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How the Hailstorm of June 18 Plays into the Watts Family Murder

There were two powerful hailstorms on two consecutive days in Frederick, Colorado in June. The first one, on June 18 was the worse of the two, with hail stones the size of chicken eggs. It was during this storm that the video [posted below] was taken, with Chris Watts Ford truck parked outside. As the hailstones clobber the roof in the live video, Shan’ann says: “Poor daddy’s truck’s getting beat up.” Yes, likely it was.Fullscreen capture 20181022 140010

Almost two weeks later, Nicole was still feeling sad about her vehicle, A white Mazda GT that was hammered [“totalled” in her words] in the same storm.

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This post has since been removed.

Because of Nickole’s car troubles [with the old car], I was interested to know whether she put her car bonus to good use. Shan’ann had made a big song and dance about it on the San Diego trip, which happened just days after the hailstorm.

Shan’ann also did a live video from the pool deck of the hotel, congratulating Nickole on the new car and promising to take her car shopping when they got back. It’s not clear if Nickole has untagged herself in that post, or if, now that Shan’ann’s Facebook is in legacy mode, the tag has been rendered invisible to the public. Anyway, here it is. To date it’s been viewed over half a million times.

I was curious, since Nickole had won this car bonus, and she obviously needed a replacement vehicle since the hail had totalled her Mazda mere days earlier, what did she do with it? In one of her posts, and also in this video, she mentions wanting to buy herself a Tesla [approximately $80 000 a pop] with the bonus.

In Paradise Nevada, on February 10/11 both Shan’ann and Chris Watts test drove Teslas.

Some Thrivers were doing the same in San Diego. Apparently Thrive getaways included that sort of thing – car demos, test drives, car shopping.

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Nickole herself seemed to have her mind on a luxury car for a while, posing alongside a few, sitting in others at various time in March and April 2018.

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During the San Diego trip Shan’ann also did some posing inside and alongside cars while sporting a Le-Vel branded jacket..

So what car did Nickole end up getting after that June 18 hailstorm? Since I couldn’t find any splashy news about it on in her public Facebook profile [unlikely as Thrivers are all about telling everyone about their windfalls, often repeatedly]. So I asked Nickole directly.

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Nickole and Shan’ann got back from Arizona in the wee hours of August 13th, the night Shan’ann was murdered. Wasn’t that why Nickole tried so hard to get hold of her that day of all days – after almost almost two months, she wanted to go get her car, she needed Shan’ann to do it, and Nickole wasn’t answering her phone.


On June 18 there was also a hailstorm in Utah. Chris Collins, one of the big kahunas behind LeVel, posted these images outside his home [which may well have inspired Shan’ann, who often modeled her posts on his to copy him].


Below are additional examples of Shan’ann copying [apparently] Chris Collins’ Facebook vibe. Collins is on the left, Shan’ann on the right.

It’s worth noting that Shan’ann appeared to be shopping for a new car for Chris earlier in the year, but that didn’t happen either. If neither Chris Watts nor Nickole Atkinson “exercised” their car bonuses but Shan’ann did, is this evidence that she was more reckless with her income and expenses than they were?

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  1. Pauline

    Oh for sure! I’m wondering if the car bonus had to be spent on a car. Just to be ornery I would probably ask if I could just take the cash – and then pay off the HOA, then keep up with the HOA payments from thereon. But not likely the MLM company will allow that. Boasting and posting about a free car is all a part of the shimmer and sham of these companies. I don’t think Sha’nann was the least bit worried about losing that house! She had gotten out from under her previous mansion and may have thought “houses are expendable. Just get another one.” But not him.

    • nickvdl

      I think Shan’ann somehow got the first house and it was easy come easy go. I don’t think Chris Watts felt the same way though.

  2. Cheryl

    I believe Thrive’s paying for the car depends on maintaining a certain sales level, which means the car isn’t a Thrive bonus, as advertised, but an auto debt that will have to be supported with Thrive sales earnings. That being said, perhaps sales had dropped, making it necessary to pay for all or part of the monthly car lease out of Thrive proceeds that would have otherwise supported domestic expenses (food, utilities, etc.). This financial situation translates into more money out of Chris’s paycheck to support the family, as well as restraints on acquiring another Thrive car. Therefore, I don’t know if not acquiring a Thrive car for Chris indicates he is the more thrifty of the two or that he and Shan’ann had mutually hit the financial wall (they were talking about selling the house, were around $1,500 behind on homeowners’ fees {and who knows about the mortgage], and there was a third child on the way). Also, Chris had a work truck that I believe he drove to and from work, so why purchase another car if the truck is provided by work, and, in some cases, employers pay for the gas as well. I worked for government, and this is a tremendous financial perk tied to several field positions, such as Chris’s with Anadarko. I say this because when the recession hit in 2008, some of the municipal cost savings were achieved by eliminating take-home trucks for many utility positions, which created significant financial hardship for workers who relied on this perk.

    Although Shan’ann appears to be the family spendthrift, if Chris was frugal he didn’t seem to impose many limits on Shan’ann, as evidenced by the large home populated with furniture and accessories, multiple Christmas trees, a lot of kid toys, nice clothing worn by the family, and all those sports and t-shirt brands are anything but cheap–all discretionary purchases. I suspect that he was in for the material splendor ride until the s**t hit the proverbial financial fan blades and was strewn all over the walls, floors and ceilings of 2825 Saratoga Trail. Whether financial or otherwise, I think the ultimate evidence that Chris shared a similar penchant for willfully ignoring reality with Shan’ann is indicated by the execution of the murders themselves, which were sloppy but undertaken to somehow magically liberate him from family responsibilities and, by doing so, salvage the house.

    • nickvdl

      “…if Chris was frugal he didn’t seem to impose many limits on Shan’ann…” – no, not that we no of. Besides murder.

      • Cheryl



  3. Pauline

    I think it didn’t take him too long after marriage to realize he hadn’t gotten what he hoped for – possibly her too – but she was more vocal about it, taking little digs on the internet and letting others know he does what she tells him to do. As for him, he likely kept his dissatisfaction to himself and carried on a clandestine relationship until he hit upon a more permanent solution. If anything she may have noticed something was off in her marriage far back as early Spring, at the beginning of the year, and decided the best way to fix it was to get pregnant again. At the very least it would cost him everything if he tried to leave. A fox in an animal trap.

    • nickvdl

      I think they were mismatches in terms of introversion and extroversion, and she was becoming a lot more extroverted towards the end, which was probably grating him. One could make the argument that he was becoming less introverted too, but that’s hard to be certain about what being able to see his social media the way we can see hers. Both of them seemed to be changing, but away from one another.

    • Ralph Oscar

      “taking little digs on the internet”

      I think this demonstrates the pernicious effect of social media (to which Shan’Ann was addicted). The sorts of little things (like when she told Chris to put the parchment paper in the baking pan and he put the box of parchment paper in the baking pan) that, in the past, wives would laugh about with their friends and it’s all part of the “adorable/can you believe it” fringe of the tapestry of married life, now it’s broadcast to people who *aren’t* close, who *don’t* know Chris well, so it takes on an entirely different flavor. Now it’s “deliberately humiliating Chris”. I think this is because of the scope, not necessarily the content.

      Speaking solely of the parchment paper incident.

  4. Pauline

    Nick, I just heard on the news today that the courts are releasing all of Adam Lanza’s writings and belongings today. The New York Times also said that several days before the shooting an unidentified man said Adam had told him he was going to take his guns and shoot up the school. But because the guns were owned by his mother Nancy, the FBI couldn’t do anything about it. I thought the story of Adam Lanza was one of the most interesting in your profiles in “Slaughter.” I haven’t gone over these FBI files yet but if you ever think of doing a follow up to Slaughter, this might be helpful.

    “Slaughter” still stands, to me, as the end all and be all of all of your books. I still think about it.

    • nickvdl

      Thanks so much for that insight, and I especially appreciate the compliment on Slaughter. One of the hardest narratives I’ve worked on if not THE hardest. I also think it’s probably my best effort in true crime thus far. I’d love to follow up on Slaughter, as I would on many other books. I simply can’t justify it when people aren’t reading it. It’s not a dog in terms of sales, it’s not doing too badly, but you can see from the 2 reviews, it’s not doing as well as it should either. Maybe in time that will change.

  5. piktor

    On the subject of garage keypad:
    I don’t think anything ‘slides’ into it, like you say.

      • Pauline

        He probably changed the garage door code that weekend, and that’s why it “wasn’t working.” Couldn’t risk a pesky friend or neighbor knowing the code and entering.

      • piktor

        Good point.
        Nickole and the cop that was with her had to ask for the code number. When he arrived all three marched in. He couldn’t actually make the unmade beds, couldn’t remove the handbag from kitchen island.
        I find it incredible he planned three murders but his planning missed Nickole, doc’s appointment, unlocking the back sliding door, Shanann’s super-busy telephone life.

        Maybe he planned and planned but completely underestimated Who Was The Person he was murdering.

        He simply did not know his mark.

        This massive mistake got him found out faster than you can say “K-9”.

  6. Spock

    I have a different pointy-eared perspective.
    If one of them did not want to sell that house my money is on Shanann. Let me back that up with a few thoughts and info.
    1. Shanann has stated upon graduating high school all she wanted was a house of her own. Her brother made a similar comment on how proud he was when she was 18 she left home and never came back – she wanted a house of her own.
    2. Shanann had a mini-mansion in NC. She had worked hard to make that a real show place. Do you think she wanted to get rid of another one? I don’t. She came to Colorado and immediately ordered up the largest model available in that subdivision and proceeded to wrack up thousands in debt buying furniture for it. Both were brand new homes also. Nothing but the best.
    3. Apparently she didn’t learn by “tanking” on the first mini-mansion because she could use Chris’ credit to buy this house in Colorado. I truly believe she intended to replace her mini-mansion in NC with another one in Colorado just as quickly as she could. Moved to CO in 2012 – had a new mini-mansion by April of 2013. (Note: the square footage on the two houses were almost identical – coincidence – I don’t think so).
    3. The only person mentioning the sale of the house was Chris. I might be mistaken but I don’t think Shanann ever said anything about selling that house on Saratoga Trail.
    4.When she’s in NC and things don’t seem to be going so well, what is she posting on FB? Real estate listing for a beautiful new home for sale in NC.
    5. I compare the situation differences between the 2 people. He has a decent paying job. She does not. He can buy another house (unless this one goes into foreclosure). She probably cannot. I suspect that husband #1 was the reason she had the NC mini-mansion and husband #2 is the reason she has the CO mini-mansion. How hard will it be to find husband #3 for a new mini-mansion when a) 34 years old. b) 3 KIDS!!! Won’t be so easy to obtain mini-mansion #3.

    So when I considered which of these 2 people are “obsessed” with the house I walked right on by Chris.
    I’ve heard many people question why Chris didn’t put a stop to all this spending and lavish living. Why did Chris go along with buying that big house? Why didn’t he do this or that? I say try reversing the gender roles and ask – would his inaction be so hard to comprehend if he were the woman? Hell no. That behavior is much more expected from a female.
    I believe Chris is an introvert, passive-aggressive and non-confrontational. Most of the time he probably got along to get along to eventually get what he wanted (which included many levels of lying and deception). I think it’s possible that he learned long ago “not poke the bear”.

    That doesn’t mean I’m insinuating Shanann was abusing Chris or even controlling him but in my opinion she’s drivin’ the train and for a long time he was content to be a passenger. (I have a family member who the rest of us have decided it’s just so much easier to step off the tracks than it is to try and stop the train).
    So if financial problems were an aggravating factor in this homicide I think it’s possible he was attempting to wrest the control of the train from her before he literally lost everything.

    • nickvdl

      You had me at “my money is on Shan’ann”. It makes sense because she was the one having the third baby, so you’d think she’d want to keep the home to have the baby in. Point 3 & 5 bravo. Last sentence in your comment is spot on.

      • Spock

        Thanks. I’ve been studying.

    • Pauline

      And so the controlling continued. If he wanted to leave, he’d have to pay for her to stay in the house, child support, spousal support, and where would he be living? All of his paycheck going to Sha’nann and the kids, and nothing to show for it. Visions of Spring Lake living pre-Colorado days probably danced in his head and that would just have been unacceptable. Better that they just disappear, be among the missing.

      • Spock

        I agree Pauline. It’s very possible he did not want to go back to his ho-hum existence. He has also tasted the mini-mansion life of the upper middle class.
        If they were in financial trouble, I think he’s really horrified of losing everything, They wouldn’t be able to claim another bankruptcy until 2023. This time it’s all gone. Foreclosure – repossession.

    • Cheryl

      Excellent points, Spock. It makes sense that Shan’ann was the one with the house attachment, whereas Chris wanted to detach from all of the financial burdens, including the house. You mention that when Shan’ann waa back in North Carolina, she posted a picture of yet another dream home on Facebook for public consumption. However, I recall that during the same trip she privately mentioned to a North Carolina beautician that she and Chris were going to separate. Perhaps Shan’ann posted the new dream home on Facebook to disguise the real reason for a potential move back to North Carolina: the breakup of her marriage.

      • Spock

        Love reading other people’s ideas. Helps to broaden my view!
        @Cheryl – I never thought that Shanann posting that real estate ad might be an attempt at building a preemptive smoke screen. A misdirection of sorts. Excellent point.
        Since she made no comment about the post I thought she might have posted it for Chris to see. A kinda – look what I’m doing while I’m away – I’m looking at houses to buy. Intended as a dig? A warning? A threat? Maybe even a suggestion that they together could move back to NC.
        I think you’re idea might be much more “Shanann”.

      • Spock

        I just realized she did not post that real estate listing while she was in NC. She posted it June 12 before she left for NC. Oops! My mistake.

        • nickvdl

          That’s interesting.

          • Spock

            Yep. Weird. Back to the drawing board on that one.

    • Shey

      How wrong you were in this post…

  7. Hugh Screiber

    So Nikole Utoft Atkinson had not yet replaced her car. It appears that she prefers black automobiles unlike Shan’ann’s preference for white. In the arrest affidavit it states the neighbors camera captured Shan’ann’s car leaving at 1:48 a.m. Could it be that Chris had a male lover at the house on the night of the murder and the lover left at 1:48 a.m. to possibly dig a shallow grave? I seem to remember reading that a male Level MLM’r was questioned by police but lawyered up.
    Unfortunately, we do not know when Shan’ann’s car was returned to the garage. But, it was there in the garage when Nikole arrived to check on Shan’ann.
    By the way your insight into this whole matter is incredibly good and thoroughly appreciated.

    • nickvdl

      Hey Hugh. Thanks for your comment. Nickole’s car is a white Mazda, so not sure about the color thing. It sounds like she was initially thinking about a car for her husband.

      • Meagan

        Just re:read the affidavit: it was Nickoles car seen leaving at 1:48 am that morning after she had just dropped off Shanann.

    • Meagan

      Don’t remember anything in the affidavit about Shanann’s car seen leaving at 1:48 am that morning .
      We know Shanann was dropped off right before 2 am.

  8. Nick

    @Piktor He had no idea Nickole would call the cops that same morning. To you that’s absolutely normal. It’s not. He thought it would be his call to make. Imagine if Cindy Anthony had called the police on June 16 when she got home? Or if one of the Ramseys had called 911 secretly at midnight on Christmas. Early discovery changes everything. Think of the Khashoggi case as another classic example of that.

  9. Pauline

    Yes, granted it was a lousy staged “missing.” Purse still there, cell phone in the couch cushions, peculiar having bedding on the floor, sheet and pillow cases on trash bin – but his final story is pretty good – SHE strangled the children and he had to stop her. If that scratch on his neck came from her long nails he would know it, so DNA found under her nails matched to him would seal his fate. And if he strangled the children he likely wore gloves, so he’s not too worried they would find his DNA on their necks or touch DNA either.

  10. Pauline

    She’s wearing the flip flops in the Tesla driving video above that I think were by the door in the hail storm video. I keep my flip flops by the door too. That way I don’t step on the carpet with street shoes, and if it’s just a quick trip outside to dump trash or get something from the car I can just slip them on. So if the officer observed women’s shoes by the front door it may have been her slip ons or flip flops, and it being late that morning she might have not stopped to remove her shoes before heading to the kitchen area, especially since the lights would have been off in the foyer. Just a hunch. As Nickole’s headlights shone through the front door window panels, he knew she had arrived, and he was far enough back out of sight. What was he doing from the time he first thought she was arriving home and when she did arrive home?

    • nickvdl

      Interesting observation about the flip-flops. I’ll take a closer look. In one of the videos Chris Watts asked her which Tesla she wants and she breezily answers the Model X. They cost a hefty $80 000, about twice as much as the model they were driving. It’s likely this confident answer was meant to entire viewers and had little to do with their true intentions to buy a new car. The video was taken in February, six months later there was still no new car despite the swagger in these videos.

  11. Stacy

    I am not sure how Le Vel does the car bonuses but other MLMS will let you lease the car and you have to hit monthly sales to be reimbursed for the car. usually it is a certain brand/model of car. Most of these companies let you forgo the car and take a monthly stipend in place of the car bonus I am not sure if it is less than the car payment but since Chris had a work vehicle it would have been smarter for him to take the stipend. As far as copying the other guy’s FB posts I have seen several of the MLMers post dream boards (including their kids’). It seems to be a common practice among those groups. Also I know many people who post ultrasound pictures and the car thermostat when it gets really cold or hot or anything to do with weather in general. So he may have been her mentor and that is why some of the posts are similar. One difference you will see in his pic is that he is sure to include the steering wheel of his luxury car in his post. But again the dream board thing is pretty big right now and seems to be something a lot of different MLMs reinforce probably to make theirs sales people think they will reach their goals.

    • Ralph Oscar

      Stacy, I looked up the LeVel car bonus rules ‘n’ regs. The promoter must lease the car in their own name (no responsibility on LeVel) and it must be a white or black BMW, Lexus, Mercedes, Cadillac, Audi or Tesla. LeVel pays $800 at one sales level and $1,600 at a higher sales level; Shan’Ann was at the $800 level. To be eligible, you have to have so many promoters underneath you also selling at a specific sales level or higher. And your sales have to surpass that mark each month for you to be eligible for the car bonus each month.

      If they have the sales but don’t want the car bonus, they can take $350 cash. In the Watts case, they would have been far better off getting the $350 and driving a modest used car, but Shan’Ann was all about the appearances.

  12. Stacy

    Ralph Oscar I agree. It would have been less stress and better financially to take the $350 and if Chris hit that level too they would have had $700 to go towards a car payment/other expenses. But alas she had a brand to promote 🙁

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