Chris Watts was a suspect in the murder of his pregnant wife and two children for all of 48 hours before he confessed to killing his family. He confessed pretty much immediately and the investigation changed from figuring out what happened to Shanann and her kids to just gathering enough information to ensure Chris would be convicted. I’m not the only true crime fan who thinks there’s something not right about this case.
I’m glad that Chris is in jail, by all accounts he deserves to be. But I’m not convinced he acted alone. There may still be more justice that needs to be delivered in this case. Here’s what we know about family annihilators and what Chris has said himself motivated him to do something so evil:
General psychology of family annihilators
A family annihilator is someone who kills the members of their own family in a short time period. When we hear about shootings or other mass murder situations, we generally think about a lone gunman attacking a group of strangers. However, over half of mass murders are committed by someone in the victim’s immediate family. As absolutely gutting as the reality is, family annihilators like Chris Watts are the most common form of mass murder in the US.
Most family annihilators are white men in their 30s. Interestingly, the most common month for family annihilators to strike is August. (Shanann and her children were murdered on the morning of August 13th). They also generally occur in response to relationship problems between the parents which either lead to a custody dispute or fear of a custody dispute. One study on the motivation of men who murder their families found that “Men who murder their entire families usually do so because they believe their spouse performed a wrongdoing and that the spouse needs to be punished, they feel that the family members caused a disappointment, they feel that their own financial failings ruined the point of having a family, and because they wish to save their family from a perceived threat.”
Another study considered the motivations of four “types” of family annihilators: “In this typology, the anomic killer sees his family purely as a status symbol; when his economic status collapses, he sees them as surplus to requirements. The disappointed killer seeks to punish the family for not living up to his ideals of family life. The self-righteous killer destroys the family to exact revenge upon the mother, in an act that he blames on her. Finally, the paranoid killer kills their family in what they imagine to be an attempt to protect them from something even worse.”
The heat of the moment/”blind rage”
[*] At first Chris Watts said he had no idea what happened to his wife and children. Then, he said he told Shanann he wanted to break up and pursue a relationship with his mistress, Nichol Kessinger. Watts says Shanann became angry and strangled her daughters. He said he then murdered Shanann and disposed of all three bodies.
[*] A lawyer for Shanann’s family said that Chris murdered Shanann during an argument after he asked for a divorce. Bella witnessed the murder. Chris then brought his (living) children with him to his work site to dispose of Shanann’s body and killed the girls there.
Signs of premeditation
[*] A former FBI criminal profiler said on Dr. Phil that she believes Chris Watts is a narcissist and a psychopath. She points out that Chris does not show emotion, even when interviewed on camera about his missing wife and kids (a situation where it would be normal to show emotion). He tends to victimize himself and depersonalize the people he killed, for instance by avoiding saying their names.
[*] Seven days before murders on August 6, 2018 Chris Watts wrote a note and gave it to his sister while he was visiting her. The note read:
“To Whom it May Concern:
If anyone gets this letter, I would never do anything to hurt myself or my children or my wife.
If anything happens to me, please investigate my wife.
[*] 6-7 months after the murders, while he was beginning to serve his five life sentences, Chris Watts was interviewed by the FBI. What came out of this is a letter Chris Watts wrote explaining why and how he killed his family. In this letter he goes back on his “blind rage” story and the murders begin to look more and more premeditated. For instance, Chris wrote:
“I walked away and said, ‘That’s the last time I’m going to be tucking my babies.’
“I knew what was going to happen the day before and I did nothing to stop it.”
[*] In this version of events, Chris says he went to the girls room and attempted to murder them first. He then “climbed into bed” with Shanann, they argued, and he murdered her. At this time he says Bella and Celeste “woke up” and he realized they were not deceased. He wrote, “The girls were just kind of running around the house, and watching me with scared looks on their faces. Bella started to cry and when she did Celeste started whimpering. What a nightmare this was.”
[*] The final blow against Chris “blind rage” story is when he writes in this letter that he had previously tried to force Shanann to have a miscarriage by drugging her. This is what premeditation looks like:
“The reason the medical examiner found oxycodone in Shanann’s system is because I gave it to her. I thought it would be easier to be with Nichol if Shanann wasn’t pregnant.”
[*] He spoke to his mistress for 111 minutes around the time of the murders. Neither he nor Nichol have been able to say what they spoke about during this time. One theory is that Nichol helped him with the murders (her phone also pinged a tower in the Watts’ town that morning when she lived 25 minutes away). Another is that she gave him an ultimatum and threatened to tell Shanann about their affair leading Chris to panic and murder his family.
[*] There’s another theory (which I think is reasonable) that Nichol Kessinger may have sought out Chris Watts as a romantic partner, but her real motive was the commit insurance fraud against Chris’ employer where she was also a contractor. This would explain why Chris disposed of the bodies at his work site, and why he did such a poor job covering his tracks — they expected the site to have an explosion and have time to make it all look like an accident. Nichol and Chris could then collect hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not millions) in insurance money and start a new life together. Here is a good synopsis of this theory.
I think we will never get one clear motive from Chris Watts. I agree with the profiler who said he fits the criteria for a narcissistic psychopath. This kind of person doesn’t feel guilt or remorse and thrives on attention. He’s in jail writing letters to “dozens” of women pretending he’s found god now.
He also very well may be covering up his mistress Nichol Kessinger’s (or someone else’s) involvement in the murders.
Chris Watts is serving five life sentences and the judge who sentenced him told him he will “never” see the outside of a prison again. I think he’ll keep up with his harem and he’ll tell each woman a different story about what happened. We’ll get books about Chris Watts. There’s already one on preorder from one of his girlfriends (no, I won’t link it but you can Google it). He says he’s writing a book about Jesus with another inmate. I think he just likes being the center of attention.