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Rzuceks on Dr. Phil: This is why Sentiment is the Antithesis of True Crime

Part One of Dr. Phil was hearing Chris Watts’ “Second Confession” 4th hand [via law enforcement, the Rzuceks, then their lawyers] a few days before the official release thus giving Dr. Phil exclusive first bite at the cherry.
Part Two was hearing the Second Confession again, this time from Frank, while the cameras tried to capture the emotional responses of the family.
Let’s be clear, any time there is grief expressed in the context of true crime, it’s redeeming, it’s necessary and it’s meaningful.  Grief is a genuine acknowledgement of loss. It’s how we come to terms with the loss of life, and the pain of losing someone that was loved and cared about. This message is one that matters most in true crime – that life is precious. Whether the victim or victim’s family expresses it, or the perpetrator, grief provides a moment of authentic humanity. Is that what we see on Dr. Phil?
Is that what this is?

Almost five minutes of the Dr. Phil show deals with a sentimental spiel worthy not of an adult, but of a small child. Not only did we see an infantile response to a triple homicide but the level of wish fulfillment that’s being made a spectacle of on national television [even reported on CNN] is extraordinary.
Sandi [that’s actually how Shan’ann spelled her mother’s name on Facebook, and how Sandi did] took viewers through around three or four fictional scenarios.
The first was that Sandi experienced a “visitation” from her daughter, telling her she was at peace, and she was sorry. If you were murdered, and your children murdered, and your husband had blamed you, and you were dead, robbed of everything, and all you were ever going to be, would you be at peace? Ever?
The second visitation was from Ceecee, who told Sandi what a great grandmother she was, and kissed her. The third was from Bella, telling Sandi, “I can go to Walt Disney World anytime I want.” The final scenario was that Shan’ann handed her mother the fully formed boy child, and everyone lived happily ever after.
Obviously by today, Niko would have been born, but at the time of the “visitation” he was the size of an orange. This illustrates just how desperate and unrealistic the wish fulfillment actually is. It not only ignores reality, it defies it.
Some may feel it’s in very bad taste to criticize these visitation experiences because they’re personal. Dr. Phil didn’t, and seemed to think it was all in the name of joyful and peaceful closure, and healing.
But such sentiment is the antithesis of true crime. We often see sentiment used in true crime by defendants, and by defense teams, to evoke sympathy. And it works. It worked and continues to work with Steven Avery. When you feel sorry for someone in the context of true crime you don’t think. What happened no longer matters.
I can assure you if Shan’ann could climb out of the dirt of the graveyard where she’s buried and speak for herself, and if Bella could, neither would be resigned to what had happened six months later, and what’s more, they’d resent others manufacturing words and scenarios that have nothing to do with their reality as it stands now, or as it did when their lives were snuffed out. Imagine yourself being murdered, yourself fighting for breath and then the world being told you were praying and died peacefully with no struggle.
In this day of mansplaining, whitesplaining, minimizing murder by having victims act out pleasant sounding fictions and aphorisms ought to have a meme too. It’s just in extremely poor taste to be euphemistic about the death, especially when the manner of death is homicide.
This crime took place for a combination of reasons, some that had to do directly with sentiment [Watts’ romantic, schmaltzy feelings towards his mistress] and some that had to do with the opposite. He was able to kill his family because he no longer felt “sentiment” towards his family. And so, trying to understand Watts’ motives through the prism of sentiment is a double-edged sword, except only one side of that sword cuts to the bone of this case.
What about the other side?
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Sandi’s schmaltz was surprising after her tough testimony during the sentencing hearing. Out of everyone who spoke that day, perhaps not including Rourke, Sandi sounded the strongest, the most in control and the least sentimental.
Not here on Dr. Phil. Suddenly in the face of terrifying information [which probably isn’t accurate either], there’s this mythical barrier where the laws of the universe and nature simply don’t apply. Now everyone is resurrected and magically set right in the blink of an eye. Suddenly everyone is living happily ever after and on their way – apparently – to PleasureLand.
But how is that so different from the lives they were living on Earth? In fact just before their deaths, the children were playing on a playground in Myrtle Beach [while their father was floating off somewhere else], and around this same period they were on the beach for the first time ever. Frank was with them, but apparently not paying too much attention to trouble brewing in paradise right in front of him.
In a  more general sense, the fairy tale scenarios of the Watts family promoted endlessly on Facebook [to make money], is exactly the same brand of magical thinking and wish fulfillment we see from Sandi. The urge to deny mortality is the root of untold evil in the world, which is why this crime happened, and why what Sandi is doing is absolutely not helpful.
Hiding from reality in fantasies does Chris Watts a huge favor, especially when the version he’s given is just another hastily assembled house of cards. Hiding in fantasies is the reason this crime happened, and the key to preventing it was waking up from these delusions.
How do we lie to ourselves? How does society lie to itself? Right here. Like this.
It’s so consistent, it’s a default setting. We are a society geared to lying to itself, not only collectively, but individually. We also actively lie to ourselves. And if you really want to talk about narcissism, talk about narcissism in the context of damaging magical thinking like this. Talk about handcrafting fairy tales and promoting fairy tale potions and powders, while your home is about tumble into a crater of debt. Talk about concocting fake fictions in order to feel better about the trauma tearing at the world, and your own heart.
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More: Frankie Rzucek arrested in October 2015 for assaulting a two-year-old child


  1. Sylvester

    One thing I noticed was Frankie Jr. was not allowed to speak – that is, he continually was interrupted by Sandi. Also instead of encouraging little rubs on his arm it was more like hits. I thought that odd. It’s also too soon to philosophize about what Shan’ann’s life was all about, for instance that she died for a higher purpose so that we might all fill in the blank. It looked like to me that Frank Sr. might have been on some kind of tranquilizers, he was certainly very emotional in court both times but rather stony-faced on Dr. Phil. It’s Frankie Jr. I’m most concerned about however. I see a lot of suppressed rage, and I’m wondering how that will come out in all of his future relationships and possibly how it already has in the past.

    • nickvdl

      Just think about the polar opposite psychology at work here: being anal about schedules and regimenting people’s lives, and then when you’re dead, it’s all Disney Land and my Little Ponies pooping rainbows.

    • Sally D.

      I agree, Frankie Jr is very tightly coiled, his body language speaks for him. He has a tremendous amount of anger, and I also hope he is getting help for it. I understand his issue about the social media thing, but that was inevitable – everyone knows the internet can be a mean, nasty and angry place if you let it. Maybe his best way would be to unplug completely, at least for a while, so he can work on himself. I guess he feels he has a mission to defend his sister, though. I also agree that Sandi didn’t seem to want either Frank or Frankie Jr to speak.

      • Shannon

        Like mother, like daughter.
        Both were and are Controlling.

  2. CBH

    These sorts of visitations which are here rightly called wish-fulfillment, make it seem that murder is not all that bad, as soon everything is right. Dr. Phil only cares about ratings whereas a serious therapist might remark, “Any chance we can let the saccharine visitation fairytales go and explore the real landscape of grief?” If Bella is always at Disney World now, then Daddy should be given a medal rather than a prison sentence.
    Well stated about magical thinking and sugary optimism being the root and the offspring of a narcissistic society. Shannan was representative of that sick society and Thrive was just symptom, consequence, incident of that pathology.

  3. mitzi2006

    That is part of the doctrine of our catholic doctrine. Death isn’t an end but a beginning, God forgives all and we are joyful to be with him. I remember asking my parents when I was young if that means people are happy they died, it didn’t go over well lol. That’s what leads to the fantasizing about signs from loved ones. I wanted to ask if shanann came to her before they even knew she was missing why they never suspected at first that Chris did something until pretty blatant signs were told to her. Would have liked LE to ask her what time she had that incident happen.
    Sandi mentioned also about the premeditation, him arranging to be out at cervi alone. So sounds like they’re believing Chris watts account but also the premeditation evidence. You can’t have it both ways, to believe everything he says in this admission but then say that it was premeditated.

    • mitzi2006

      **doctrine of the catholic faith I meant

  4. Shannon

    If Sandi thinks Shanann and the kids spoke to her. She’s making up stories. Maybe now they can join a church, give it some money.
    Junior needs a therapist. I’m sure that household inside is a nightmare. But then again since this all for camera, they just might be laughing inside, crying outside.
    All for show.
    They need to go away and stay out of public eyes. That’s why they are receiving death threats, trolls and other people.
    Seems all have found God now.
    Where was he before?
    They would have loved a trial, then lots of exposure.

  5. Lynn

    Whatever gets you through the night.

    • nickvdl

      Trouble is whatever gets you through the night is used to get through the day too.

  6. Liz

    If it gets them through this, I say let them have at it.
    Sudden death with violence in a family does cause a family’s collective mind to go askew. Sudden death without violence is bad enough. Frank Sr. does look like he is on meds for this. Sandi has her faith, and Frankie, Jr. … a sibling’s death is always super hard especially when it’s your only sibling. The Rzuceks have my sympathy and empathy.
    Sandi said she wondered if Chris had pretended to be a good man all his life and she wondered if there had always been this dark side to him. (Not said verbatim.)

    • nickvdl

      Shan’ann pretended her way through each day, and so did Watts [pretending not to have an affair, and that his wife wasn’t pregnant.] But as you say, pretending doesn’t do any harm.

      • Liz

        This family cannot really be objective now. They are living in the shadows themselves. This is just my opinion, not a do as I say thing; it’s the way I see it having lived through a violent death and a sudden death and all the emotions those would bring. A temporary bandaid may keep them going until they can walk again without training wheels.

        • nickvdl

          Then they shouldn’t be going on national television.

    • Shannon

      They need to realize their own daughter had a Dark side.
      That’s what brought out Chris’s Dark side!
      Things happen for reasons.
      He should have listened to his Mom, by not marrying her.
      She had a gut feeling…….always go with your gut.

      • Tracey 14

        I doubt Chris mother would have been satisfied with any woman. One could easily argue that this may have had a very different outcome if CWs mother was able to put her personal feelings and jealousy of Shanann aside and be supportive of her son’s choice of a marriage partner.
        “Why should the Rzucek family get to speak and speak ill and the Watts family not speak.” Because their son murdered their daughter and their grandchildren. If the Watts family wants to speak I am sure somone will give them a platform. IMO, the Rzucek family despite how they may have felt showed compassion to CW. I am sure others would have went for the death penalty from the beginning.
        I find it incredible that some still beat this drum of how a woman deserves what she got because she did something to incite the man. As if divorce isn’t an option and her dark side was just so dark it drove him to kill her. So what is it two small children did? Do they have a dark side….oh yes, I guess they were just collateral damage. It’s this twisted thinking that allows people to excuse the horrendous actions because she got what was coming.

  7. Shannon

    Since Phil likes Drama. Why doesn’t he interview the Watts. Let them speak for a change and make some money.
    Why should the Rzucek family get to speak and speak ill and the Watts family not speak.
    Maybe they have alittle more class.
    There are 2 sides to every story.

  8. Right44

    You knocked it out of the park here, Nick!! Great post.

  9. Stacy

    Yes people should go with their gut feelings. SW should have trusted she was not safe with Chris. Her mother should have pushed harder for her to stay in NC. Her mother was correct in telling the officers so early to check his gps and the oil tanks. I would LOVE to see the Watts trying to defend their son now that they can’t keep spinning the narrative SW killed her children. They also presented a false image of family life in their own interview. He was a good boy who didn’t get in trouble or complain. I’m sure there was no room in his mother’s world for that until he started complaining about his wife and they had that to bond over. He played sports (as if plenty of athletes haven’t been involved in domestic abuse). No metion of Ronnie turning to drugs bc he was so dependent on his grown son’s prescence that he couldn’t bear for him to move out and leave him with his own wife. Yes I would love to hear what they have to say now. I do believe if you are murdered you should not have to spend eternity suffering bc of it. What that looks like no one knows.

  10. Stacy

    I’m not going to debate whether they saw SW and the girls and Nico and when but if it brings them comfort so be it. I have had some experiences with relatives that have passed (who were not murdered) and it was a very calming experience and much different that just a regular dream. My guess is she saw a fully formed Nico in her original vision because she though of him as a baby not a fetus even when SW was pregnant. I had plenty of dreams about my babies when I was pregnant and they were already born in my dreams I did not see them in their fetal state that they were in at the time I had the dreams.

    • nickvdl

      One of the obvious purposes of this particular forum [at least I thought it was] is to take a no nonsense approach to nonsense.
      I just love how you are here Stacy, arguing the case for sentiment in true crime. Is that what you’re doing here, trying to find the aaahh and oooh moments, because if that’s the case, all you are doing is emotional voyeurism, treating this case as a soap opera for your own unresolved feelings, and perhaps your own feelings of victimhood. All of that has absolutely fuck all to do with figuring out lingering unknowns and uncertainties ito this case, and there are many.
      Why do that here though, when social media has enormous cauldrons filled with the same folks echoing the same banal sentiments. If that is what you’re here to do, I can promise you you won’t find much satisfaction.
      if it brings them comfort so be it.>>>Imagine if we took that approach to true crime.
      I had plenty of dreams about my babies when I was pregnant>>>This isn’t about you, or how you dream, it’s about how one deals with the reality of death and murder and deception in the real world. Making nice little fairy tales about how people’s lives were destroyed is a recipe for making absolutely sure it happens again, and lets the killer off the hook. But no, by all means let’s ingratiate ourselves by recycling delusions of how happy Bella is right now in Disney Land. Actually Bella’s not in Disney Land – she’d dead, she died a horrible, unnecessary death, and her body was dissolved and destroyed in hot, toxic, black chemicals. It took a large crowd of workers to retrieve her remains and when they did, they couldn’t tell if it was an adolescent or a 4-year-old. And a lot of questions remain about how, when and why she died. Should we all smile about how happy she is now that she’s dead, or should we do our work? Should we be happy about where she is now, or angry?