The Watts family homicides occurred on the early morning of August 13, 2018, in Frederick, Colorado. While being interviewed by police, Christopher Lee Watts admitted to killing his pregnant wife Shannan Cathryn Watts by strangulation, which caused the death of their unborn son, Nico. Their daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, died by asphyxiation due to smothering. He then disposed of his daughters’ bodies in oil tanks and buried his wife in a shallow grave at his worksite.
Christopher Lee Watts and Shanann Cathryn Watts (née Rzucek) were natives of Spring Lake and Aberdeen, North Carolina, respectively; they were married in Mecklenburg County, on November 3, 2012, according to online records. They met in 2010. 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; the couple declared bankruptcy in 2015. 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. At the time of her death, she was fifteen weeks pregnant with a baby which they planned to name Nico Lee Watts. Shanann’s due date was January 31, 2019. They were picture perfect as far as anyone could see.. little did they know what was to come next.
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. 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. 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. Chris, who had arrived home from work, talked with the officers and discussed ways to locate his missing family. During the welfare check, Chris gave the police permission to search the house, but none of the family were found. The searchers discovered Shanann’s purse, phone, wedding ring, and keys inside; her car and the children’s car seats were also at the house. Keep in mind he was cool, calm, and collected while helping police look for his family he had just murdered!
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 heard on the property during the interview.
Arrest and charges
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 confessing. According to the affidavit, Watts was having an affair and claimed to have asked for a separation from his wife. 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 a remote oil-storage site where he worked.
The authorities located the bodies of Watts’ family on the property of Watts’ 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. Shanann was buried in a shallow grave nearby.
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.
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. Chris Watts then told his daughter that her mother was sick. He loaded Shannan’s body into the back of his work truck and his daughters without car seats in the back. He smothered both children with a blanket in the back of his truck.
Plea deal and sentencing
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 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.
On December 3, 2018, Watts was moved to an out-of-state location due to “security concerns”. 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.