While around half of married couples consider themselves to be happily married, an equal amount do not. With divorce rates estimated to be around the 50 percent mark in the U.S. today, a massive and highly lucrative industry has been created in the form of divorce attorneys.
For one man though, even divorce wasn’t an option. The husband and father-of-two was recently charged with killing his pregnant wife and their two daughters; Bella and her younger sister Celeste.
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Chris Watts had been married to his wife Shanann for some years, and they had two beautiful daughters together. When the girls were just three and four years old, the couple decided it was time to expand the family. Shanann became pregnant with a baby boy just a few months prior to the events of this story, and the future was looking bright for the Watts family.
A friend of Shanann’s grew alarmed when Shanann missed a doctor’s appointment. The close friend was so concerned that she contacted local law enforcement to report her missing even after having double-checked the situation with husband Watts, who claimed he hadn’t seen Shanann or the girls.
The concerned friend, Nickole Atkinson, said she thought Watts had something to do with the girls’ disappearance. Atkinson spoke to reporters about her suspicions. “I knew [Watts] had something to do with it,” she said.
Needed a Friend
“She [Shanann] texted me and said she was going to need a friend now more than ever,” Atkinson said. Shanann had explained to Atkinson that Watts wasn’t being the loving husband that he normally was. He wasn’t touching or hugging or being affectionate. And he wasn’t being as attentive to the girls as he normally was. As far as Atkinson could tell, something had changed in Watts’ behavior.
Atkinson spoke about the problems the couple was having, and how she pieced things together: “Anyone in their right mind will start piecing things together and think something had happened, but you don’t want to go there. You want to believe the best in people,” she said.
When the police arrived at the house, Watts let them into the property claiming he had no idea at all where his wife and daughters were. When the attending officers found Shanann’s purse in the kitchen and a suitcase at the bottom of the stairs, their suspicions were raised.
No Foul Play
After the officers noted that the bed in the Master bedroom had been stripped of linen, they questioned Watts. At the time his answers seemed legitimate, and as there was no sign of foul play at the residence, Watts wasn’t immediately suspected of any wrongdoing. But he later told officers that he and Shanann had been involved in a difficult conversation that morning about marital separation.
According to Watts, he had an “emotional conversation” with his wife before work. As per the affidavit: “Chris stated it was a civil conversation, and they were not arguing but were emotional.” However, during the investigation, officers revealed that Watts admitted to having an affair with another woman.
Watts made a public plea for his wife and daughters to come home. Watts gave an interview to Denver 7 claiming his wife had left him and taken his daughters after their emotional conversation. However, Watts was simply trying to throw police off the trail.
Asking Them to Come Back
Watts later said to the press: “I mean, she wasn’t here. The kids weren’t here. Nobody was here.” He then said: “Shanann, Bella, Celeste: If you’re out there, just come back … if somebody has her, just bring her back. I need to see everybody. … This house is not complete without anybody here.”
It took investigators some time to get down to the truth of the matter. The fact that his pregnant wife and two young daughters were missing had the police extremely worried. As they pushed Watts, he finally broke down and admitted to murdering all three, but had a story as to why.
According to Watts …
Watts said that he had admitted to his wife that he was having an affair and that the couple spoke about separating. According to Watts, Shanann went upstairs to pack her suitcase and then he heard her strangling their two daughters via the baby monitor. At that point, Watts claimed, he went into a rage and rushed upstairs.
In a Rage
According to the affidavit: “[Watts] said he went into a rage and ultimately strangled Shanann to death.” After is when he presumably killed both daughters. “He loaded all three bodies onto the back seat of his work truck.”
Dumped in Oil
Having been employed at Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Watts decided to take the bodies to a job site. After Watts came clean, his dead wife and unborn son were found buried in a shallow grave. At the same time, Watts had dumped his two young daughters inside oil and gas tanks.
Frederick Police Chief, Todd D. Norris, thanked the community for their “overwhelming support” in a letter published recently. He also noted the “emotional roller-coaster” this case had caused for the good men and women of the Frederick Police Department. Norris stated that he was proud of the way all agencies have come together and continued to work as one to achieve justice.
Shanann’s family were understandably shocked and outraged when they heard what had happened. At a press conference, the Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke revealed the charges to be brought against Watts. Frank Rzucek, Shanann’s father, spoke after Rourke.
Rzucek said at the press conference: “We would like to thank everyone in the Frederick Police Department and all the agencies involved for working so hard to find my daughter, granddaughters and [unborn child] Nico. … Thank you everyone for coming out to the candlelight vigil and sending all your prayers. They are greatly appreciated. And keep the prayers coming for our family. Thank you very much.”
Shanann’s brother took to Facebook ahead of the funerals. He explained that the family was struggling to meet the funeral costs and sent out a plea for help. “I’m not one to ask for donations or any kind of money I didn’t earn, but at this time we don’t know how long we will have to be in Colorado or what all we’re supposed to do about this tragedy,” he wrote. “I’m so distraught and in shock with this sickening news. … For all the people who are helping and donating may god bless you for helping a family in need.”
Having raised the necessary funds, the family announced that the funerals were to take place at the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Pinehurst, North Carolina. A spokesperson for the family also confirmed that an obituary for Shanann and her two daughters was published by the Sandhills Sentinel over the weekend.
Chris Watts is facing the full force of the law. Prosecutors will have to decide whether or not they will seek the death penalty. If they don’t pursue it, they will be going for mandatory life in prison without parole. However, Watts, who is now under suicide watch while in custody, will have to wait until his forthcoming court hearing on November 19, to learn his fate.
(Editor’s note December 7, 2018: An earlier version of this story’s headline claimed that Chris Watts, the husband of this story, faced ‘potential capital punishment’ for the murders of his wife and daughters. Since this story was originally written it has been reported that Chris Watts will serve life in prison and will not face the death penalty. The headline has been changed to reflect the update.)