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

Yes, there is a way to test whether bodies could be placed through the Thief Hatch with [or possibly without] breaking bones – but you’re not going to like it…

Everyone expected fireworks in the autopsy results. Remember? We all thought the autopsy results were going to blow the lid off this case. I expected possible chemical processing of the bodies and/or dismemberment. But the only anomalies in the autopsy results were elevated [but apparently normal] alcohol levels in Shan’ann’s cadaver, and a damaged frenulum in Bella’s case.

Later on Dr. Phil made an “error” on his show, when he spoke about broken bones. At 4:47 in the clip below he says:

“He had to break their bones to get ’em in there…”

To demonstrate his argument, Dr. Phil used this graphic:

fullscreen capture 20190111 223351

It seems pretty straightforward right? The width of the hatch is 8 inches, the width of Bella’s shoulder’s was 9.5 inches, ergo to force her body into the hatch Watts had to break her bones.

According to the Discovery Documents, the “smallest width” [presumably of the shoulders or hips] was measured on Ceecee’s body at 9.5 inches.

This is the width of that overlap:


It’s about 38 mm, just under 4 centimeters or less than half the horizontal width of your debit or credit card. It’s basically as wide as two to three average-sized adult fingers side-by-side.

The Discovery Documents and autopsy reports are surprisingly vague about the measurements, and are also unexpectedly vague about the dimensions of the oil tanks and hatches. There are no diagrams. There’s very little detail.fullscreen capture 20190111 224421

Even so, it doesn’t take a Rocket Scientist to see that by slightly elevating a horizontal structure of a particular width [say the hip or shoulder skeletal bones] through a circular hole of fixed width, the total width can be slightly reduced. When people move furniture through doors or manoeuvre them up and down staircases, this lifting or lowering to alter width is routine applied.

This manoeuvre can be described mathematically as follows:

fullscreen capture 20190111 230415

By raising the shoulder or hip on one side by about 33 degrees [or approximately 5.1 inches above horizontal], a small body could theoretically be fitted through a small hole without breaking anything.

The Discovery Documents and autopsy reports are silent on Bella’s minimum skeletal width. Let’s assume it to be inch wider [which is a completely uninformed, and uneducated guess]. The lifting to reduce the additional inch, once again, isn’t impossible.

fullscreen capture 20190111 231039

The fact that both children’s bodies were dumped with their clothes on, suggests as tight as the fit was, it wasn’t so tight to necessitate the removing of the clothes [the fabric remaining in place could cost a quarter of an inch or so].

Dr. Phil’s illustration is also misleading, because the girls did not have their arms stretched out horizontally, but lifted above their heads. In this position it would also be easily to lower one shoulder through the orifice, and then the other, rather than trying to force both through simultaneously. fullscreen capture 20180915 101246

Although it seems possible to push both bodies through without breaking bones, the only way to verify this would be to use a model skeleton [to scale], and re-enact trying to place the skeletal through the hole. Theoretically easy to do, by practically not quite as straightforward. Another option is a computer animated model using a scaled skeleton and the thief hatch to scale.

Any volunteers?



  1. Sylvester

    There were some scrapes on Bella’s side, and also bruises but the coroner said “yellowish bruises” if i recall. That would imply they were old wouldn’t it? Even if Watts stomped on the girls to push them through the holes I would think those bodies would be a lot more damaged then what was reported in the autopsies.

  2. CBH

    It’s a wonder if this was indeed a premeditated crime, that the size of the hatches didn’t deter him. But as it is he got them in without damage, likely in the manner described above

  3. Cheryl Filar

    Any thoughts that he might have done a trial run with a similarly sized doll, such as the one that was photographed covered with something similar to a blanket? I can’t imagine premeditating a crime and leaving to chance being able to dispose of their bodies in this manner.

    • nickvdl

      It’s possible. But the more I research this case the more I think Bella did that to the doll. That’s just based on seeing what she did with other toys. The timing of it is very telling, but in another sense, it makes no sense that he would premeditate something and then dangle a carrot of inculpatory evidence in front of everyone’s nose showing his culpability. It wasn’t in his nature to do that.

      In Watts’ mind, when he sent the photo I don’t think he connected the doll to what he eventually did/planned to do. The doll is “smothered” by the way, and personally I don’t think the children were smothered to death. Naturally I can’t prove any of this, it’s simply gut feel based on getting to know the people involved and the circumstances inside the home. And I probably need a lot more time getting to know them better than I already do to be certain.

      • CBH

        That had occurred to me as well. First, if premeditated it may have been by hours – or a couple of days – only.

        Second, taunting was not his goal: Having his family vanish and him appearing innocent was.

      • Cheryl Filar

        Thanks, Nick. Whatever methodology Chris used, how do you think he had the confidence that his daughters’ bodies could be forced through such small openings? I’m not trying to be argumentative and I’m not locked into his testing it with the covered doll or any doll. Perhaps it was serendipity. Perhaps he planned to bury all of them in earthen graves and, running out of time, found he could dispose of Bella and Celeste in the oil batteries. I don’t know. But I’m interested in yours and others’ thoughts. I’m not Chris, but I cant imagine going out to a work site and winging it per covering up the murder of your entire family on a work day morning.

      • Jade Dorrian

        How do you think he might have killed the girls if not by smothering? Trying to picture what he did to these beautiful little girls makes me sick to my stomach. How could he.. 🙁

        • Tonya

          I’d like to know as well (if smothering wasn’t the cause of death) 🤷🏻‍♀️ I feel the same way, I will never understand how he could possibly do what he did 😔 he’s a monster.

      • Amanda Jayne

        So if they weren’t smothered how do you think they met their deaths? There was no drugs in their system ( autopsy results)

        • crimerocket_pmfrt4

          There was no drugs in their system ( autopsy results)>>>Was there anything in the oil tanks that might interfere if there were chemicals in their system? And would the heat, and amount of time they were deceased have any impact on those substances?

  4. Lara Martinez

    Also, since they described the skin slippage, it may be hard to actually see the damage on the girls’ skin. It just seems like Colorado decided not to tell the whole story for some reason. Like why was Chris “angry” when they discussed the plea deal? He was escaping the death penalty–was it because he didn’t want to take responsibility for the girls’ deaths? If he murdered them,, why would he be angry about that? This case enthralls me because it’s so strange in many ways.

    • Teresa

      Given that the ME washed the girls before performing the autopsies and that there was skin slippage, I would think that the strap muscles of the neck would be examined for bruising or blood in order to indicate strangling as opposed to smothering. Since nothing was mentioned, I am assuming they were smothered.

    • CBH

      Yes, it appears he would far rather have been viewed as the man who attacked his wife after realizing she murdered his babies. He was angry that he would now be viewed as a family annihilator.

      • Tonya

        Exactly..he still wanted to look like the “good guy” that he pretended to be to everyone 🤦🏻‍♀️ Which I’m sure was all an act.

  5. Sylvester

    Clearly if he had asked for an attorney early on he wouldn’t have talked himself into a life sentence.

    • Teresa

      I believe Watts was consumed by how others viewed him. This is apparent by his reaction to the detectives when asked if he wanted his co-workers to go to the site to help retrieve the bodies-he freaked out at the suggestion, saying they would wonder “Chris, what the F have you done”! It seems his whole world was built around his image. This plays into (IMHO) his eagerness to sit and talk with detectives in order to appear normal and as if he had nothing to hide.

      • Lara Martinez

        Yes–he was a lot like Shan’ann in that regard. He almost had an attorney, too–if you watch his dad tell him they’d get him one & see what could be done, then the FBI & CBI agents came back into that room fast and distracted them.

    • Pasha

      @Teresa – Watts even said that he didn’t want the detective to think he was a “bad person” after admitting to strangling Shan’ann. Can you imagine that? You admit to killing your wife…..but you don’t want people to think that you’re a bad person.

      • Sylvester

        Pasha, I’ve been wondering why Chris invited Nichole K. to his house while his wife was away. I mean it suggests something more sinister to me than just having her pick him up at the house, it suggests that he was showing off his superficial affluence. He had to know she would gaze upon all of the photographs of his family life in the home, all of the little sayings about success and happiness, how beautifully the furniture was arranged, his wife’s organizational skills, and interior decorating habits. Nichole also said he was cleaning the carpet, even then. She said the furniture was piled up near the front door while he was waiting for the carpet to dry. That doesn’t suggest much other than he is a clean freak. I just have to wonder if he was very intentional about her seeing how he lived and I wonder why. Does it have to do with “the other Chris”? One works long days for an oil company, driving a company truck, taking care of his girls – but the other is materialistically -oriented, a liar and a cheat, who also enjoys appearances and looking good. But why would he want to show his girlfriend that side?

  6. Diana

    Just a reminder as far as possible bruising due to being forced through the thief hatch. Dead bodies DO NOT bruise! After death bruises can appear, but they would’ve been incurred while alive!

    • CBH

      Does that then discount the ending of Rape of Cassandra (Bella)? Nick?

      • CBH

        Actually I just realized that doesn’t really apply to the toungue biting being post-mortem.

  7. Sylvester

    I’m of the mind the girls weren’t smothered either. I keep getting a picture in my mind that plastic was put over their heads and they were asphyxiated. I don’t know why exactly, but I’ve always kind of thought given his roll of black plastic trash bags in the truck, the dog alerting in the basement, the black curtain over the basement window which might be a trash bag, he wouldn’t have to necessarily get up close and personal – he could somehow fix it over their heads, walk away, come back later and find them “gone.” Any sounds wouldn’t carry from down there either. And it’s kind of symbolic that the first place the Officer searched was around back, dropping his body into the gravel area and tapping on each window, looking, hearing nothing. Not even Deeter. But there were no marks around the neck so I haven’t gotten a full picture yet. If they were drugged first he may have thought the bag would do the rest. But the basement seems to me like a “hub” or the locus of activity – down there where his Battery lyrics played out.

    • Maura

      Chris had two Google searches on his phone that he deleted but police found. Date searched wasn’t recovered:
      1. How to Delete Instagram
      2. 80 mg Oxycodone

      Why did he look up and then delete the drug dosage search? They found his Google searches from 8/12-8/13. Since the drug search was on his phone it couldn’t have been that long ago if some data was there.

      His wife may have had oxycontin and morphine stocked away for her Lupus and from her neck surgery.

      One website said 80 mg was a strong dose for adults given in smaller amounts over 12 hours. Warning: If tablets were crushed, chewed or dissolved they would work much faster and could be fatal. If he gave one of these lethal drugs to the kids with their regular meds he could walk away and come back after they’d overdosed before putting them in garbage bags. No need to smother or get close until deed was done.

      • CBH

        VERY good thinking.

      • Karen #2

        Wouldn’t those drugs show up in the lab work at the autopsy?

      • Doobs

        He had to actually look up hoe to delete insta?
        He also had to look up how to feel when you are in love?
        I saw a card from him to NK and it’s all love song lyrics.
        I am sure he “looked” up how he should feel? That part is so weird.
        He was trying to give her a nice heartfelt birthday card but it was literally all song lyrics that he looked up. He couldn’t even distinguish what his feelings really were.

        • Tonya

          Right..he’s empty of emotions like a blank slate. The whole time that him and Shanann were together was an act he portrayed. She and everyone else seen him as a nice guy and loving father/husband but deep within he was (still is) evil. He mimics others and he’s done this his entire life. (IMO)

  8. Diana

    Maura…Nurse here. Oxycontin is the brand name for a time released opioid. About 3 to 5 years or maybe longer, the composition of the drug changed. Due to overdosing of addicts, the feature of crushing it to by-pass the time release factor was done away with. Oxycodone IS the narcotic present in Oxycontin and the only difference between the two is the time release feature in Oxycontin. Oxycodone is immediate release/short acting, taken every 4 hours, whereas Oxycontin is time released/long acting, taken every 12 hours. And to be prescribed a pill with 80 mg. of Oxycodone in it? You’d have to be a severe addict or a super, super long term user. Most adults in need of pain meds would be prescribed anywhere from 5 to 10 mg of Oxycodone if that’s what’s prescribed. I know, more than you care to know about opioids, right?! But I could see Chris acting out your theory! He could’ve given the kids just a 5 mg tab of Oxycodone, then let it work and put bags over their heads. Very plausible theory! No cloth fibers present, fits the autopsy too. And no need for Chris to be so up close and personal as they took their last breath!

    • Pasha

      I’m wondering if the 80mg oxycodone that he searched for was a total sum of oxycodone that he found in Shan’ann’s medicine cabinet. Like maybe she had 8 pills of oxycodone 10mg or 8 pills of percocet 10/325mg …. a common med prescribed after cervical disc surgery. I can’t imagine what even one of those pills would do to a young toddler. 10mg oxycodone was enough to knock me out after surgery.

      I keep coming back to the oxycodone search on his phone and can’t get it out of my mind. I’ve searched to see if crude oil would somehow alter the toxicology results of the girls……but can’t find a lot of info.

      • nickvdl

        Hey Pasha

        Where in the Discovery Documents is this “80mg oxycodone” search?

    • Maura

      Thanks, Diana. From what I read, NO dosage was safe or to be given to children under age 12. I don’t believe that Chris searching this drug before he murders his kids is random. It’s another act by Chris leading to premeditated murder.

      Somehow he calculated amounts to give them based on the pills his wife had at home. As Pasha said, and I agree, these are strong pills for adults. If Chris gave his 38-40 lb kids Oxycodone or Morphine instead of their Asthma meds it wouldn’t take much to kill them.

      Another poster said yesterday that Opioids are lipophilic. Evidence that they’d been drugged would dissolve in the complete oil saturation that their bodies underwent for 4 days.

    • Mustang Sally

      I mentioned most, if not all, of this on another thread awhile back. Maybe it was ignored. Extrapolating further, I surmise that some of his clean-up efforts were in regards to the vomiting likely to result from such an overdose and why the childrens’ stomach contents were empty.

      • Mustang Sally

        *Only in reply to Diana’s post.

    • Pasha

      @nickvdl – I’m sure you’ve seen it already, based on the new post you made, but it was on pg. 1769 for anyone who’s interested.

    • melissa

      nothing found during autopsy and it would of still been detectable other then blood to look for it as a nurse you should know that

  9. sheis

    I don’t see the bid puzzle in this. If one arm is alongside the head and the other is alongside the body, the shoulders are diagonal and will fit in the hole. Like the dog with a stick in its mouth trying to get through a doorway. Or putting in a jacket with tight shoulders: one arm goes first.

    Change the angle a little and it’ll go through. All he had to do was dangle the body by one arm.


  10. Sylvester

    Nick, it’s on page 1769, tiny print, highlighted in blue, at the top of the page and misspelled:

    how to delete instagram account (google search)
    google search 80mg “oxycodon”

    • Maura

      Phone report starts at p 1768 and the 2 deleted searches are at the very top of p 1769. The next searches are dated 8/12-8/13. None of his searches are random.

  11. Sylvester

    And under “Digital Evidence Analysis”

  12. Nick

    Shot. Always learning something new!

    • Maura

      Don’t forget “Lipophilic”.

  13. Kerry Foster

    Hi, Weighing in as an MD. Reading this, I can’t help but think of delivering a baby. The shoulders are the widest part of the baby and where the child may become ‘stuck ‘ in the birth canal. As medical students when we first deliver babies, we learn how to maneuver the shoulders at that point of delivery to avoid problems (more or less pulling one shoulder forward while holding down the other to pull the baby out with shoulders at an angle). This works very well and rarely causes any issues. This is what I thought of initially and it makes sense to me that Chris used a similar technique especially since the size difference was relatively small.

  14. Ralph Oscar

    If the head diameter would fit inside the thief hatch, then the rest of the child’s body would fit. Kids’ bodies are notoriously rubbery anyhow. As Kerry Foster noted, the only real concern for delivering a baby is whether the head diameter will fit through the opening – if the head fits, the rest can be worked out. I like the idea that oxycodone left over from Shan’Ann’s surgery might have been used to knock the kids out and make them easier to kill even if that overdose didn’t do the trick – that might have been what those two little girls were doing while Chris was outside barbecuing by himself the evening of their last day, after the birthday party. Chris could take his time barbecuing without feeling any need to supervise the girls because they weren’t able to be getting up to anything.

    • Bumblebee

      Right & since Bella was bigger -the dose of medicine didn’t have as impactful & immediate effects as it did with the smaller child which explains why Bella had more facial/mouth damage as her suffocation required more “manual” assistance to achieve.

  15. Jennifer Hanselmann

    Nick- where is the quizz on this subject that was mentioned on the other intensive post?

  16. Debz Rosamond

    Would rigor mortis make the hatch loading task to even more difficult?
    How flexible are arms post death (even say if death had occurred 30 mins or so previous?) I imagine a few hours post death there’s no way Watt’s could have just slid them in as easily as he demonstrated and described in answer to the female agent questioning the process and if he was sure the girls were dead when dropped in the tanks? It was described as if it was as easy as demonstrating how he’d help his daughters put a vest in the on (he nonchalantly just raised his arms straight up in the air to show his method of lowering body into tank).
    There was no oil inhaled so that would indicate they were not alive when dropped into the tanks.
    Would he have left the acts of murdering them until he reached disposal site? He was on a tight schedule. If not then we have to take into account the travel time at the very least for an indication of the least amount of rigor to set in.
    I definitely think the Oxycontin would have been used in some way to knock the girls out and make the act of snuffing out their little innocent lives slightly more palatable for Watts.
    There’s that many undetermined factors.
    You can guarantee Watts will take the secrets of the time line to his grave with him as his number 1 priority to limit and fully implement damage control so that he appears less monstrous (!) to the world.
    Easing the trauma of all those unable to navigate their awful grief and make any traction in healing by at least surrendering the grim details of abhorrent murderous rampage committed by his own hands.
    He shouldn’t get any deal when he is still so into himself and demonstrating such shallow vanity and absolutely zero genuine remorse.
    The only thing Watts is sorry about is getting f@*%ing caught.

  17. Debz Rosamond

    Perhaps he wanted a wee star dose of the oxycodeine for himself to do the murders without panic… I who bloody knows…..

  18. Debz Rosamond


  19. Jennifer Hanselmann

    Where is the quiz link?

  20. Nancy Chastain

    I truely belive he is a walking dead zone, meaning he has no feeling his mommy sucked him dry. She made him an actor.
    His father talker about Shan’ann so bad at the police dept. The very first time they talked to him. I really thought he was a nice guy trapped in a bad wife life until then. But the more I’m reading the more I see this mommy dearest is a nasty sick person with -p- class and the daughter, or sister what ever she didnt mail invations from the start she is jelious, was and is nothing like Shan’ann. She will never have her class. That girl is going to be a nasty old dirty eww freek like her mom who fostered a murderer. She really needs to check in to a beautiful psch. Really there might still be time.

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