True Crime Analysis, Breakthroughs, Insights & Discussions Hosted by Bestselling Author Nick van der Leek

Which is Shan’ann’s Most Heartbreaking Post of All?

What’s so amazing about the Watts case is how familiar we’ve become with each of them. Every time we click on a video, Shan’ann and sometimes one or both of her children come back to life. But that’s an illusion. They’re dead and in the ground in a graveyard in North Carolina. The fairy tale – if there ever was one to begin with – is over for them, and always will be. It will be over for the rest of this year, next year, and for the next several decades. Whatever life they enjoyed is gone forever.

This case is about four lives lost, five if we count Watts wretched existence.

It’s never good to allow our own sentiment to leak into cogent true crime analysis. God knows the Facebook flocks are ALL about emotion and little else.

Every so often, when investigating the victim’s story,  even the hardest of hearts have to soften. For me it’s this image. Shan’ann looks young and playful, it’s as if someone caught her in a rare authentic moment of Shan’ann just enjoying being Shan’ann without putting on any airs.

At the same time her two daughters are modelling themselves on a mother who although wasn’t perfect, was still probably the person they loved and trusted most in their world. This trio spent a lot of time together, getting to know one another, and if one thing can be said about Shan’ann, she really wanted to bring life into the world. That dream, at least, did come true for her.

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There’s something haunting about the two pictures with the blackboard poking out in the background, the text meaningful but almost too small to read. The door in one image is closed, in the next it’s open. Perhaps a figure is standing there in the shadows, but if someone is there, they don’t notice.

All three of them are looking into the mirror, and then the youngest child – Ceecee – turns around, breaking through the hypnosis of seeing herself in the mirror. How long and how often did Chris Watts think about what he was going to do before he finally did it?


    • nickvdl

      Good choice. I find anything that involves Thrive or her husband annoying and artificial.

      • piktor

        I’m trying to learn how you can keep a distance from the tragedies you narrate.

        I accept life is an illusion and death is the ultimate reality. How and why three persons died here, in an idiot’s rampage, is beyond words. Beyond pain. A total loss for no good reason. The worst part is there was no reason.

        I have no feelings for a murdering liar. He has to live for ever with what he did and justify it with lies only he believes. The ace mechanic is OK with life inside a cage, totally left alone. Never to be bossed around ever again. Call it a plan.

  1. nickvdl

    Well, with respect, I think you’re wrong on almost all counts. I don’t think this is about a rampage, I don’t think any of the murders were committed out of rage, but out of fear. I don’t think Watts is as dumb as most people think he is, and none of what happened here is “beyond words”. I’ve written two books about the case and I’m busy with a third, and Shan’ann’s social media is a mountain of words, images and impressions. It’s not beyond words by any means.

    A trial is essentially a battle between two narratives, a battle of words in court. If people involved in true crime believed these cases were beyond words or comprehension, we’d truly find ourselves in a helpless and hopeless place as individuals and society. Words give us perspective, assuming what they represent is actually true, and actually so.

    My challenge as a narrator is to distill the most meaningful words, scenarios, psychologies, evidence and the true identities of the people involved. The source for ALL of that is their words.

    In true crime we can’t actually afford to be so dismissive as to say “I have no feelings for a murdering liar”. If we don’t wish to understand the mechanism of the murder, and if we wish to throw motive out with the bathwater, then we should express our enthusiasm at such ignorance.

    Fortunately the law does care to know who the victims were, and who the suspects and witnesses are, and tries to find out what really happened. Using their words, their testimony – primarily – in a court of law.

    As for your question about keeping a distance emotionally, I don’t think it’s about that. A lot of experience in true crime teaches one to recognize deception, and to pick-up callousness and cruelty behind the smiles. But one only graduates to a deep understanding of these people when we see them that way, as people, not so unlike ourselves as we’re so fond of believing, and worse, when we get to know them quite well we find we have rather a lot in common with their addictions, desires and dysfunctions.

    If one can get a handle on the psychology and learn from it, and adapt from it, then perhaps something good can come from these terrible criminal catastrophes. When the response is dealing in reptilian judgment, I’m not sure we grow in any way beyond our own resentments, which amounts to little more than stewing in our own sense of righteous victim-hood. That’s my take on it anyway.

  2. Pauline

    The more I study this case and think about it the more I realize I’m still holding a candle in the dark. I can say the murders had to do with many things, financial chaos, an unexpected (for him) new pregnancy, feeling relegated to the role of smiling complacent husband in Thrive movies, etc. but some husbands suffer far worse and don’t resort to murder. But you’re miles ahead of most of us, which certainly was the case when I slowly made my way through all of the JonBenet books. I began to notice common themes – the family dynamic and neglect, which solidified and explained so much to me, separating out the two crimes, the actual murder and the coverup, resentments that lead to it and elaborate misleading. And I think there is still more to learn. There is the hope too that I can find my way to the truth before I’m led there via your books, but I acknowledge at the same time that your skills in piecing it all together in an organized way, based on what you hear, what you see (with a photojournalist’s eye for detail) are superior to mine. So now as I contemplate fear as a motivating factor I have to wonder what was he afraid of? Total annihilation of SELF by another and others? In several videos when “Daddy’s home” there is no acknowledgment that he’s there, that he put in a long work day, or that he’s brought in pizza, no thankyou, no hello love, he’s just sort of not even there. And that’s FOR the camera. In another video he’s gripping the back of the chair, nodding and agreeing, not allowed to say much. Or he’s allowed to sample a tiny square of pro bar that he must hand back to her so that the sales pitch can continue.Hungry Bella isn’t allowed a bite yet. If he was sort of “faint” before he met her, now that he had built himself up and “become” someone was he afraid he would be made to disappear and go down with the house?

  3. Nick

    Fear of losing his world – whatever his world was to him. His house, his secret life, his private and social sense of self etc.

    • Cheryl

      Nick, I think you’ve mentioned this before and I think it rings true given that Chris is dismissed and relegated to an off-camera invisibility in his own home: fear of insignificance.

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