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What do we know about CO 528-ZJV?

While the media have been in snooze mode over the past few days, I came across a short video blog posted on December 13 by Daniel Bishop. At 1:03 Bishop mentions “everyone wanting to know what happened to Shan’ann Watts’ car.”

Bishop describes Shan’ann’s vehicle as leased, and given to her by Thrive as part of an “auto bonus.” Remember Thrive? How long has been since Thrive or MLM has entered the media narrative, or any narrative regarding this case?  Too long in my view. I suspect Bishop’s contention that the Lexus was a lease is true, and have suspected that for some time, but is there any proof of this?

What the Discovery Documents say about Shan’ann’s Lexus

Lexus appears 69 times in the Discovery Documents, while the word car appears 87 times. And there it is in black and white:

Curiously, the wording isn’t even that Shan’ann had leased the Lexus, but that the “Watts family” had leased it. This suggests that technically it wasn’t “Shan’ann’s car” even in the family sense, especially if Watts was paying for the lease.


Now we don’t know that for sure, but consider what we do know:

  1. The Lexus was usually parked inside the garage while Chris Watts’ truck was invariably outside [the vehicular equivalent of him not sleeping in his own bed, but in the basement].
  2. Watts’ work truck was outside during a hailstorm, one Shan’ann filmed, while “her” vehicle was in the garage. According to Watts, be believed his vehicle had been vandalized or broken into, but left his toolboxes in the back unlocked to “see if anyone was trying to break into the truck” again.
  3. Watts used the Lexus frequently while Shan’ann was away, including to drive his mistress to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve on the weekend of July 28.
  4. Following a six minute call to Shan’ann, Shan’ann sent Watts an insurance identification card on the Lexus on July 30, the morning following his return from the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It seems Watts used this information to renew the insurance [another expense] effective from August 15 to February 15. It’s unclear whether the car was insured prior to these dates, and who was paying the insurance premium. The fact that Watts appears to have requested insurance information may indicate that they had defaulted on these payments, or that he intended to take them over once Shan’ann was dead.
  5. Watts was not allowed to run errands in his work truck, which was fitted with a GPS and monitored by Anadarko. This means technically, neither Watts nor his wife were actually vehicle owners in their own right. It also meant he would necessarily need to use the Lexus himself, and Shana’nn’s Facebook does show Watts often behind the wheel, while she is in the passenger seat.

According to Bishop, the leasing company took back Shan’ann’s 2016 Lexus, and because it was too old to be leased out any further, they auctioned it off. So, CO 528-ZJV – like Chris Watts – is gone.

Over the past month or so, Chris Watts has been villainised [not without good reason] and Nichol Kessinger villified, particularly on social media. But one entity has come out of this debacle with barely a speck of blame. Let’s deal with Thrive again, briefly, and the “auto bonus” spiel. We’ll so via Shan’ann and other MLMers.

What Shan’ann and other MLMers say about the luxury car bonus

Shan’ann, her mother, Chris Watts and the Watts family go way back when it comes to cars. Shan’ann used to work at Dirty South after all.

So posing next to cars was almost second nature to her, and if you’re a mechanic, what’s wrong with you or your wife, or you and your wife, using a snazzy car to sell shit?

In the above video, Shan’ann and her fellow promoters are at the rooftop pool of a San Diego hotel, when Shan’ann announces Nickole Atkinson has hit her “12K”, and earned her auto bonus. Atkinson appears to shed a tear on camera, that’s how moved she is by her achievement, and the honor of being recognized by her MLM peers.

In the video, dated June 26, Shan’ann adds that Nickole had started working full-time as a Thrive promoter for the past month [presumably June], “working the business”, and that she [Nickole] had quit her job of 14 years to do that. Basically, after working for Thrive full-time for a month, selling vitamin patches and shakes, the company apparently wanted to give Atkinson a car to reward her for her hard work.

The Discovery Documents, however, disagree with Shan’ann’s claim that Nickole had quit her job in May or June 2018.

Here it is:

On August 21, when detective Baumhover contacted Atkinson, she was getting ready to do a night shift as a nursing assistance at Mesa Vista Nursing Home in Boulder, a short drive west of Frederick and Erie.


In the video, Atkinson mentions using her auto bonus to get a Tesla, but it’s clear in the crime scene footage that she’s still driving a white Mazda Dodge GT more than six weeks after the rooftop video was recorded.

We know that Chris Watts had received an auto bonus as well, yet in spite of Shan’ann’s grandstanding on social media in May that she was shopping for a new Lexus for him, on his behalf,  he never acted on his auto bonus either.

But Shan’ann was using Chris Watts’ Facebook as an additional “profile”, if you will, to market, promote and sell Thrive products. So his auto bonus, was actually hers.

But that exposes the above spiel as more than a little misleading. If Shan’ann was speaking on Watts’ behalf, telling everyone he was shopping for a new luxury car, when it was actually her auto bonus, her business, and her aspirations [or promotional aspirations], then she was representing an acquisitive ability that wasn’t merely a gross exaggeration, we’re able to see in the discovery dump that it wasn’t true.

Put simply, Shan’ann was advocating spending beyond their means as a way of promoting a product, and using the idea of living beyond one’s means [as a sort of dream-come-true fantasy] as a sales hook. In other words, her sales pitch was essentially to lure others into spending beyond their means as well. Quit your job – like I have – get free stuff, live the glamorous life, and…have no money at the end of it.

In one of the few instances where the Discovery Documents do deal with the Watts finances in some detail, notice the manner in which Watts cagily frames the situation around the Lexus.

It’s “their” car, not Shan’ann’s car, and it’s not a lease, it’s paid for by the company.

This is Watts doing a Thrive spiel to the cops, only, a police interrogation is where pitching fairy tales no longer works.

In reality, the Lexus wasn’t paid for by anyone, it belonged to the leasing company.

Now, it’s probably important to head off the counters to these counters, one of them being that the Watts vehicle was part of a hire-purchase arrangement, and that eventually they would become the owners of the vehicle.

One way to address that, besides through the semantics in the Discovery Documents [the word “lease” isn’t used multiple times accidentally], is to look at former employees and to see what they say about their experience with MLMs. So there’s not a lot of information out there from disgruntled employees, but there is some, like this, posted on Reddit in 2017.Of course, former employees are contractually and legally obligated not to disclose sensitive information, and if they do, they can be – and often are – sued.

But Thrivers don’t pose around fancy cars, and post themselves doing that on Facebook, do they?

According to, Le-Vel/Thrive aren’t unique in using the luxury car lure as bait. It’s pretty much standard practice when it comes to MLM companies:

The dirty little secret promoters won’t tell you, is that far from the auto bonus being a reward for hard work, the promoters are required to get a lease when they reach a particular milestone. This obligation then infects that person’s social network, as everyone goes gaga about X’s brand new car and the wonderful company X works for. It’s marketing gold, and it mainlines into the greed/envy/ego aspect of a person.

At 5:37 in the clip above, HBO’s John Oliver refers to the “dangling of vast lifestyle improvements”, especially flashy cars, and luxury travel, as being “at the heart of the MLM pitch.”

A cursory glance at Shan’ann’s Facebook profile provides confirmation of this. She uses almost every Live pitch to punt the lifestyle perks – flexi hours, better health, wealth, holidays and overall luxury. [Meanwhile, her credit cards are maxed out, she’s about to lose her house,and tragically in Shan’ann’s case, her life].

An argument can be made that Shan’ann started losing her life before she died. That she was so caught up in something, it swallowed her up, and encouraged the swallowing up and wholesale consumption of others, so that while this was happening, she was blinded to not one, by many obvious realities.

The Lexus is one reality that was employed in the Watts family fairy tale to convey an alternative reality.

The white Lexus in the Watts’ garage was a beautiful lie, and each day, that beautiful lie propelled Shan’ann and her two beautiful children through their days. Unbeknownst to them, the beautiful lie was slowly but surely conveying them – and their murderer – to an ultimate destination: permanent ruin.

Ironically, since Shan’ann’s nightmarish murder and burial on a leased oil site, rather than taking a knock, Thrive seems to have reaped a whirlwind of “positive” publicity.

Millions of curious Americans have visited Shan’ann’s still public page since August 13th, and in the process of getting to know her by watching her videos, millions have been pitched.

A sizable fraction of those visitors have undoubtedly converted into the Thrive fairy tale. Think about it. Thanks to Shan’ann’s grotesque death and dumping of her body “like trash” at CERVI 319, Thrive have likely seen a windfall of sales over the last four months leading up to Christmas.


The Discovery Documents also provide fascinating insight into how Watts changed his parking habits at the time of the murders, not only in terms of the truck [which was normally parked to the left of the front door, and Watts typically exited the house through the front door], but the Lexus as well.

Fullscreen capture 20181223 102140Fullscreen capture 20181223 102239Fullscreen capture 20181223 102410Fullscreen capture 20181223 102443Fullscreen capture 20181223 102940

And then there’s this. The Discovery Documents are unambiguous about Watts not only backing up his truck onto the driveway on the morning of the disappearance, but that witnesses had observed the Lexus’s rear hatch was open at the same time. Fullscreen capture 20181223 023950

This could mean that one or more bodies were stowed in the boot of the Lexus prior to being transferred to the truck. It’s also possible then, that one or more of the bodies wasn’t carried outside in plain sight, but transferred instead in the semi-enclosed garage area, in the blind area of Trisnatich’s camera [in other words, from the Lexus hatch to the very rear of the truck].


  1. Marie

    Great work Nick!

    • Marie

      His anger has been boiling

  2. Cheryl

    This is excellent investigative work and analysis, Nick. Thank you. I especially appreciate your comment that Shan’ann “started losing her life before she died,” that she was caught up in something that consumed her and eventually others—ultimately the entire Watts family, including Chris. As you point out, the requirement for selling MLM products is to promote a luxurious lifestyle, even when it involves living precariously beyond your means. In Shan’ann’s case, I believe this financial myopia by virtue of needing to live large preceded her zealous involvement in the MLM and could explain her vulnerability to it, although she claims she initially resisted the MLM promoters’ spiel just as she claims to have initially resisted Chris’s overtures. In one of the early LE interviews with Chris, he references Shan’ann’s working for the Dirty South dealer back in North Carolina. During this discussion he briefly talks about Shan’ann’s being accused of embezzling money during her time there as a bookkeeper (I’m speculating this is what she did), but then quickly glosses over this troubling information by stating she’s still friends with her former Dirty South boss. So far I don’t believe details have emerged about this “dark” period in Shan’ann’s life in North Carolina; however, it seems to mirror her approach to finances and life in Colorado. Moreover, I suspect the embezzling rumors have legs because she likely needed money to service the mortgage on the mansion-sized North Carolina house, as well as to purchase the very nice furnishings for it. I imagine that embezzling involved juggling the books so she could take “advances” to support her lifestyle. I also imagine that she rationalized she would eventually restore the money in much the same way she likely rationalized she would catch up on the finances in Colorado when the MLM delivered on its easy money fantasy. If true, I believe Shan’ann’s juggling the books in North Carolina caught up with her and could have been the reason for the hasty move to Colorado (according to the buyer, she left all of the furniture behind). I further believe that Shan’ann later insisted on controlling the finances in Colorado because she wanted to manipulate the books to squeeze more blood out of the Watts’s income turniip, which resulted in a real blood sacrifice on August 13.

    • nickvdl

      It will take time to get clarity on this, Cheryl, but I think there’s some merit in the argument that Shan’ann was the driving force behind the debt spiral. She was deep into the whole MLM thing, and not just with Thrive as I’m sure you know. What surprised me was that Watts did seem to actually want a third child [before changing his mind shortly after conception]. This may mean he was in the dark about their finances, or he was pretty reckless too. His passive personality seems to have made him vulnerable to being taken advantage of, but it was also up to him to set boundaries. The murders were a very crass and grotesque way of doing that.

      • Cheryl

        I believe Shan’ann was the primary force behind the debt spiral, but, as you suggest, Chris’s passivity enabled it, so he’s complicit too. Your insight that the murders were Chris’s way of finally imposing boundaries in a most horrific manner is spot-on.

        Departing from that grim note, a very joyful holiday to you all who participate on your site.

    • Pennie P

      Email | Print | Comments (2)
      No. 5:09-CV-32-D.
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  3. Sylvester

    Nick I’m not sure where you have found this – about the loading up of the Lexus. On page 553 “Det. Baumhover advised uniformed officers were in the Watt’s neighborhood continuing the neighborhood canvass. A short time later Commander Egan received information that a uniformed officer in the neighborhood observed Chris packing up what appeared to be blankets and a cooler inside the white Lexus in the garage.” Also at that time Amanda and Nick Thayer arrived (license plate #ANI-736). Are there two separate occasions when Commander Eagan observed Watts putting something in his Lexus – during the neighborhood canvas, and also the morning of the murders – because that’s how it reads above.

    • nickvdl

      It’s in the discovery. And yes, it does read ambiguously and not very clearly. But the statement is specific that the loading was “on the morning of the disappearance.” It could be an error in the discovery, or it could be accurate. All I’m saying is if it’s accurate, then it would make sense – you’d be crazy to carry 3 bodies out into the open, not only ito of the Trisnatich video, but all the neighbors with direct line-of-site onto the other side of the vehicle.

      • Sylvester

        Yes it would make absolute sense to not want the carrying out in the open. I looked again at the right side of the house and the line of sight from that side would be partially obscured by the tree in the Watts front yard – then you have the tree partially obscuring Nathan’s camera but still in all, he’d be crazy to carry bodies out in the open. He obviously was using both vehicles for various and a sundry things – clothing changes, for dating purposes and whatever he put in and/or took out on the day he was caught running under the garage door and into the house. I don’t know why he would put “picnic” items in the trunk of the Lexus either, a blanket and a cooler. Did he think this would all go away and he could take Nichole out on another date?

      • Carol

        On that part in the video where people have commented that Chris is walking backwards dragging what they say would be shananns body, has that been the same opinion of investigators? I thought I read something in discovery but I can’t find it so not sure that’s where I actually read that

      • cybering

        the last part of your post is based on you misreading a report that itself is not well written.

        so early in the evening of Tuesday the 14th the police finally start surveillance on CW. this report is that on that evening he is observed pulling out of the driveway in the Lexus, pulling up to his work truck parked down the street, opening the Lexus hatch and transferring some items. *that is the information this report from the surveilling officer is conveying about what he observed Tuesday evening*

        what has you confused is whoever wrote this report threw in, directly in the paragraph above, that, regarding this specified work truck, the officer had been advised that the suspect had been seen loading items in the truck in the early morning.

        then the person writing the report SWITCHES BACK TO PRESENT TIME, Tuesday evening, the time of the surveillance, and says that NOW CW is parked next to the truck and the Lexus trunk is open.

        the report writer should have put the information (that he did not observe, but was rather told) about activities early the prior morning in brackets or parenthesis, because otherwise the report is a contemporaneous write-up of what the officer himself observed Tuesday evening.

        I found this set of reports somewhat humorous, in the aggregate. Because there were like 3 officers assigned to surveillance in separate cars, and they all wrote reports. After hanging out at his truck for a minute, Chris Watts got back in the Lexus, drove down the street, switched direction, doubled back, and got on a highway. So all the officers are in car-chase mode and very excited you can tell, radioing each other about “we’ve got him” “he’s headed this way” etc. Then they all get the word at once: he’s actually headed to the police station for a scheduled interview. And in fact he goes straight there with no stops. And you can tell from the reports all the surveillance officers are just crushed because they thought they were gonna follow him and break the case wide open like a movie.

      • Angela

        I think that while under surveillance on August 14, Watts left in the Lexus and drove to the work truck he had parked down the street. The report then mentions that this is the truck that was seen backed into the driveway the morning of the disappearances. Then, it reads that while they were watching him, he had the Lexus hatch up and the truck doors open. No one saw the Lexus the morning of the disappearances. It was in the garage.

        Also, it makes sense that he would perhaps leave using the back door or a window in the basement (that he rigged not to notify her or that were not on their system) while Shannan was away in NC. Maybe that’s why the neighbor saw him leaving through the side gate. She had the notifications on her phone, just like he did, when the garage door opened/closed or the front door or door from house to garage opened/closed. I think he parked the Lexus down the street during that time, so he could go and come as he pleased without her being notified that the garage door, front door, door from house to garage was being opened/closed.

  4. Sylvester

    I went to a little trouble to verify who was the owner of the plate #ANI-736,(for which a man and woman were seen parked at the Saratoga Trail House on the 14th – when Commander Eagan spotted Watts putting a blanket and cooler in the trunk of the Lexus) and according to dept. of motor vehicles it’s a Lexus Rx350. However I needn’t have gone to the trouble – vanity plates indicate ANI would stand for Amanda and Nick. Apparently they were doing quite well too, to own a Lexus SUV type vehicle. Amanda was in Sha’nann’s downline of 200. Essentially Sha’nann got Amanda to join LeVel. I’m wondering if Amanda “won” her Lexus too? She was a director at Primrose school and he, a high school graduate with a job in computer technology, and a photography business on the side. I’m guessing their combined salaries would be very modest – school directors make around $35K a year and with only a high school diploma he couldn’t be making more than $45K. How did they afford their Lexus?

    Since we’re on the subject of Lexus’s, when CBI got around to collecting evidence from the house and vehicles, there was men’s clothing in the “cargo” area of the Lexus – men’s socks, underwear, a belt, a t shirt, and his new work boots he did not wear to work 8/13. Was the change of clothing deposited in the Lexus because he hoped to grab the clothing and take to work 8/13 after he got rid of his burial clothing, or might he kept clothing changes in the cargo area of the Lexus to change into after all those nights spent at Nichole Kessenger’s?

  5. nickvdl

    Thanks for checking up on ANI-736.

    He was clearly living in a dream world, and maybe he was so in love and lust, that he wasn’t thinking straight. One can also apply the same psychology to MLMs. Do people really think they can make money with this etc…and apply that to the delusional psychology of the crime itself.

  6. Sylvester

    Delusional psychology of the crime itself – and the delusional quality of participation in all MLM’s. Good analogy! Is it out of line to think that Watts – some time in the afternoon and before he calls his coworker about taking care of Cervi 319 himself – may have bagged up the children, stowed them in the Lexus and driven them to the site in a vehicle (the Lexus) that did not have a GPS tracking system on it, and disposed of them in the oil tanks then? It certainly would have saved time to dispose of only one body the morning of. He doesn’t appear to be going back and forth from the garage to his truck but only seems to be walking several times AROUND his truck. And given his new work boots, change of clothing, was found in the cargo of the Lexus, might he have done some work before Sha’nann arrived home? I would like to see Trisnatich’s video for the whole day Sunday August 12 – as well as Sha’nann’s arrival at 1:48 a.m. We’re being gypped by not getting everything.

    • cybering

      No. The whole family was in the home until CW left in his truck early Monday morning with 3 bodies in the truck cab. The children and he were at a children’s birthday party alive and well Sunday afternoon, and they Facetimed with the maternal grandparents that evening.The Lexus did not leave the garage that night. Everyone was alive until shortly before he left because cadaver dogs did not alert in the house, which they would have had anyone been killed prior to early Monday morning.

      • Greenjoe

        The dogs did pick up all over the house down in the basement up in one of the girls rooms and few others places. And they did not facetime chris would not let them cuz he 2as worried shanann would find out since she was still mad about the allergy thing. Or conveniently he said that

      • cybering


        1) The dogs barked a lot but did not give the alert signal. All of the dog handler reports are in the document dump. One cadaver dog showed interest in the Anadarko work truck parked out front. However the dog did not give the full confirmation alert and so police were not able to get a warrant for the truck based on cadaver dog at that time. (Only after he confessed did they impound the truck.)

        2) The girls Facetimed with MATERNAL grandparents Sunday night, confirmed in grandfather interview. The PATERNAL grandfather wanted to FaceTime but due to the rift in the family he and Chris decided it would be better not to.

        Sorry to be persnickety but in a case where full interviews and all investigative documents are public it makes no sense to not be accurate when discussing the case.

        • crhsiitna

          I believe the girls were already dead when RW asked to facetime with. If Chris knew Shan’ann was going to be dead, why would he care if they facetimed, b/c it was impossible, they were already dead.

          Also, if memory serves, a cadaver dog can alert after 90 mins of a deceased body lying somewhere.

          • nickvdl

            No, Ronnie asked to FaceTime on August 10. [Discovery Documents, page 2111].

        • crhsiitna

          First time posting, not sure if my comment is stuck in moderation or what. If duplicated, please delete one. Love this place, btw!

      • Angela


  7. Sylvester

    I wanted to provide the primary motivation for the killing of the girls that burns red hot rather than green (money). Then I’ll shut up for a while. Reading the transcripts again and honing in on the things Nichole K. said it sounds like she gave mixed messages to the investigator but more importantly to Watts. She said to the investigator she thought he was more into her than she was into him. That she thought the girls were “cute” but that she hoped to find someone she could start her own family with ultimately. When Watts says he’s addicted to her I’m sure she conveyed that she was enamored with him too but he had the leverage in that he was still married -even if he could just get free of his wife, he would always have the children. And would she be ready for step motherhood? Alot to ask of a 30 year old girl who’s never been married or had kids. Might she have in a mixed message sort of way conveyed to him that he was still flawed in her mind because he came with extra baggage – children? If he could then, in his mind, take care and “fix” all of that then he could make sure he got the girl, without any extra baggage holding her back from full on committing to him. In his mind. “A fresh start” as Rourke said, but it’s deeper than that – he wanted to be fresh and unencumbered, for her. She has to know that she contributed to the drastic measure he took – not just by getting him to fall in love with her – but exerting her own sort of leverage over him that at any time she could decide he’s not for her anymore because she wants a guy who she can build her own family with. In his twisted thought pattern, he thought he was helping that along. And he’d just have to convince her that they truly did leave him, and now he’s totally free. Remember what O.J. Simpson said on Paula Barbieri”s answer machine the night he killed Nicole? He said “I’m finally totally free.”

    • Angela

      NK had to have seen Shannan’s FB videos. Shannan had a public FB page in order to use it for business. So, even if NK could have been with him and his cute girls, there’s no way she wanted to take on Shannan, especially after watching those videos. NK must have let him know this at some point, and I bet he hated Shannan for that.

      Also, I think the night she came home (after buying hair products online, of course), she accused him of having an affair, and that was all it took for him to finally just blow his top.

      Remember how Nicole said that O.J.’s beatings usually came as a result of her giving him a hard time about his cheating?

  8. Shannon

    Article and Comments excellent.

  9. Strawberry Fields

    Just wanted to comment about CW’s truck not parking in the garage. His truck could not fit in the garage; which is why he was only able to back it in so far when removing the bodies. Any why it was parked on the street.

  10. monicakelly7488

    “According to Bishop, the leasing company took back Shan’ann’s 2016 Lexus, and because it was too old to be leased out any further, they auctioned it off”
    It was a 2016 Lexus SUV, it was only 1 1/2 years old upon her death, that is not too “old” to be leased again. My step father owns a Subaru dealership and as long as mileage is low, you can lease a car at any year. Obviously there are limits. However, he has leased many vehicles with good mileage in good condition that are over 6-10 years old. A car should never be leased once it is 12 years or older. I believe it was auctioned off because they could get a better price. It was practically brand new. Auctioning it off had to do with wear, tear, and mileage. I know this is an old post but I thought I read almost everything on here. This I do disagree with. Thank you again for your hard work.

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