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

Bella and Celeste Watts: how were they murdered?

We now know Chris Watts killed both his daughters. How did he do it? The cause of death will be clarified by the autopsy reports next week, around 24 hours after the sentencing hearing.

The true test of Rocket Science lies in the ability to join dots with insufficient information. So let’s do it. What’s our theory on the murders, what do we say caused the death of Bella and Celeste a week before the autopsy reports come out?

In his bogus confession Watts claimed Shan’ann strangled Ceecee, and implies Bella was murdered in the same way. Does that mean Watts strangled both girls to death as well? I’m not sure it does.

Complex Psychology

One way of figuring out what happened to the children is to look at what supposedly happened to their mother, but the psychology can be quite complex.

Watts may indeed have strangled Shan’ann. At 02:00 [or 04:00 or 05:00] in a subdivision of closely packed houses a silent murder would have been necessary. And in the schema of his version, it may have sounded right and appropriate if he saw Shan’ann strangling one of the children, because then he was “entitled” to lose his temper and do the same to her.

Maybe Watts felt this version was his best chance of beating the charges against him.

One thing we know for sure is that Shan’ann was buried in a different way to the children, and in my opinion, killed at a different time to the children. So why would the cause of death not be different too?

So what really happened?

If Watts had reason [in his mind, not ours] to murder Shan’ann, it’s difficult to see the same level of malice and intentionality towards his children. If he strangled Shan’ann it doesn’t necessarily mean he did the same to his children. The main difference, logistically, was that he had a lot of time to “put the children down” [permanently], whereas the moment Shan’ann arrived home, in a premeditated murder scenario he was hours behind schedule [in my opinion].

If the murders of the little girls was premeditated, and if he knew he had the whole weekend to do it, then he’d have the means and the opportunity to do it in a way that suited him best.

Fullscreen capture 20181022 145514

I believe the autopsy will show that the Watts children ate dinner, or some sort of snack in the late afternoon/early evening after they returned home from the birthday party. I believe the snack likely contained sedative or painkiller type medication, or both, intended to put the children to sleep. To render them unconscious. They could then be painlessly killed – asphyxiated – in their sleep.

An overdose of Amoxicillin [mentioned in the video] can cause loss of consciousness and trouble breathing. An overdose of the common household painkiller Tylenol [also mentioned in the video] can kill.

Oxycodone and morphine are painkillers typically associated with paintreatment by lupus sufferers. Both have a sedative effect at high doses. According to WebMD an overdose of Oxycodone causes slow/shallow breathing, slow heartbeat and coma.

According to

In 2014, the rate of overdose deaths caused by natural and semi-synthetic opioids like morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone was 3.8 per 100,000.

One of the typical side-effects of morphine is a bluish or purplish hue to the skin…

Fullscreen capture 20181112 160301

Other overdose symptoms of morphine include extreme sleepiness and loss of consciousness.

After rendering the children unconscious, it’s possible Watts tried one method on the one child, and another on the other. So, for example, one child may have been drowned in the bath [while unconscious], and the other strangled or smothered with a shirt, sheet or pillow.

Fullscreen capture 20181010 090709

What supports the psychology of a chemical component to the murders? 

1. The whole Thrive lifestyle is based on the ingestion of protein-bars, shakes, powders and chemical and vitamin laced patches that are placed onto the skin. In the same way that these chemicals were symbolically associated [and branded] with healthiness, if Watts’ personal [and financial] association with Thrive was negative, he may have seen the utility of chemicals in the opposite way: a murder weapon as opposed to a tool for wellness. I’m not suggesting Thrive products were used, but rather that Watts was used to the idea of chemicals being placed into and onto the bodies of his family, as well as himself.

If he wanted a lethal supply of chemicals/drugs/medication, or a supply sufficient to knock out a small child, he simply had to dig into Shan’ann’s enormous medicine stash, used to treat her lupus. This would have included a reservoir of adult-strength painkillers.

In the Christmas video above, at about 1:50  Shan’ann refers to giving both children “lots of Tylenol” while Chris Watts is standing beside her in shorts, holding Ceecee.

2. Watts himself worked with chemicals on a daily basis. As a mechanic he was well aware of fuels, lubricants, cleaning agents etc. As an operator for Anadarko he would have been well aware not only of the potentially dizzying impact of petrochemicals on his own safety, but the damage these chemicals can cause to human tissue.  The oil industry also uses strong chemicals to clean their complex distribution systems, including hydrochloric acid.

3. The fact that the girl’s bodies were dumped into chemical tanks, also suggests he had the psychology of chemicals in his mind when committing the murders. In his mind he wanted to reduce his children’s bodies to oil and his wife’s corpse to dust. On September 14 I posted an extended version of the same theory, and on October 3 reiterated that the bodies were “processed” in some way post mortem. This processing could have amounted to something as simple as shaving the hair off the girl’s heads. Watts often cut the girl’s hair, so this wasn’t new to him. Given his knowledge about chemicals, he may have treated the girl’s remains overnight in a chemical bath, or even an acid bath.

The release of the autopsy reports will soon provide clarity on these questions.


  1. Kaye

    I believe he intended to also put Shananns body into the tanks. I think he just ran out of time. That would explain the shallow grave. He not only did not have time to bury her deeply but he also wanted to make sure he could get back at some point and uncover her body quickly to finish the job. Maybe Nickole’s phone call to him interrupted that process. If Nickole hadnt called and told him that she was contacting the police, he might still have had time to process her body and get it in the tanks.

    • nickvdl

      Interesting. So you think it took more time to carry a body up a single flight of stairs and dump it than to dig a grave. Have you ever dug a hole?

      • Kaye

        I wasn’t thinking he would try to put the whole body in. I think he would have tried to break it down into pieces. He is a mechanic so he could have looked at their bodies as just material to break down into components.

      • Karen

        It makes me wonder if he planned this, or at least started thinking about it as far back to when he started working out, Maybe that’s WHY he started working out. Maybe thinking how physical this would be

      • Recovering Baptist

        This is silly. The hole of the oil barrels was only 8 inches. Pure and simple, Shannann wouldn’t fit. It’s possible he thought he could go back after she decayed some, and put her body parts in the oil wells.

      • Kathleen

        Nick, long overdue but what the heck, I think you are completely right, he drugged them with oxy, they probably already had comprimised livers from nightly Tylenol which both C @S administered, turns out comprimised livers can slow or stop hair growth. Sad case, anyway I think what you said ( what he said 🙂 and then unconscious and dying he took them to the basement which is why the cadaver dogs hit down there and not upstairs, then she came home, used the bathroom across from basement door which she noted was open with the lights on, she called down, he called up, she went down, he pounced and then it was just cleanup time. He couldn’t call the cops and try to make it look like she did it, because the children had already gone into rigor and no explaining that one. You said he used gas to soften them up which makes sense too considering rigor mortis. By the time all the cleanup, lode up and drive took place S had rigor too which explains how near her buttocks was to the surface ( 3 in ) according to discovery, he couldn’t straighten her out. Ya know if you ever quit this writing gig, you,d be a shoe in for the next Cyril Wecht!

  2. nickvdl

    So do you think chopping up a body takes longer than digging a hole for the same body?

    • Kaye

      I believe it was his intention. If he had the time he thought he would have had to do it, he could have done it. Someone I knew from high school was murdered and dismembered. The killer then distributed the body parts in different locations. He did that within one night. It could be done. I can’t see why Chris would have left Shananns body to be dug up by animals and uncovered. I think he would have wanted all the bodies to never be found.

      • Ralph Oscar

        Well, Kaye, remember that it was in the middle of his disposal process that he was interrupted by NUA – at his house, *with the police* (so he couldn’t just tell her to go home and stop pestering him). So we don’t really have *any idea* what Chris planned for the disposal of the much larger and more complicated body of Shan’Ann. Imagine – even if you’re able to cut the legs and arms off, you’re still left with that large torso and even the head won’t fit through the thief hatches. So that’s a lot more work. Would he have disposed of the arms and legs via the thief hatches? If so, perhaps that grave was simply meant for the larger body portions (head and torso) which would have been easier to fit into a grave.

        But we’ll never know.

        Cue the outrage at speculating about what he had planned…

  3. Cheryl

    It makes sense that there may have been different modes of murdering Shan’ann and the children, especially from an emotional perspective. Since Chris’s anger was likely focused on Shan’ann, strangling her served a psychologically symbolic purpose. Moreover, in retaliation for years of verbal abuse, Chris disabled her ability to utter another word by constricting her throat. Of course silencing her through strangulation also facilitated a quiet murder so nearby neighbors would not be alerted. In the children’s case, I believe the approach was more utilitarian, treating them as products that needed to be processed in preparation for disposal. If employed, I believe this approach would have buffered Chris from any emotional ties he still had for Bella and Celeste. In particular, dismembering a body and shaving its hair dehumanizes the corpse, making it easier to dispose of not only from a physical but also from a psychological standpoint. This is all grisly and sad, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the autopsy results are consistent with what has been proposed in this discussion thread.

  4. Shannon

    He might have pillow smothered the kids, and strangled her. Both girls in separate tanks. He would have known the sizes of the holes. He would have known Shanann too big.
    Besides no blood found anywhere.

  5. Pauline

    May be a trivial point but in Chris’s third narrative he says he saw Bella on the monitor, “sprawled out on the bed and blue”, and Sha’nann actively strangling Celeste, so he strangled Sha’nann. I don’t see how he could see the color “blue” on the baby monitor, and a more likely scenario is that he saw Bella up close and personal sprawled out on the bed and blue, before Sha’nann arrived home. He has to say Sha’nann was actively strangling Celeste so that he can say that action angered him 1) wanted to stop her; 2) sees one child sprawled out and blue; 3) can’t let her do this to both children – pointing to a”justifiable homicide” defense.

    I also think he was fairly confident in knowing that his touch DNA, or fingerprints, would not show up on either child’s neck as he, through his lawyers, requested that their necks be swabbed. He must have known that it may not have pointed to Sha’nann doing the strangling, but that it also wouldn’t point to him either. If the children were sedated first, placing a pillow over their heads and pressing down would have done the trick.

    Now we may not find that there were any drugs in the girl’s system when the autopsy is released, but we likely will know when they had their last meal, and when it was digested. Early on the investigators said they believed the girls were killed between August 12 and 13. Hence, they were not killed after Sha’nann arrived home, or after midnight. In seven days we’ll learn more.

  6. Pauline

    I could also consider that the girls were killed differently. One of them is a done deal, according to Watt’s third narrative – Bella was sprawled out on the bed and blue. But Sha’nann is actively strangling Celeste. Wasn’t it “Rob Low” who posted on social media that Watts had difficulty pleading guilty to strangling CeCe? Could they haven been killed differently?

  7. Shannon

    Oh yes I agree. He could have given them more drugs…they were on quite a few by Shanann…she says it in a video.
    I just fathom strangling them. I think they were in a deep drug sleep and he smothered them.
    I’m going to research the one count unlawful termination of a pregnancy. Just to see what it means.
    Excellent therios.

  8. Shannon

    Oh dear sorry.
    I can’t fathom strangling them…typo errors.

  9. Pauline

    I hope Rourke gives us the whole enchilada. I don’t just want a partial motive, I want to know what the forensic data show – hair, fibers, any chemicals that were used,the bare footprint on plastic, and I’d also like to know where the cadaver dog alerted. Remember the couch cushion on the front porch? Need to know what was placed there that had the smell of death.

    • Cheryl

      The “whole enchilada” would require a trial.

    • Kelly McCauley

      Emphenda “😁😁😁

    • Melissa

      Right..the dogs alerted on the cushion out front and the basement and they say outside his truck but they never allowed the dogs in the truck? Why? Seems like they would want confirmation that way?

  10. Shannon

    Partial Motive, is only what Chris tells them. I guess he not talking and telling everything. Basically he can tell them Nothing, Partial or what he chooses to tell.
    Only his word, and reports.
    He could and might Appeal this decision.
    I think when he realizes what he done, because of his decision, Council and I’m sure his Parents are watching reading this case.

  11. Pauline

    If his mother manages to raise enough money for a high priced defense, he might just appeal his decision Shannon.

    • Melissa

      He cant. His plea stated after 2 yrs all evidence was to be destroyed? But how can they allow that?

  12. Shannon

    I guess. I heard abit ago a go fund me page?
    I really don’t know if there are or he would, could get a Public defender. .
    Not sure how that works.
    Maybe pro bono…a criminal lawyer steps up.
    Anything possible now, nothing surprises me anymore.
    I just feel he needs to Appeal….I don’t know why… gut feeling.

    • Karen

      What is he going to appeal? I thought once he pled, it was a done deal

      • Shannon

        There’s a clause where can appeal the case. After Nov 19th, he has 49 days or 7 weeks… called a sweet heart clause. He can realize he was Railroaded by the DA, council, misrepresentation and a few other thing also.

    • Melissa

      Yes he does need to but by his plea all evidence was to be destroyed after 2 years. Is that even legal in its self?

    • Cheryl

      Oh, my goodness. Thanks for posting this link. Very interesting…that the defense attorney shut down the Watts. Also, that Chris did not want to bury the children with Shan’ann “after what she did to them.” This case is far from over and I don’t think they’re going to be able to bury in Anadarko oil or LeVel magical potions.

    • Shannon

      I was looking all over for their comments. I’m glad they feel the way they do. And they are going to help him. So many unexplained answers to not many Questions here.
      Thanks M.VM

    • nickvdl

      Thanks for bringing our attention to this.

  13. Georgia

    I’m thinking that it was planned, but not planned enough in the big picture timeline to get away with it. High on emotion of wanting to end the current situation he didn’t get too far beyond an ‘end’ to their existence. He changed his tune when he spoke with his father; so what are his (the Dad’s) criminal smarts like? Was it as simple as oh so you strangled them, let’s make out she did and also that’s why then you killed her, or was it more indepth? I think he put them in the oil believing it would mask enough to show who had strangled them, ie. it may still show they were strangled but not by whom. Don’t think he thought through the time passing, stomach contents etc. factors. Or maybe he did and the delayed flight threw the whole timeline out. Maybe he gave them something to empty their stomachs.

    Was the outdoor seating cushion used inside, hard to believe he’d do something out in the open which suggests the cushion was inside at some point (more easily washable?). Also, would need to check the video but think the stripes on the cushion the dog was barking at were running the wrong/opposite way to the others next to it, and given that someone in the house was OCD inclined all the stripes would have all lined up.

    I think when he spoke about what he saw he was at least being truthful in that his daughter was lying down and blue, but not by his wife’s hand. He’d come across as more convincing if he can actually describe truthful things he saw, even if masked in lies. If saying oh yeah she went to a friends but I don’t know who type of thing was the best he could come up with, I don’t see him coming up with too much trickery to create a believable untruth. A wife of so many years and a major conversation about separating, regardless of who is calling the shots and if they knew it was coming, you would know who’s company they would seek, or at least have a short list. He’s only thought through the practicalities of disposal and not the emotional side of it from an outsiders view so his claim to them just vanishing was never going to ring remotely true.

  14. Pauline

    Good synopsis Georgia. I have thought from the jump that Chris’s dad helped him put some kind of defense for himself forward. His defense team came to the D.A. with a plea deal, but the first deal was rejected. a second deal was accepted. The defense were convinced that the evidence overwhelmingly pointed to Chris. A mother will always stand by her son. We’ve seen this time and time again in case after case, hence no matter if he’s guilty or not, this is what she will do.

  15. Diana

    Georgia if you’re not a detective or psychologist, you missed your calling!

  16. Kelly

    He had to kill SW regardless of the timeline because he already went through with the deal (kids) before knowing SW’s plane was delayed. MAJOR panic=messed up premeditated plans (one scenario– Or not!!). Would love clarification just like you guys. Excellent comments as usual!!

    • nickvdl

      Great question Kelly. Did CW carry out his plan before he knew of the flight delay or after?

  17. Km

    After reading this I am thinking. Possibly he accidentally over dosed both girls not knowing. And when SW came home they had their discussion and he did go down stairs. Possibly she went into the girls room and found they were dead (by the over dose). CW does see her on top of the girls but maybe trying to revive them? And CW thought she was killing them not knowing that he over dosed them? That is a thought he went into a rage thinking SW was killing them because she was mad and he killed her before she could explain. Hard telling not knowing. I think after he realized what happened he was scared. He wanted to get them out of the house. Not having alot of time before work I think he put them in the truck. Went to work a usual and put the kids in the oil tank so he could retrive them easily after work. And put SW in a shallow grave with the sheet near by so he could easier find her body so he could get rid of the bodies after work. In his interview he said he wanted them safe and back. Which I think the safe place for the girls was the oil tank. I believe he was afraid of something getting into before he got back to them. Now all could have gone to plan except the friend looking for SW messed everything up. He had no time to go back and get the bodies moved or buried. The friend called the police and told him she was going to so he had to hurry home. Now with everything going on at home he couldn’t go and move the bodies. I have no clue. Just a thought……

    • nickvdl

      You should send that version to his defense lawyers.

    • Kaye

      You’ve got some really good ideas here—i hadnt thought of the scenario where the girls died accidentally and SW could have been mistakenly thought to be strangling them while actually trying to revive.

      No matter how I try to guess at how this horrible situation could have gone down though, I am always stopped cold by remembering his interview. So calm, nonchalant, no tears, no shaking voice, no sense of panic or disbelief. Even if he were in shock I would expect a quaver in the voice or some sort of emotional response, similar to Susan Smith’s broadcast when she described her children supposedly being carjacked.

      I think if Chris had never given that interview—and I’m sure he regrets doing so—his lawyers would have had more leeway in offering alternative theories as to what happened. But that interview cannot be lived down.

    • Sakura

      This is a great theory, one of the girls being Cece being revived by Shan’ann would explain a lot. I wonder what would cause Cece to be needing to be revived:
      1. Was she heavily drugged, was there evidence, by Chris so that she did not wake up from a ‘potentially emotional conversation?
      2. Perhaps both girls were drugged to not wake them up…then…and because of the plane delay Bella started to wake up a bit.
      3. There may or may not have been an emotional conversation about a separation/divorce but because Cece was smaller and had more health issues something could have caused her airways to block…and/ or swell…and/or perhaps dry drowning in the case of no drugs being found in their systems…and/or she died in her sleep with a chance of ‘revival’ because the drugs/meds were conflicting with her underlying conditions.
      4. So if she struggled to revive her baby girl she may have blamed Chris and his mom for prior negligence with regard to Cece…hence a heated argument and not an emotional conversation which led to a groggy Bella waking up…still in bed though…but a witness.
      Where he then strangles Shan’ann and no sign of a struggle as she probably also had some meds easing chris’s attack. And of course he had no option but to kill the last witness Bella by smothering her in her room with the cushion from outside.

      Only Bella fought back, hence scratch on his neck, and hence why slightly larger Bella was also thrown into the oil pit in hopes that DNA from his skin would not appear under her finger nails.

      Just a belated extension of this theory because who wants to believes parent would do this?

      • Sakura

        First time I commented here… And I am the crab with 3 toes per foot…it reminds me of the crab walk Bella did on one of Shan’ann’s videos…

        I also support the revival of Cece theory (because I was thinking did Cece go to sleep with wet hair…maybe it became something like ‘mild pneumonia?’ or ‘dry drowning’ that affected Cece and her breathing troubles after the pool party and Shan’ann automatically yelled at Chris for being irresponsible?

        Because this theory is something I can wrap my head around even if there is no evidence in the discovery to support this theory order: Cece(possible mistake death), then Shan’ann(as a self-defense theory not for him but for Cece), and lastly then it was Bella ( the last witness…maybe she was not a witness for the actual murders but for the other circumstantial evidence cover up…including her maybe meeting NK…and identifying her to her grandparents or cops at a later stage as the lady who frequented daddy after the supposed fact…should daddy have gotten away with it?

        But yes his timeline was that bella was already dead, which I still don’t buy…because Bella struggled it would be hard for a female like Shan’ann to even attempt to move on to a baby like Cece who she had previously defended against a nut allergy circa Cindy Watts.

    • doc

      “Went to work a usual and put the kids in the oil tank so he could retrive them easily after work.”

      Not so easily.

      From an article by Chris Spargo, published at on 10 December 2018:

      “A Hazardous Materials Incident Narrative Report filed by the Colorado State Patrol details the process to retrieve the bodies of Bella and Celeste Watts after they were murdered by their father and dumped into an oil tank.

      The process of removing the bodies began at 5am on the morning of August 16, and would go on for almost 14 hours, with the report noting that at 6:45pm that evening members of the Colorado State Patrol cleared the scene.”

  18. Shannon

    Excellent Kim.
    Yes send to his Council or Parents.

  19. Armchair detective

    My theory: He was head over heels in love with his mistress. But she did not want to marry him because she does not want step children (even if they live with his ex-wife). She told him this during the weekend. So, he killed them (intentional or in rage as they are the reason for his mistress rejecting him). Shanann came home and saw the children and realized the kids are gone and tried to call cops. So, he killed her too and thought he could make it look like they left.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *