” Kessinger told police she knew Chris was married with kids, but that he’d told her that he was in the final stages of separating from his wife.
Watts is rumored to have had other extramarital encounters as well, but those have not been verified. A male escort came forward to say he’d had a 10-month affair with Watts, and another woman claimed to have had a Tinder date (involving rough sex) with him.
Nichol Kessinger was googling ‘Shanann Watts’ and more
Though she claimed she didn’t know that Watts was married when Kessinger first began seeing him, the discovery shows that she Googled “Shanann Watts” in September 2017—more than a year before the start of her affair. However, a records supervisor at the Frederick Police Department told CrimeOnline that this was a typo; it was reportedly supposed to read “September 2018.”
Kessinger also conducted Google searches involving “anal sex,” wedding dresses and “Do people hate Amber Frey?,” as well as phrases about Frey’s net worth and book deal. (Frey was the mistress of Scott Peterson, who was convicted of killing his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, in 2004).
After the Watts’ murders but before the bodies had been discovered, Kessinger began searching for news about Shanann’s disappearance (she deleted these searches afterward), as well as searching for phrases like, “can cops trace text messages.”
For his part, on July 25, Watts Googled, “When to say I love you,” “When to say I love you for the first time in a new relationship,” “What do you feel when someone tells you they love you,” “How does it feel when someone says I love you?”
Shanann fought to save her marriage
While she visited family in North Carolina, Shanann Watts was also reaching out to her husband, acknowledging the emotional distance she felt building between them.
In July, she texted Watts, “l rcalized lduringl [sic] this trip what’s missing in our relationship! lt’s only one way emotions and feelings. … You don’t consider others at all, nor think about others feelings. l try to give you space, but while you are working and living the bachelor life l’m carrying our 3rd and fighting with our two kids daily and trying to work and make money.”
In August, Shanann angrily texted her husband regarding an incident that had occurred with Watts’ mother. Watts replied, “These kiddos are the light of my life and seeing their sweet, incredible smiles and playfulness makes me smile every day. l’m sorry for the way l’ve been acting, it’s just been in my head and I haven’t been right at all.”
Soon after that, Shanann again begged Chris for reassurance: “lf you are done, don’t love me, don’t want to work this out, not happy anymore and only staying because of kids, I NEED you to tell me.”
He told her he wasn’t only staying because of the kids, writing, “They are my light and that will not change. … I don’t want to erase 8 years just like that. l’m not sure what’s in my head. I don’t know if it’s my parents, the third pregnancy, if l’m.iust [sic] scared or what.”
Shanann confessed to girlfriends she suspected Chris was having an affair, and that she intended to “fight for full custody” of their kids if they divorced. She also ordered a relationship book entitled Hold Me Tight from Amazon, which Chris subsequently threw in the garbage without opening.
Chris pulled the girls out of school on the day of the murders
On August 13, the day of the murders (Watts is believed to have killed his family in the early morning), the discovery shows that Watts called his daughters’ school, Primrose. He told an administrator that the kids would no longer be attending there. He also called a realtor named Ann Meadows with the intention of selling the family home and downgrading to something smaller. When she suggested an option for him to check out, he said he would drive past it on his way home from work that day.
Chris has been getting heaps of fan mail in prison
One of the more disturbing elements of the discovery is the pile of fan letters (and occasional hate missives) Watts has received since landing in prison. Police noted, “The letters consisted of personal letters from people asking to be pen pals, some media requests and a couple of hate mails. Nothing of evidentiary value can be drawn from the correspondence.”
But the missives are fascinating for what they reveal about human behavior—and our obsession with all things crime. For example, one woman, who says she is serving a 13-year sentence for a “high-profile” financial crime, writes to Watts, “…I feel this connection to you…because the coverage and assumptions of you and your case make me irritated for you.” She then describes her height, weight and body type.
Another woman sends a bikini shot.