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Chris Watts Case – the biggest in Colorado’s True Crime History since Columbine in 1999

When the Columbine shooting happened in Colorado, just 41 miles due south of the Watts home in Frederick, it was the worst high school shooting in U.S. history. Although there were 15 deaths [including the two perpetrators] and 21 non-fatal gunshot injuries, the shooting was later defined as a botched and badly implemented terrorist bombing.

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None of the bombs rigged with detonators went off. As bad as it was, the Columbine massacre was a lot less than it was intended to be. Harris and Klebold had intended their attack on their high school to rival the Oklahoma City Bombing which killed approximately 169 Americans.

Because of the poor execution of the crime, there was initial speculation that the shootings weren’t premeditated, or if they were, that little initial planning was involved. In fact during the year prior to the attack, Harris and Klebold both kept journals and compiled a series of video messages with statements of intent, including 30 minutes before the attack on April 20, 1999.

The same speculation dogs the Watts case currently – that because his crime was poorly executed, Watts must have “just snapped”.


On April 20th, 2004, five years to the day after Columbine, Slate published an analysis with a promising blurb:

At last we know why the Columbine killers did it.

Five years ago today, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered their classmates and teachers at Columbine High School. Most Americans have reached one of two wrong conclusions about why they did it. The first conclusion is that the pair of supposed “Trench Coat Mafia outcasts” were taking revenge against the bullies who had made school miserable for them. The second conclusion is that the massacre was inexplicable: We can never understand what drove them to such horrific violence.

Thanks to the genius of the FBI and their expert psychologists, the true motive for the massacre was revealed.

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That’s an incredible assessment – that two kids harbored no resentment of their peers – but wanted to kill them in an unusually extreme and colossal manner simply to make a statement. It wasn’t personal, the FBI said, and I guess when they committed suicide afterwards, that wasn’t personal either. It shows just how clueless the FBI and law enforcement can be when it comes to interiority.

10 years after Columbine the motive [at least as far as the mainstream media were concerned], still remained unclear. This was despite the extensive notes and statements of intent left behind and communicated by the killers. It was also in spite of the FBI’s expert assessment that the kids were just trying to make a big statement, nothing more.


Almost 20 years later the rationale behind what happened at Columbine remains a matter of controversy.  Bullying has been alternately discounted and counted as an important factor. Social climate has been discounted and counted as an important factor. Ditto Goth subculture, video games,  antidepressants, teenage internet use, movies like Natural Born Killers and music. Craziest of all, almost two decades after the massacre, no one seems to agree on the most basic question of all: were the killers outcasts or not?

In Slaughter, I profiled 8 mass shooters, and along the way examined the Columbine case. The test in every massacre is the same. Where there’s an extreme amount of violence [sadism] it’s contingent on an imputed sense of insignificance [humiliation]. Where you find a massacre, you will always – without exception – find social death plaguing the shooter.

The same applies to true crime, but the psychology is more nuanced and subtle where a single person extinguishes the life of one other individual.

In the Columbine case, the FBI succeeded in seeing an intention to make the biggest and loudest possible statement. But they failed dismally in linking why they felt the need to do this as strongly as they did.

Much of these basic issues also apply to the Chris Watts case. But if these simple questions around why or what caused young men to act out the way they did weren’t answered then, what chance is there the same simple questions will be answered in the Watts case?

When criminal cases are placed under the microscope in the glare the media and the all-seeing-eyes of America’s social media, it seems inevitable that the truth will eventually emerge, doesn’t it?

But the truth hasn’t emerged in the Columbine case.

It hasn’t emerged in the JonBenet Ramsey case.


In the Aurora shooting, which played out in 2012 [the same year the Watts family moved to Frederick] that shooter [James Holmes] was sentenced to 3 318 years in prison, but the jury felt Holmes didn’t deserve the death penalty.


At the time, the Aurora Cinema attack had the largest number of casualties in one shooting in modern U.S. history. That attack was blamed on mental illness. A huge coup for his defense during trial was thanks to Holmes’ diary [which contained meticulous calculations of the attack] being protected by physician–patient privilege. The judge ruled it inadmissible because Holmes later mailed it to his psychiatrist.

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When one looks at Frederick, Columbine and Aurora on a map, it appears as an upside-down Y. And right now, the record for figuring out the Y is pretty upside down.

On October 6th, 2018, the Greeley Tribune noted of the Watts case:

In the motion filed Thursday, Steve Zansberg — a First Amendment attorney…who represents The Tribune and its media partners — argued the Weld County Coroner’s Office…is the official custodian of the autopsy reports because they were “made, maintained or kept” by that office.

In his 22 years representing Zansberg said he can remember only one instance, the Columbine High School massacre, in which a judge ruled the release of autopsy reports would adversely affect the public.

[The Greeley Tribune] fundamentally believe in a democratic society that the records detailing actions undertaken by officials who serve that society must be public. In the absence of such transparency, we cease to live in an open society. The last time a Colorado judge ruled the release of autopsy reports would adversely affect the public was the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, 19 years ago.

Is the Watts case really the worst incident in Colorado since Columbine, even worse than the Aurora shootings?

Will the outcome of this case – in terms of why – be better than those that have come before?



  1. Pauline

    Mandy Bombard (bombard’s body language) analyzed David Katz – the Jacksonville, Florida “gaming” shooter and came up with this: “the world doesn’t have a mass shooter problem, the world has a maturity problem. We have a learning problem and a social learning problem.” She illustrated how before the shooting an interviewer was trying to have a conversation with Katz, who was unable to hold eye contact, among other things.

    • nickvdl

      The internet has made us intellectually clever, but socially poorer and stupider than we’ve ever been.

  2. Pauline

    I just read some statements from Scott Peterson. You know his whole “thing” was he wanted the focus of the hunt for Laci to be on her, not him. That’s why he wouldn’t say much. Ha ha. But then he said he remembered what happened with the Chandra Levy and Gary Condit case, that when everyone was talking about Gary Condit they quit looking for Chandra! So the little bastard actually did some homework so that he could fashion a spiel to the media! Then when he gives a televised interview he actually musters up snot and tears.

    When I watch Chris Watts again on his porch I just want to shake him. He’s no actor. Of course he was thrown off by a 3 hour flight delay but he didn’t think about what comes next. There are so many other ways he could have responded to Nickole A’s insistence the police take a look around. He could have feigned shock, he could have acted frantic, he could have gone knocking on neighbor’s doors – he also didn’t have to confess to where he put the bodies. So what that the dogs sniffed death in the house. Someone else could have killed them and taken them somewhere. He’s the guy who can’t shoot straight, and it will be interesting to see how his attorneys deal with it.

    • piktor

      One of the first questions police ask is spouse’s place of employment. Police contacted Anadarko and were given oilfield locations Watts operated. Maybe police computers type in a name and easily find name of employer and who knows what more.
      Also, Anadarko oil sites have sensors that warn the company of activity. If Cervi 319 in particular had scheduled or unscheduled activity, Anadarko would know immediately. Watts knew that Anadarko knew. He knew investigators knew. He was toast from the get go.

      • nickvdl

        Yes, except Chris Watts was in control of the management and monitoring of CERVI 319. He wouldn’t have chosen a specific site if it was going to reveal what he was trying to do, quite the opposite.

  3. Pauline

    And compare Chris to Scott Peterson. I don’t know how long it took for the police to piece together a the body dump to the last place Peterson said he was Christmas eve day. At first Scott said he was playing golf, then he said he went fishing for sturgeon. Everyone wondered why he would go out on Christmas eve on a very cold overcast day and not want to be with is pregnant wife with the homefires burning. The cadaver dog seemed to be sniffing out a trail that led way down the road and on to the freeway. And still Peterson stayed stoic. The police tell Watts their drone picked up some disturbed earth at Cervi 319 and Chris confesses. The police decide to put a tracker on Scott’s truck. The police didn’t have to wait but four days to find Chris’s family. Had he not so hurriedly tried to scratch that shallow grave and get on to work that day, had she not been delayed 3 hours, he could have returned to Cervi 319 and moved her body again – although from the morning of the 13th until they found the bodies he was likely being closely watched. And the dogs indicated the police were looking for dead bodies, not live ones.

    Now it’s interesting the DA’s office say they believe they were likely strangled. But we don’t know for sure. They won’t release the autopsies. But I think Chris’s know-how played a big part in the site he chose and had he not had that 3 hour delay, she would have made her way down one of those oil tanks, or the overflow tank.

  4. Pauline

    Chris thought he was caught. But he wasn’t – necessarily. Say nothing. You always have the right to remain silent.

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