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You haven’t heard THIS version of what happened from Chris Watts

Listening to the audio only of Chris Watts on the @Murdersesh podcast, a few elements stuck out that I hadn’t noticed before.

WATTS [Sighs]: Unless something develops in the next hours or so, I’m hoping that someone sees something…or somebody knows something…and…comes forward. 

Now, in the Scott Peterson, Casey Anthony and Madeleine McCann cases, that’s exactly how things played out. There was a massive PR blitz, and the well-meaning public soon began to overwhelm authorities with sightings. Dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of tips.

If you want a case to become unsolved, this is how you want it to go – the cops running around in circles after a seemingly infinite number of tips, the public’s eyes peeled for kidnappers and abductors but none of them leading anywhere.

It’s no wonder then that this was Chris Watts’ hope, that people would soon start calling in, saying they thought they saw Bella in Boulder, or they glimpsed a pregnant woman who looked like Shan’ann boarding a flight at Denver airport. Every tip, every sighting would draw resources, suspicion and scrutiny away from him. As long as a dead person is missing, there’s reasonable doubt that there’s no murderer, and no murder committed. And the longer a person who is dead is thought of as missing, the more doubt has to be dealt with at trial.

Well, the missing person narrative never got off the ground in this case.

When the reporter asks him what’s the worst part, Chris Watts leaks an interesting disclosure.

WATTS: Not knowing. If they’re safe or…if they’re in trouble. Like…there’s just that…that variable…like I’m not sure…I mean I can’t do anything from where I’m at. Like I’m not sure if they’re safe somewhere, just [voice rises a notch] huddled somewhere. Or…if they’re in trouble. And knowing that, if they could be in trouble it’s [stutters] it’s earth-shattering right now. And it doesn’t feel like it’s real.

Taking out the bold elements and putting them together we get this:

I can’t do anything from where I’m at.

they’re safe somewhere, just huddled somewhere.

if they could be in trouble…it doesn’t feel like it’s real.

We have to remember, for a murderer, “safe” actually means what’s safe for him. So in this sense, safe means they are huddled up somewhere out of sight.. And they were huddled up somewhere out of sight. Also, the claim that they might be in trouble, not mortal danger from the public’s perspective [which they were], but trouble in the sense that they’d gone to be with a friend, doesn’t feel like it’s real because it isn’t real.

Consider how the psychology is tangled up here. Would they really be in trouble if Shan’ann had gone to see a friend to get away from him? That scenario was really the best case scenario during the missing phase, and yet Chris Watts frames it as trouble.

The mirror to this fictional trouble is obviously his own very real, but very secret mistress, and him huddling up somewhere with her, vanishing every now and then.

For me the most significant disclosure is the general statement of intent. I think this was true not just the day after the crime, but in the days, weeks and months before the crime:

I can’t do anything from where I’m at.

Returning to the original question, consider it from Chris Watts’ perspective, and a motive perspective. What was the worst part for you, living in that house with that family.

Not knowing. If I’m safe or…if I’m in trouble.

And then, at 10:46 in the Soundcloud audio, a fantastic probing question from the reporter.

REPORTER: The weird part of all this, it sounds like everything’s been locked up. There’s no signs of them leaving the house.

WATTS [Softly]: No. No…like…we have a camera there…the neighbor has a camera [stutters] I-I mean everything was…everything’s checked out. 

What follows next is a little indistinct and inaudible, but the reporter asks about the neighborhood cameras. Chris Watts answers that the camera is associated with the front doorbell.

WATTS: The neighbor has one right there. 

REPORTER: Were all the doors around the house locked?

WATTS: The front door was locked, the garage door was…unlocked…but that-that’s normal for…like, when she comes in the house she leaves it unlocked so she come in and out just in case [inaudible] get in the garage door.  But the back sliding door was locked as well. 

REPORTER: So how would she have left the house…?

WATTS: I-I [laughs]…I don wanna put anything out there….s-suspecting someone pulled in the back and…because we have a driveway back there…from the new town homes. But [laughs] it’s so hard to tell. There’s no cameras in the back yard or anything like that, it’s really hard to even…suspect anything right now, as far as how she could’ve left….or if someone came and picked her up, or if someone came and took her. 

This last answer from Watts is revealing. He doesn’t want to put anything out there, but then he does. He uses the word “suspect” twice in an unusually long answer from him. He uses the word “back”, referring to the back entrance three times in his answer. He suggests Shan’ann may have exited through the back entrance, unseen, and opens the door to someone who picked her up as arranged, or someone who came and took her [perhaps secretly, against her will]. He’s clear that if someone came around the back, no one would have seen her, and no cameras would have recorded it either.

Two aspects are worth highlighting here.

  1. The garage door wasn’t unlocked. Fullscreen capture 20181019 094805
  2. In an earlier answer, Watts uses a biggish word for him, the word “variable”. This word doesn’t really fit with his casual locution. It’s a technical term that has more to do with the readings an operator would deal with on site, than with a criminal investigation. In studying dozens of high profile cases, I’m not sure I’ve come across anyone else using it, whether by suspect or investigator. We know what he means, but it’s an extremely distancing word for a husband to use to assess whether he thinks his family has come to harm or not.

If Chris Watts had left the back door open or unlocked, there would be a little additional doubt supporting his case. Ditto the garage door. So why didn’t he?

One reason could be that he feared losing Deeter. Actually leaving a door open meant the dog could be running around outside drawing attention, when that’s the last thing Chris Watts wanted to do. He wanted to buy time.

Fullscreen capture 20181019 100155

I reported on this aspect in TWO FACE, that Deeter was the only survivor of the annihilation, but he nevertheless presented a problem. Where to put him, and who would look after him with the whole family gone? Putting him outside could send various signals to the neighbors that the murderer didn’t want to send, and worse, might have the neighbors come knocking, as Nickole Utoft Atkinson ultimately did.

According to CrimeOnline:

The dog reportedly got the attention of neighbors frequently, with Charyle Hollowell telling reporters that he “made more noise than the family did.”

On the day the family disappeared, however, the barking was different. “It was like he was being punished or hurt or something,” the neighbor said. He was just howling. Because we had a dog, I said, ‘What the hell is that all about? So we called the police and asked them to check on the dog. And it turned out that he was OK. They did a wellness check on the dog.”

So if Deeter had been left outside, or a door left open to allow him to run around, he was the kind of dog that could bark or howl when left alone, and the noise was liable to attract nosy neighbors. An unlocked entrance could also mean neighbors entering the home early [since Watts left before dawn] and finding no one there.

In conclusion, the gamechanger Chris Watts didn’t expect was that, thanks to Nickole Utoft Atkinson, the cops arrived at 2825 Saratoga Trail before he did. Because of this, they were able to establish immediately that the entire house was secure, despite Chris Watts’ claims that the garage door wasn’t locked.

Had the cops arrived later and “discovered” any door or window unlocked, open or broken, or had Chris Watts told them he found a door unlocked or open, suspicion would have shifted from the inside to the outside of the house, and Chris Watts would have been home free.

All he had to do to create this impression of leaving, was to leave a door open somewhere. Yet he couldn’t bear to leave anything unlocked, or to break or damage a window or door. In my opinion, what this reveals is Chris Watts’ unusual attachment to the house.

Elsewhere in his interview he says: “This house is not the same…” We take it to mean that it wasn’t the same with everyone gone, but how he may have meant it, was with everyone in it, the house wasn’t the same, it was no longer a home if he had to share it with them, and for some reason, it didn’t hold as much value for him. And isn’t that what it came down to ultimately, losing his family or the house? Well, he made his choice.



  1. Pauline

    When he left for work that morning he was likely spinning his wheels on how he was going to stage an abduction. He should have gotten rid of her phone. If he didn’t want to cut a slit in the screen or jimmy a lock he may have just unlocked a door but not opened it. He might have floated the idea that they left with someone they knew. He could make repeated calls to her phone asking where are you after he returned home. And another one earlier inquiring how her doctor’s appointment went. Had he been thinking he should have taken her phone with him that morning and tossed it as far as he could throw it somewhere out in the oil fields. Imagine what kind of day he had – from early morning until he hoped he could leave work and start staging and acting. And call the police. It was one big thwarted intention when NUA beat him to it.

    • Olive

      He should perhaps have just left a door unlocked and their bodies in the house and claimed and intruder killed them. I think what he wasn’t counting on was the forensic pathologist being able to determine that the girls may have been killed before Shanann returned home.

  2. Karen

    I”m wondering if, since he knows there’s so much publicity surrounding this case if that’s why he has the picture of Shanann and the kids and how did he get it? Did someone go to his house and get it? 

    • Meagan

      Things can be mailed to someone in jail.
      I’m sure the photo he allegedly has in his jail cell is a photo his parents had at their home.

    • Denise M

      The police/FBI/CBI no doubt had clearly placed the pic in front of him when they questioned, interrogated & then ultimately pulled the confession (though obviously NOT the whole truth) out of him. One of the things that drives me crazy the most while watching & reading in the discovery papers, particularly the post-polygraph interrogation, is when the CBI agents where asking him questions like: was there an accident? Did Shanann maybe do something ? Did she hurt one of the kids? To which he replied over & over :”No,no, I didn’t do anything ? Then all of a sudden a lightbulb goes on & he asked to see his dad!!! So they gave him the idea that Shanann actually hurt the kids first. It was a tactic that worked & then didn’t when it came to giving him a reasonable explanation as to WHY he would kill Shanann!! I know in the end it was what finally got him to start confessing & it still didn’t fit when they asked him more details, especially when they asked him why he didn’t try to revive either child or just call the police/ambulance AFTER he supposedly when into a “rage” & “had to do to her what she did to them” (so freaking lame)!! They could prove she did kill them from hand marks & DNA etc. if he would have just called for help immediately!! Another mind boggling aspect to his actions that morning is why or how he thought driving a work truck w/ GPS tracking to where he disposed of their bodies was a good idea?? I mean one thing that we ultimately learned about this man besides him being a cold & calculating murderer is that he is by far one of the STUPIDEST murderers to ever plan one. I doubt it will happen but maybe some day after he sits in solitary a couple of years, that he makes a FULL confession. Maybe one of his fellow inmates w/ rather LARGE muscular hands will convince him to unburden himself finally. It’s a long shot but a girl can dream!!!

      • Olive

        Since the authorities were suggesting in the press that the girls were killed the day before Shanann, it is possible that Chris had planned all along to say that she had killed them. What a chilling scenario to come home to, though … to discover that your babies are dead and you are in the grip of a monster. Shanann was reportedly very nervous and unable to eat during her business trip. Something was going on.

        Also, I believe it is an interrogation technique to suggest to a killer that he had a reason to do what he did and to feign sympathy

        I did not like that the police floated the scenario that the children were killed first without being able to confirm it … it seemed to me as if they were trying to manipulate people’s emotions. I think it is possible that Chris simply lost it.

        However, it is also possible that, more than being a man who wanted a new life with a girlfriend, he might have been a family annihilator mainly for reasons of not being able to figure out how to get out from under what he viewed as an impossible situation.

        What came out in articles immediately after his arrest was that Shanann was in multilevel marketing. She may have been spending far more on trying to make a buck than ever actually making a buck.

        Chris was over his head in trying to pay for all the great stuff they had, that beautiful house, vehicles, and Shanann and the girls always looked perfect, there were many photos taken, etc., all on a salary of, if memory serves, something like $41,000. Even if it was $61,000 or $81,000, he still was probably buried.

        From his close relationship with his parents, it seems to me he may have been someone who just tried to do everything right until it killed him. Shanann’s possible inability to let go of a job that sucked her dry and therefore by extension him could have broken the camel’s back.

        Men are also notoriously fearful of letting women down, I mean in the sense of breaking up with them. Shanann I believe was in some serious denial. I’m not saying Watts should have done what he did; most men would not have. But he may simply not have been strong enough to get out sooner.

        It is extremely tough to leave an extremely attractive situation when your gut is telling you it’s not working. What I’m saying is that he may not have been a hideous monster. It may just have been that he was weak. I would like to know how most men would have handled the situation.

        • Sally

          There was speculation that the salary of the Chris Watts was rather puny when the spending was considered. I read that CW earned slightly above $60,000 at his job, and Shannan had variable income from her Thrive! (Le’Vel) home-based setup. I believe quite a lot was put on credit cards and such. The stress of being in severe debt didn’t help matters. I also read that the couple declared bankruptcy, but that was a second-hand story and is unconfirmed.

  3. piktor

    They call it “garage door”. Actually, it’s an “automatic garage door”. There ‘s an exterior keypad. That’s the keypad that Watts said “didn’t work”.

    The INSIDE garage door is a regular home door, it’s the one that ‘talks’ if you use it. If you’re in the garage, the door opens into the home proper. That’s the ‘garage door’ that Chris said was open.

    • nickvdl

      Thanks, this is helpful. I’m about to do a post about the front door.

  4. JAH

    It’s really important to get your facts straight, especially if you are writing a book about something so serious. When you find you have made an error, it’s your integrity on the line.

    • nickvdl

      How you spell a dog’s name isn’t a matter of fact, it’s a convention. And it’s an unconventional name. But you should speak to the regular readers of my work, I’m very lazy when it comes to facts. Best to avoid my books and this blog.

      • bassekrokke


    • Blue Velet

      It’s a tragedy for all, family is the most important value to have, nothing absolutely nothing is as important as family. No material item is worth hurting you’re family over, family is irreplaceable.
      Love and Respects to all involved in this tragedy.
      Blue Velvet

  5. Karen

    I have a couple of thoughts. 1st, good catch on the “locked doors” observations. Next, we k.ow that the. Thayers were there watching the interview but was Nickole? Did she leave? I noticed some things she said in her interview. IE: she said she ” sat on her bed” because she couldn’t believe they weren’t coming back. (Paraphrasing) when did she Do that? Also, she said the girl’s bed were unmade. When sis she see the beds? I find it hard to believe that the cops let her in while they were there. Don’t think Chris would either.

    • nickvdl

      There’s no reason Nickole didn’t enter the house, after all she was the one who called in the wellness check, and it was just a wellness check after all. On the contrary, Chris was okay with the dogs going in, playing it all nice and easy, so I don’t see why he wouldn’t have let Nickole in either. But he would have felt he needed to be there when she went in – for sure.

  6. Vin

    The fact that he said that she always left the garage door open and it was locked sealed his fate. He obviously wanted no one to be able to enter and intended on coming back to get rid of the sheets

    We may never know what happened but it’s human Nature to cover ones tracks as to not get caught we’ve all done it . My sister and I ate ice cream in the night and planned on replacing it the next afternoon. However we did not know dad was off work that day and looked for it at lunchtime for a snack . When we got home he mentioned that he wanted to have some ice cream. We convinced him to have something else saying the fat was bad for his weight and diabetes . He already knew the ice cream was gone and played with us to see if we’d cone clean but he just continued to fib and not tell the truth.

  7. BAMS13

    Just curious how many pregnant mothers with multiple children have been abducted in the past? That theory is always more plausible when it involves one person. I’m starting to see how foolish and out of touch he really was.

  8. Shannon

    Because of her friend, calling cops so quick.
    It basically f–ked him up.
    No time to think.
    He told male friend, he shouldn’t have talked on the porch. When I saw it, I thought….how stupid, shut up.

  9. Shannon

    They say, second leading death is pregnant woman in the US.

  10. JerseyGirl

    The reason Chris Watts didn’t properly stage the house to make it look either like an intruder abducted them against their will (and when was the last time an intruder entered a random middle-class house and abducted both a woman and her two children) or that she left voluntarily (which would have meant taking the car seats, purse, cell phone, and medications and getting rid of the car) is that he is dumb as a box of rocks. Same reason he buried the wife in a shallow grave a few feet away from his work site. Might as well have just put up a flashing red arrow to point investigators to it. They would have found it within 24 hours anyway. Now it turns out he couldn’t even successfully smother two little girls and he thinks evil spirits made him do it. Evil spirits would actually probably have done a better job

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