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Chris Watts had braces at school, wasn't popular, flew under the radar – and something else

Way back on August 18th, when I wrote the first blog on Watts case at the sister blog to this site, I listed 20 obvious “tells” suggesting Watts was lying during his Sermon on the Porch. Stuttering was #4.

On the face of it, Watts’ stuttering doesn’t match who he appears to be. He’s fit, muscular, confident, good looking [to some], suave, smart, and cool, calm and collected. But when on the spot, such as when he made his speech about relationships, or when he was confronted by the cops in his home, he revealed himself as a poor speaker. He’s not a convincing talker.
This put Watts extremely at odds with the whole Thrive MLM deal which required him to be in front of the camera, talking a big game and selling himself. Watts hated doing that, he said.
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I dealt with another stutterer in the Van Breda axe murder case. Henri is a lot like Watts in some ways. Mild-mannered, gentle, soft-spoken and apparently an introvert. When Henri decided to testify, he asked the court not to televise his testimony because of his stutter. The court eventually overruled the request, and Henri testified to a packed court, with cameras trained on him, and he hardly ever stuttered. Not never. But so seldom it was hardly the speech impediment he’d made it out to be.
And yet when Henri was nervous, the stutter did come out. Not a Fish Called Wanda level stutter, but one that raised its slippery head nevertheless.

The stutter isn’t just a nervous artifact floating around, it’s connected to something deeper. Trauma is one reason, and it’s possible Watts felt either excessively dominated and controlled by an overbearing mother, or outshone by his outspoken extroverted older sister. According to brainblogger:
Stuttering is increasingly becoming recognized…as a deep psychological response to an increasingly alienated world….It is during this time as the child is adjusting to modern human life that it will often encounter an environment in which it is overwhelmed or variously adjusting to inconsistencies or abnormalities to what it expects. It is this avalanche of learning and stimulus and adjusting that is occurring that can lead to a certain level of internally generated subconscious insecurity and anxiety. This self-doubt that develops can manifest in many physical forms, with the main verbal expression being to stutter when attempting to begin speaking.
Stuttering is essentially a verbal expression of a child’s insecure and uncertain reaction to an overwhelming world.
And so in the context of true crime, the thing that elicits the stutter is often [not always, but often] heightened anxiety brought on by a particular line of questioning. Right alongside Watts’ stutter is another nervous tick, the inward lip curl. Ironically, Henri van Breda had the same involuntary movement of his lip, but instead of it curling inward, it snarled upward, something he often tried to hide during his testimony.

What this reveals is that far from these criminals being cool, their anxiety is greater than it is for the average person.
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  1. CBH

    I think that Watts does come across as handsome and cool, but it was a facade that developed later, after an insecure childhood.
    It’s a shame that Shannan had to impose the filming on him and Bella. You could see they had the same nature and that it bothered them considerably.
    How intriguing that you compare him to Van Breda: I have thought of Henri since the Watts case began.

  2. Sylvester

    This large black and white picture reminds me of looking in a mirror. Either I’m looking at myself, or his expression never changes and he’s watching me. This expression isn’t any different from what we see looking back at us from the Wisconsin jailhouse interview. There were girls and guys like Watts in my high school. They weren’t in the popular cliques and they weren’t the troublemakers, or the class clowns, they were just unnoticed. Sometimes they became the teacher’s pets in grade school because the teachers took pity on them. And that wasn’t a good place to be either. In the large scope of things (the high school world) they were not even considered. I suppose if they had a superpower it would be the ability to disappear.

  3. Ralph Oscar

    Stutters are a difficult thing. There seem to be varying degrees. Some are triggered by children being forced to learn to write with their non-dominant hand. I remember my mother (born 1934) telling me about how there was always at least one child in each class with a stutter – this was back when left-handed children were forced to use their right hands to write. Now that we permit children to use whichever hand is more comfortable for them, we hardly ever see genuine stutters any more.
    There is also a stutter-type pattern I’ve observed where someone will say, for example, “We-we-we are heading out now” or “The-the-the shoes are in the closet.” I haven’t observed it in a while; in my memory, it’s the first word that’s more likely to be repeated, which would seem like a possibly nervous response to beginning to speak. But it may be that it occurs anywhere within a sentence in this type of stutter, which is far less obvious than a genuine stutter and easier to overlook.
    But what do I know?

    • nickvdl

      Watts doesn’t stutter with every word. But in the context of true crime, his stutter is definitely a tell. To conflate stuttering in general with life in general is the opposite of what I’m trying to say here. I studied Van Breda’s court testimony in detail and he spoke a lot on the stand with a huge crowd listening to every word, and with everything at stake, and he did so without the slightest hint of a stutter. But when he did stutter it was very telling.

      • Ralph Oscar

        It’s particularly interesting when someone who does not habitually stutter starts to do so in certain situations. It definitely grabs my attention! I like the way you identified this as one of the “tells” that betray the high stress that the questions in particular were triggering. Why so nervous all of a sudden, Chris?
        I simply have a personal interest in stuttering and felt like explaining it because it’s fascinating – don’t mind me. You can remove my post if you like since it’s a tangent that doesn’t apply to the Watts case.

  4. Dee

    …a little girl was begging for her life so what the hell is all this about ‘stuttering’. He is a MONSTER!@#+

    • nickvdl

      I doubt it.

    • Matt

      Don’t you want to know why Dee? If your roof starts leaking do you just curse the roof or do you find out why it leaked?

  5. Karen

    How interesting. My brother has stuttered as long as I can remember but only when he’s nervous and when he lies. That’s how I can always tell when he’s being less than honest and if he suspects I know he’s not being completely truthful, he stutters worse. I think the trauma of our upbringing brought about his stuttering. Our dad was not a nice guy. Ralph, your comment about lefties? My brother is a lefty and my dad was forever trying to get him to use his right hand but it never took. I was born a lefty, my dad did the same with me, but as fate would have it I broke my left arm and ending up switching anyway, except my brain is constantly fighting it. I do everything left-handed except write and use a knife. I do believe his stuttering started very early on though

    • Ralph Oscar

      “I was born a lefty, my dad did the same with me, but as fate would have it I broke my left arm and ending up switching anyway, except my brain is constantly fighting it. I do everything left-handed except write and use a knife. ”
      And now you have that piece of the puzzle, what the research has turned up about the connection between being forced to intensively use the non-dominant hand in a languagey way and the disorder of speaking the language. I’m sure there’s a connection in the brain between this specific use of the non-dominant hand and the vocal expression of the same mental process. Some say that developing spoken language was one of the most important evolutionary leaps our ancestors took in developing into who we are; some say that developing written language was the second most important evolutionary leap.
      My son was a lefty as well until he, too, broke his left forearm at age 11. A pretty bad break, too – both bones. This was in the spring – there were several months of school to go. So he learned to write right-handed while his left arm was in the cast and now he writes with his right hand. But he draws, eats, and plays some sports left-handed still.
      Even though his leftiness was never restricted or condemned, he has always had a slight non-fluency in his speaking, that “we-we-we are going now” type of thing I mentioned above. I met one adult who did this once – an anesthetist. It’s perhaps the sort of thing most people won’t notice unless it is brought to their attention – I noticed it because I was accustomed to my son speaking with that pattern. But it’s not debilitating at all the way a genuine stutter can be.

  6. Sideaffected

    Yes that is one way you can tell with him (and with a lot of people) that they’re lying. Also when he’s vague-like not giving any details about the girls in the new “confession” except when prompted, they seem to be floating around-if that had happened he’d be like “Cece grabbed this and then I took her here and picked her up and put her here and then bella..” He’s also a big projector and there are many slips of the tongue-he doesn’t want to talk-he says when asked about the girls “I don’t wanna talk about it, honestly”-I think that could also be a slip and he means “I don’t wanna talk about it honestly.”
    What would be more interesting for me to figure out is when he doesn’t stutter but is lying (at times in the sermon on the porch and at times in the original “confession”-but gets tripped up at other points, when he’s also lying.) In the first confession he doesn’t stutter when he really is trying to convince them after being confronted one of the first times-something like “I love those kids they’re the light of my life I would never hurt them” and goes on for like a minute without stuttering. Is it just memorization? He does that a lot-“the lunchbox, the toolbox, the..”

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