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Watts Family Murders: Rocket Science SOLVES Thief Hatch Mystery!

On September 15th, 2018, one month after the remains of his wife and children were recovered from CERVI 319, I posted a blog analyzing a question that members of the public were repeatedly asking:

“Why wasn’t Shan’ann’s body dumped into the oil tanks as well?”

One aspect of the answer [and admittedly the simpler one of the two] was – I thought – easy to answer. The children were dumped into the respective tanks because they were small enough [barely] to fit through the thief hatch. Shan’ann was not.

I “proved” this theory by intuitively [visually] measuring up the size of the hatch against an adult operator standing beside it.

Fullscreen capture 20180916 104145Fullscreen capture 20180915 101246-001

My assessment, without any more factual or scientific data to go on, was that the children would barely fit through these small openings. They had to, how else could he have gotten them in there short of chopping up their bodies or chemically reducing them beforehand?

About two weeks later, on September 28th, HLN covered the same issue.

They had an expert on board, and the expert’s was unequivocal on the size of the opening. 8 inches.

Fullscreen capture 20180928 025708

The screengrab above doesn’t make it very obvious just how small 8 inches is. It’s 20 centimeters, roughly the width of this paragraph or the length of the average dinner fork when viewed on a desktop monitor.


Needless to say a 4-year-old child’s head and hips can’t fit through such a small opening. This was devastating to my theory, hence I posted a follow-up blog the same day HLN challenged the notion.

Chris Watts: The crime scene at CERVI 319 just got a LOT more complicated

The problem was, although HLN had provided more information, they’d actually shot their own theory in the foot. They speculated that Watts had used the clean out manway at the bottom of the tanks to access the tanks. It made sense from a size perspective – yeah, it’s big enough to put a child inside, hell, an adult could step inside as well.

Fullscreen capture 20180928 030356

The problem with the manway access point is the fact that the oil tanks were almost full when the cops arrived on the scene. They were so full, they took several hours to drain.

Fullscreen capture 20181102 093333

HLN seemed to miss the fact that in order to open up the manway cover, the tank had to be completely empty. So what, one might argue, maybe it was empty to begin with. The problem is if it was empty the tank would have to fill to almost full within hours. These are huge tanks, and they aren’t filled up rapidly. They take months to fill to capacity. The sequestration of gas and liquids also happens over an extended period.

Besides this, any sudden change in the conditions inside the tank would set off monitoring alarms. This would likely attract attention to the CERVI 319 site by Chris Watts’ colleagues, perhaps even his boss – something he’d want to avoid.

Fullscreen capture 20180916 144350

I struggled with this impasse over the next few days. I decided, ultimately, that the thief hatch HAD to have been used, but the only way to dump the remains of both children through those small 8-inch orifices was if the bodies had been dismembered or “processed” in some way.

#Shakedown’s Call on the Chris Watts Case: The Bodies were “Processed”

The extensive “processing” theory doesn’t sit well with me for 2 reasons:

1. Chris Watts had very little time to process one cadaver, let alone three.

2. There appears to be no obvious evidence of tissue fragments, blood or body fluids at #2825 Saratoga Trail [the bodies could have been processed at CERVI 319, but doing so outdoors with three bodies seems very likely].

It’s taken six weeks for this enigma stewing in the subconscious to resolve itself, but I believe it has. The solution appears to be that an operator might be able to remove the entire thief hatch with the right tools. That’s the housing and the contoured core section.

This doesn’t get us back to where we started with the manway housing. The thief hatch has about half a dozen bolts to loosen and tighten again whereas the manway housing appears to have hundreds.

JT81040 New Lid June 2015fullscreen-capture-20180911-14445339-Peak1-TeflonJT20.1 a look insideimages (1)

In Conclusion:

I believe the thief hatch was used to dump the bodies into mostly full oil tanks from the top of the tanks. I do believe there was some processing or preparing of the bodies irrespective of whether they fit into the hatches or not. If they didn’t fit, this would involve substantial processing including dismemberment. It’s possible to dismember a cadaver without creating a bloodbath if it’s frozen first. If the cadavers did fit through the thief hatch, they were probably prepared in a minimum manner, including cutting off hair and probably removal of clothing that could clog the grates inside the tank.

The arrest affidavit is also unambigous on this point, that all three of the victims’ bodies were tampered with to the extent serious enough to charge Watts with a felony in each and every instance.

Fullscreen capture 20181102 082205


  1. Pauline

    He could have wrapped the girls in duct tape, with arms down to the sides, or some kind of binding to make them go down easier. Or plastic and duct tape. Then used an implement to push them down, like a shovel. I know you are concerned about all the hairs found in the bed of his truck, as am I.

    • nickvdl

      Find yourself a ruler and measure 20 centimeters. You’re not going to get a human skull let alone the hip bones through that even with pushing and shoving.

      • boga

        I’ve seen a grow average size adult slip through something that was 12 inches by wiggling. 8 INCHES IS MORE THAN ENOUGH FOR A CHILD!

  2. Spock

    I don’t want to be the fly in the ointment here but I looked into this idea last week. The hatches come in 8 and 16 bolt patterns which could be removed in a relatively short period of time. The thing that tripped me up is even if you remove the hatch from the tank I think there’s still only an 8 inch hole in the tank.


  3. Pauline

    Well, that leaves us with dismemberment then. The mystery deepens.

    • nickvdl

      Thanks Spock. I’ve also been looking at Jayco. The tapering of that hatch left some room, I thought, for potentially an extra inch or two, but that pdf you’ve found with the cross-section diagram is unequivocal. The distance between the aluminum bolted brace is 8 inches. I don’t think there’s any doubt then that there HAD to be dismemberment/dissolving/processing of bodies. Ironically, that’s exactly what they’re saying about the Khashoggi murder, and let’s face it, Saudi Arabia is associated with the oil industry and the refining/processing of oil product.

      • Spock

        I have tried so very hard to find a larger way into those tanks so I don’t have to think about the dismemberment/crushing/processing of those little girls.
        His crimes are heinous enough without adding that steely cold heartless element to them.
        But so far – no luck.

        • nickvdl

          I’d also prefer a scenario where that’s not the case. I don’t see one.

      • boga

        For the Love of God folks. An larger adult can wiggle and manipulate their bodies through a 12 inch hole, 8 inches is 100% big enough to slip and manipulate a child’s body through without any dismemberment. Come on folks – common sense.

  4. Pauline

    Whatever tools he took with him how would he dispose of them? Or maybe he couldn’t, and they were hauled away in the tool box along with his truck when it was towed. By the looks of that truck he had quite of bit of equipment in the truck bed.

  5. Pauline

    That is to say if he did want to get rid of any tools he used at the site, forensics would have found them.

  6. nickvdl

    @ Boga

    The scale below provides average measurements for girls up 2 years of age in centimeters.

    Bella was 4.5 years old and Celeste had just turned 3.

    If we take the upper level of the above graph [52 cm circumference] we get a diameter of 16.5 centimeters. The opening was 20cm. The point is it’s very close, and that’s just the head. There are also hips and shoulders to consider.

    And here’s a graph for girls up to 5 years:

  7. piktor

    How about something reeeeally simple:

    Watts deposits victims in oil bathtub, the small one with no lid, and weights them down with a big rock, whatever.

    Hides *clothing*, *stuff*, *evidence*, *DNA-contaminated tools* inside the two API-12F tanks through 8-inch thief hatches.

    – Cops find 2 victims quickly, per Watts’ directions

    – Cops take 8+ hours to empty two EPI 12F tanks at CERVI 319

    – Cops retrieve whatever ‘evidence’ (or no evidence whatsoever… but could not pretend Watts wouldn’t lie once more about this serious matter) that took them many hours to sort out.

    • nickvdl

      There have been quite a few people suggesting that, and quite frankly, it’s difficult to understand. So after all this analysis, maybe we made a simple error and he just dumped them in the most obvious place at the site? Took them all the way there and dumped them somewhere that was accessible to anyone there [the Cervi site is actually on a farm]. Doesn’t say much for premeditated murder does it? If he was going to be so slapdash about it why not just dump them between the flowers of the back garden?

      I hope this settles the matter:

      Go to the arrest affidavit, top of page 3.

      “Chris said …he dumped the girls inside the oil tanks.” [Girls tanks. Tanks plural].

      Next paragraph:

      “Chris was presented an aerial photograph…and identified three separate locations.”

      Three bodies, three locations, two in tanks. Separate tanks.

      Please Piktor, if you’re trying to be clever, or trying to contribute, make sure you first know the basics, otherwise you’re stirring up dust and taking the narrative backwards.

      • piktor

        The arrest affidavit is a superficial narrative. Does it say what K-9s found at Saratoga trail- no. Did dogs alert to a scent that does not leave the house – no. Does it go into detail about Nickole’s apprehensions- no. Does it mention the neighbors calling detectives at night telling them they saw a notoriuosly passive, uncurious Chris- no. Does it say what Anadarko Petroleum people knew about CERVI 319- no. Does it say at what time, how many investigators, dogs, Anadarko personnel when they visited CERVI 319 for the first time- what-how-when-why they saw what they saw or found what they found there-no.

        You’re telling me digging a shallow grave in employer’s property is a plan? A shallow grave raccoons, coyotes, bobcat, possum, skunk, some hungry creature with a sense of smell would not or could not dig up and expose? Did Watts not know Anadarko oil sites are wired to a central security computer that is manned 24/7? Please.

        If Watts had a plan, this beginner’s mistake did him in and within two little days the game was over.

        The man was improvising as he went along. Ignoring Nickole’s deep involvement in Shanann’s business, that the Le-Vel network didn’t exist and would not notice.
        Pretending Anadarko implementation of state of the art security, alert, control and information technology would work to Watts’ advantage?

        This was no plan. Unless the certainty of failure was the plan.

  8. Pauline

    I believe his plan was to call her several times and text her at work that day. “What’s up?” “Where are you?” then come home that day, clean up his bedding mess and phone a neighbor or two and ask if they had seen Sha’nann that day. Then call the police.

    What he wasn’t planning on was her flight delay. But the bastard thought enough to latch that front door. He also was possibly under the mistaken impression that the dogs that were called over were the kind of dogs that smell a scent and pick up a trail. Tracking dogs.

    He also wasn’t planning on a little impromptu session on his porch and driveway with reporters to go over his theories of what might have happened to her and the kids. And last, he wasn’t planning on Nickole UA sounding an alarm around 2 p.m. Aug. 13.

  9. Liz

    You know I can’t help but wonder if Chris Watts used the Thief Hatch to test the level of volume in the oil tanks. The first one was high and he could tell from Bella’s, the second, that the oil volume was less. But maybe not less enough that he thought he could use the Cleanout Manway to put Shanann in the tank. Burying Shanann in the ground makes no sense to me if he were trying to make sure no one found the bodies. Time of course a factor with the Manway having hundreds of screws or maybe the volume of both tanks were just too high. I don’t know enough about the Manway to really say, but somewhere in there, I feel like Chris wanted all 3 bodies in the tanks.

    • Ralph Oscar

      “I feel like Chris wanted all 3 bodies in the tanks.”

      I agree. The shallow grave seemed like a temporary solution – Chris’ schedule was disrupted by the untimely arrival on the scene of NUA. Remember in the video with the cops for the wellness check, it takes Chris, like, 2 hours to get there? NUA’s son Nicholas even says, “He’s not coming” at one point, I think. Shallow grave must have seemed like the quicker option.

      BUT if CW was not planning on burying Shan’Ann, would he have brought a shovel along?

  10. Liz

    If I recall it should have taken Chris 1 hr to get home; thus, the over 2 hours was Chris taking his time, time that cost him as Nickole Atkinson called the police.

    I think he always carried a shovel in his truck since their were no portalets and they were out in the field so much. I believe it was Troy McCoy who said he thought he was getting rid of something at one of the sites, may Cervi 1029, and when they checked, Chris had dug a hole for his poop.

    I think if the first tank had been low, Chris would have place the other bodies through the manway. Of course it is sheer speculation, but the 2 different tanks …. some hidden meaning there.

  11. itsbmbhere

    The autopsy reports are available just read it. Tampering with a deceased human body requires no more than hiding the bodies. It goes up from there but all they needed to get the tampering charges.

    Look at the law. A simple Google search is easy to do… Just look up tampering with a deceased human body.

  12. Min

    Well, this was the dumbest thing I’ve ever read! Of course he put the girls in there and the FIT! Bella was found with cuts on her buttocks and her hair found on the lid. Those girls went through major trauma and Bella watched as her dad dropped her baby sister down that hatch only to come back and fight for her life. She screamed DADDY NO! She didn’t understand death but she knew he was killing her…. his words. 🤮

  13. Kelly fowler

    My husband said from the beginning he took all those bolts loose and only took a second to figure it out

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