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

Two Questions: Is Watts telling the truth in the Second Confession, and did he really *plan* such a poorly executed crime?

I received this comment from a reader today and I think it reflects what many people are thinking about.

I’ve read the first 2 parts of your book Two Face on my Kindle app. First I want to say that I love the in depth analysis you’ve done concerning the marriage and psychology behind the Watt’s marriage. I’ve read and seen several articles, tv shows, and other media formats and no one gives this case the insight that you do.

When I began following the case and saw Shan’ann’s Facebook videos, the law enforcement body cam footage, and Chris’s interviews with the media and police, I saw the exact same things about the family that you did. Being a mom, I was appalled by Shan’ann’s constant video coverage of her family for the scam that she was peddling. It was painful to watch the shallowness and neglect that she put upon these kids, not to mention how she used and belittled her husband. Shallowness is the only term that would describe this family.

My question to you is now that Chris Watts has come out with this new story about how he killed Shan’ann and then took her and the girls who were still alive, to the oil site and killed the kids there, does that make you believe that perhaps it wasn’t premeditated?

I guess the first thing I should ask is, do you think he’s telling the truth?

In my opinion, the fact that this was a sloppy, boneheaded carryout of a murder, leads me to believe that it wasn’t planned. That he snapped, killed Shan’ann and then had to deal with the kids as an afterthought.

Did he know that his neighbor had a camera that showed his driveway? If so then why did he overlook this if he had a plan to murder them all in the house? If I was going to kill my entire family and try to get away with it, I wouldn’t do it in a place that was equipped with video cameras. I wouldn’t do it on a day when my wife was supposed to be going to a doctors appointment. I wouldn’t use a vehicle that had GPS tracking to dispose the bodies and I would definitely not use my workplace as the site to get rid of the bodies.

Even the way that the bodies were disposed of to me shows hastiness not pre-planning due to the fact that he dug an easily detectable shallow grave, put the girls through an 8 inch in diameter hole in the tanks which would have been very difficult and gruesome, and then left behind the bedsheet that he wrapped Shan’ann’s body in. That shows rushing, hastiness, not pre-planning.  That is if we are to believe his story about how he carried out the crimes.

It does seem like it could have been planned because he insisted on working alone at the oil tank site, but again, why try to fit this murder in on a day that you had to go work. If he planned it why would he come up with a story that she went to a friends house but that you don’t know who the friend is?

Why leave her phone and purse in the house? The kids medicine and car seats?

If I planned this I would want all the evidence gone and all loose ends dealt with before I did anything else that day. The suggestion of I’ll commit the crime then come home after work and deal with getting rid of evidence makes no sense to me.


  1. CBH

    Good guest post and I agree with you that no one shows the depth of insight that van der Leek does.

    I think the second confession is pure fabrication to please the DA and public, and cover premeditation.

    He planned well but could not anticipate Shannan’s flight being delayed by 3 hours or Nickole Atkinson calling 911 so early. He didn’t expect to be a suspect within a few hours. He was expecting days and weeks, but things went awry and he had to fly blind.

    • nickvdl

      I also think he planned well. I’m not sure if he planned his story so well, but having said that, if you compare the stories of others – Henri van Breda, the Ramseys, McCanns, the defense of OJ Simpson, the defense of Steven Avery, the defense of Jodi Arias, and Casey Anthony, I don’t think Watts’ version of events stacks up too badly at all. The cops also gave Watts an extra day [arguably two] before they really interrogated him and arrested him, which I think was a critical error on their part.

      • Sideaffected

        What do you think it would have clarified in hindsight? Just Time/location of murders or anything else? Maybe his plans had they not shown up?

  2. Sideaffected

    That’s a typical response. For someone so “boneheaded”, he’s tricked a lot of people into thinking it wasn’t premeditated.

    The most shocking thing to me is that so many people think her murder and the kids’ were two totally separate things and an afterthought/consequence to SW’s murder. If someone can find a case where this happened-a parent kills his or her kid/kids cause they witnessed him or her killing the partner-I want to know and read all about it. I have heard of cases, plenty, where people kill kids to eliminate a “witness”, but I don’t know of a parental one. They may be out there but I don’t know of it and would want to. I’m almost sure it would involve a home with previous domestic violence. That’s not what happened here. They were all part of the same problem to him. He had to kill the WHOLE family unit (except him) to fix, he thought, the problem.

    I’m very tired of hearing “why would he make himself look WORSE if it wasn’t the truth”? Well, how would they feel about how excited and nervous he was planning it for days or weeks and how relieved he was afterwards? Doesn’t it sound better if he was out of his body/mind, implanted, suicidal? No, I don’t believe the second version for MANY reasons.

    There are several reasons it appeared and was in ways sloppy, making it look unplanned one could argue. There was a literal deadline for some reason-perhaps it was the gender reveal, NK’s increasing demands maybe and/or tuition, so he had planned to be out there Monday, and wouldn’t want to draw attention to himself by offering to go out early and forego the office multiple times. The kids might have been dead by the time her flight was delayed. That’s one reason I can think of for him leaving the sheet, for example. Regardless, I think him working it into his work day is actually kind of an ingenious plan and was always the plan. We don’t know what it would have looked like if given more time after. He also went from no criminal sophistication to trying to pull off a triple homicide overnight-you can’t possibly consider all the ways it may fail. People say “he’s so dumb, didn’t he know they’d be missed?” Of course he did-it’s more likely he didn’t plan on not knowing her phone code. If he had made it look like she was alive and online, this wouldn’t have looked like it did, she’d probably be “active.”.

    I do believe where he would always have failed though is in his behavior/demeanor-his lack of affect and genuine glee even on the news would have made him suspect and always would, even if the neighbor’s tape was taped over and the bodies were never found. He would always have been agreeable him so he would always have gone on the news, talked to the cops, given them his phone and let them search-I don’t believe he would have ever gotten away with it for these reasons. But he’s not a dumb man, and I think people being manipulated by him even now attests to that. He is dumb in that he is self-centered and seems not to be capable of considering others’ reactions well or expectations-like he doesn’t even try crocodile tears until it’s pointed out that he hasn’t cried by Tammy. Of course that’s not how this author would have disposed of her family this way, but she probably wouldn’t kill her family either so it’s kind of apples and oranges. Obviously Chris would, cause he did, and as heinous as it was, it’s not “boneheaded”. No one thought anything of it until NA showed up and in hindsight.

    • Rachel Leigh

      Jeffrey MacDonald killed his daughters after one daughter witnessed him beating/killing his wife. He’s never confessed. I believe the prosecution theory was that he accidentally hit one daughter while beating his wife and killed the other in an attempted cover-up. I don’t believe the MacDonald murders were premeditated.

      • Sideaffected

        That’s a good one to compare it to. He definitely meant to kill both daughters though-but when the five year old walked in. It does appear like it started as a fight, but I have a really hard time buying the way he killed his daughters and the Manson copycat thing on the fly. It’s interesting to read transcripts of his words-he is a hedger. It could be he really did just flip out, but to me it looks like he wanted it to seem that way. Him and his wife certainly had a knock down drag out fight though. That case has always just bothered the shit out of me.

        • Ralph Oscar

          “That case has always just bothered the shit out of me.”

          Me likewise.

    • sideaffected12

      I disagree, just because I don’t think it would ever have been more than a couple days that someone would have showed up. Considering all the baby stuff coming up, even if “she’d” said things like “sorry I just don’t want to see anyone,” or even acting fine but making excuses to not talk, someone would have shown up. The neighbor would notice he hadn’t seen them for a few days. And considering her propensity for posting videos and her verbosity, he couldn’t have pretended to be her successfully for long. It would have felt “off” and he would have been really bad at that and it wouldn’t have gone unnoticed. I think this could have been a successful “no body” case.

      I am curious to see what NK would have done. I don’t believe she was involved like apparently almost everyone else, but I do wonder how she would have behaved as in, would she have still been hanging out with him, what would he have told her if anything etc. I don’t think she was involved but she seemed less distressed certainly than much more peripheral people.

      • Ralph Oscar

        Remember that Shan’Ann’s video production dropped off *dramatically* in July and August – I think she only posted 2 videos in August (if memory serves). That’s just the first half of August, mind, but still. No videos from Shan’Ann while she’s gone to ground would be believable.

        I don’t believe NK would have agreed to be around him. The “missing” wife and children would simply loom too large, like a black cloud engulfing Chris. I don’t think she would have stood for it.

  3. Ralph Oscar

    I am so freakin’ *tired* of these comments: “Chris was obviously such a dodohead clumsy loser – how did he even manage to tie his shoes, he’s so stupid?” Dude *almost* got away with it. He came *that* close. There were simply 3 unknown-unknowns (to him), surprises that, in total, changed everything and brought out the truth. These were:
    – Shan’Ann’s flight delay. By the time Chris learned of that, the girls were already dead. There could be no going back on the plan or rescheduling, and it cut his cleanup/coverup time to the bone.
    – Shan’Ann’s phone’s changed password that Chris didn’t know and couldn’t guess. If he’d had access to her phone, he’d have been sending the kinds of messages that would corroborate his narrative, that she was distraught and had taken off with the kids because they were heading for divorce court. Chris-as-Shan’Ann would have told everyone that she simply needed time away, quiet time to think and get her head together, and she needed her girls with her during this difficult time. She’d of course be seeing everybody as soon as she felt up to it.
    – Nickole Utoff Atkinson showing up so quickly. This is, of course, part of the cascade of events spilling over from the locked phone. If Chris had been able to get into Shan’Ann’s phone, he would have texted NUA and told her the “going away into seclusion”-type story. NUA would have accepted that; she never would have gone to the house in the first place.
    If not for these three unforeseen surprises, Chris would have gotten away with it.

    • Laura Thompson

      I don’t know that he would have gotten away with it ultimately, if the factors you list would have been different, but it definitely would have bought him more time, perhaps enough time for him to cast more plausible deniability. Certainly, he probably would not have been talked into a partial confession only 48 hours after the police were first alerted, especially if he’d had an opportunity to get back out to Cervi, (in the Lexus), and hide Shan’ann’s body better. The case going to trial would have led to myriad possibilities, up to and including his being found not guilty, but even short of that, there are other possible outcomes less severe than his spending life in prison without possibly of parole.

      Dude needed a lawyer more than any other person in history, and that might have helped, also.

    • mitzi2006

      I agree. And if it was a rage killing he sure didn’t show any signs of distress the same day other than nervousness. He took glee in the fact they were gone, that’s not normal I would think if all of it happened suddenly. The dogs interest under the basement stairs says something happened there.

    • CBH

      “– Shan’Ann’s flight delay. By the time Chris learned of that, the girls were already dead. There could be no going back on the plan or rescheduling”

      Absolutely. This always struck me as proof positive that the girls were already dead. Otherwise he would have rescheduled.

      • Sally D.

        I agree, CBH – particularly his response when he heard her flight was delayed (I think it was via text) – his comment was ‘gee, that’s really late’, or something similar. I can picture the beads of sweat breaking out on his face!

        • Ralph Oscar

          “his comment was ‘gee, that’s really late’, or something similar.”

          I think it was “Holy crap!” A bit far toward the “alarmed” side of the scale.

          Here we go – from the “Updated Photo of Shan’ann Watts’ Grave” article here at TCRS:

          “Watts finally replied, ‘Holy crap. Sorry, I passed out on the couch. That’s gonna be late.’ (23:21 hrs)”

          This is in response to Shan’Ann’s message of 21:45 that her flight would be delayed. Chris only replies an hour and a half later. What was he doing in between? I think he was having that 111-minute call with NK.

        • CBH


  4. Kathleen

    I wonder how far Chris would have eluded the police if he’d simply kept his mouth shut and hired a lawyer?

    • Ralph Oscar

      By then, I think he was already screwed. He’d run out of time. Even with a lawyer, the police would likely have started watching his movements and he needed to get back to CERVI 319 to clean up his mess after disposing of the girls and burying Shan’Ann. Plus, that shallow grave was likely not the intended disposition for Shan’Ann – way too risky.

      But regardless, he shouldn’t have been shooting his mouth off or allowing law enforcement onto the property. I wonder – when he arrived home and the police were already there for that “wellness check” (can’t remember the right word) to make sure Shan’Ann was okay, would he have been required to let them in? Or if he’d told them she just took off with the kids, would that have satisfied them and then they’d leave without having a look around?

  5. Ira

    I agree with Ralph that some unforeseen events foiled his plans. However I am of the opinion he would have been caught eventually. I feel like 9 times out of ten when something like this happens, they point the finger at the boyfriend/husband and its usually correct. It didn’t help that the marriage was on the rocks and he admitted to that. Even if people bought the act that she just ran off to be alone with the kids while she figured things out, how long would that last before friends or family filed missing persons reports, he would be seen with NK out and about which shows motive, and eventually it would be traced back to Chris. Even without the bodies if they have been dissolved, I feel like they would have enough circumstantial evidence to arrest and charge him. Nobody would just forget about a missing pregnant woman and two small girls. What do you think Nick?

    • Ralph Oscar

      “I feel like 9 times out of ten when something like this happens, they point the finger at the boyfriend/husband and its usually correct.”

      Remember, according to the US’s CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the #1 cause of death in pregnant women is *murder*, and the perp is typically the baby-daddy. But without a body, it’s difficult to move forward – she *might* just have taken off. Think of the Patrick Frazee case – he had, what, a month? before law enforcement started investigating the murder of his daughter’s mother, Kelsey Berreth. By then, the trail had gone way cold. They still caught up with him, though.

      • Ira

        Right, thats what I mean. I think in the end all roads would point to Chris just like Frazee, because nobody just vanishes without a trace. It’s hard enough to get away with one murder, but three?

        • CBH

          Probably Watts knew that he could hold off only so long before police viewed him as the #1 suspect.

          But perhaps he was thinking if he got rid of evidence (he didn’t foresee flight delay or NA calling 911 24-48 hours early) they would never have had enough proof to arrest him. NK and he could have left the area. I’ve read many cases where police KNOW who committed the murder, but 30-40 years pass before they get a real break in the case.

  6. Sylvester

    If you didn’t know any differently, the photo of Watts giving his second confession from prison looks like a tired medical student doing his residency at a major hospital somewhere, with green hospital scrubs and I.D. badge hanging from a lanyard around his neck – “Christopher Watts – Surgery Resident” rather than “Inmate.” But now, instead of the background noise of a ticking clock we have what sounds like the mechanical sounds of a machine providing life support to a comatose patient. It seems to me Watts is still wanting to be perceived as a good man, and as bad as it sounds now to say his daughter saw him dragging his wife down the stairs and taking both girls to his worksite where he disposed of them there, he can now appear repentant, remorseful, ashamed – almost anything other than what he actually is.

    • CBH

      “If you didn’t know any differently, the photo of Watts giving his second confession from prison looks like a tired medical student doing his residency at a major hospital somewhere, with green hospital scrubs and I.D. badge hanging from a lanyard around his neck – “Christopher Watts – Surgery Resident” rather than “Inmate.” “

      My first thought when I saw the pic!

  7. Donkeykong

    Listening to his new jail confession for the hundredth time, did anyone catch what he said about the loading up of the girls into the truck????
    CW said: “I put my lunch box and stuff in the truck and then I grabbed the kids and put them in the bedsheets in the back”

    FBI says: is there any reason you’d feel uncomfortable telling me they weren’t alive at that point?
    CW says: No, (pause)…why? was there a video or anything..

    CW said he put the kids in the bedsheets in the back. My goodness! Seems so many have missed that line in the interview. Maybe it’s no wonder he told NK that the girls bedsheets stank.

    • Ralph Oscar

      *tsk* are you kidding?? That’s *huge*! That’s as big an unconscious reveal as the murderer using the past tense in talking about his victims!

    • CG

      He said he put them in “The bench seat in the back”, not the bed sheet. However, I do believe that’s a lie and that the poor children had already been murdered.

      • Donkeykong

        Thanks for clearing that up CG. It really sounded so much like bedsheet. And regardless of what he said, the baby girls were definitely dead when he loaded them all into the truck. Just that video comment if his alone is enough to turn heads. The tone he uses when he says it explains exactly what he meant by it, and what the truth is behind it.

      • Ralph Oscar

        Does that model of truck *have* a bench seat in the back? I have a small Nissan Frontier and it has two separate fold-up seats in the back.

  8. Sylvester

    The guy is such an enigma. I would love nothing more than to go with Dr. Grande’s suggestion that Watts suffers from some psychopathology but that’s tying up the package that is Watts with a pretty blue bow and he’s not that easy to figure out. At times I think how could he have have sustained a kind of “rage” on into the early morning hours that the strangulation would have required – with a flight delay? And although he’s used the word rage multiple times I think whatever rage he felt he felt long ago, and over time, and possibly over the nut incident since she used that to all but cancel his parents out of his life – and made it about the kids but really wasn’t it about her and her own power struggles with his parents? I think that was the final straw, hence I don’t believe there was any mental fogging out Aug. 13, or rage, or argument, etc. – it was cold. And if it was cold, it was planned. He talks a good game – you have to give him that. And no matter how skilled his interrogators, they had to figure out how to corner a rat, and they did, but he’s still a rat – and a smart rat at that.

  9. Shannon

    It boils down to the kids already dead before she got home. With the poop in the sheet, that happened after he wrapped her. No sperm found in her?
    I think , perhaps with his 2nd story, maybe lurking in his mind, is toying with her parents, a deep rooted hatered for all. His word is the final chapter to their deaths.
    We all know this chapter is not right.
    Doesn’t coincide with the evidence and facts.
    Calls to work, before that nite.
    Loud tv, while on phone.
    Amongst others.
    I can’t believe that in 4.5 months, it’s a year, that this case started…and the world just keeps moving along.

  10. Jenn H.

    I don’t think he’s telling the truth in his second confession.
    We all agree that the murders were premeditated, were carried
    out before the morning he transported his family’s bodies to the oil site.
    I’m also not convinced Watts acted alone. He may have had help.
    That could be the reason for the last visit from detectives.
    Why come back to question him again? Clearing up what?
    My feeling is there’s possibly more to look into.
    I don’t believe everyone’s moved on.

  11. Ralph Oscar

    I’m going to leave this here, because it directly ties into the “he just snapped” narrative – this tiny elderly woman beat her disabled abusive husband to death with a stick. She herself says she’s not violent, doesn’t really understand how she did it, etc. And the perfect murder weapon was readily available – the deceased’s insulin for his diabetes. A simple OD of insulin and he’d be gone – no violence required. Note that she immediately told a neighbor what she’d done – no coverup. So it’s an interesting example that does not apply to any of our murderers discussed here (I want to make that clear). For comparison purposes only.

    The “he just snapped” narrative is haunting – it’s so filled with “what ifs”. It suggests a chaotic reality that no one can trust, no one can rely on, no one can take for granted. That’s because the “he just snapped” narrative is not truthful in these cases – people *do* make sense; they *are* predictable; their behaviors *can* be explained. In the article above, you’ll see that this couple had an arranged marriage; she suffered a lifetime of abuse at his hands (and mouth); and he had just recently done something very aggravating for her. All that accumulated resentment and hostility from a lifetime of maltreatment apparently came pouring out in one paroxysm of vengeance.

  12. Sarah

    I think the answers to these questions are clearly laid out in the understanding, handling, responses to the Watts’ financial situation. When questioned about it Chris’ response was, “Filing for bankruptcy was something I never thought would happen.” Well, hold up. Bankruptcy is easy to see coming. Bankruptcy is easy to avoid. Bankruptcy (save some kind of medical or employment crisis) isn’t something common or a tragedy. It is a consequence for spending creditors money. It is not a consequence for spending your money.

    But, as with the murders one can ask: did they premeditate bankruptcy?

    Premeditate implies that one would know that the outcome would be beneficial or make sense or follow a laid out pattern. But, what if premeditation (which it does) only implies that an action was planned and not necessarily the outcome. More like, I’ll see what happens when I get there. I’ll see what people can prove. I’ll see what the consequence is. I’ll see what they can do to me.

    Most of us plan with the consequence in mind. Maybe just like he did with his financial situation he just did the wrong thing again and again and again and then went to court to see what they would do to him.

    What he knew or didn’t know or planned or didn’t plan is handled with sociopathic apathy. He lets other people tell him what they know about him.

    • Ralph Oscar

      “Premeditate implies that one would know that the outcome would be beneficial or make sense or follow a laid out pattern. But, what if premeditation (which it does) only implies that an action was planned and not necessarily the outcome. ”

      I disagree with your definition of “premeditation”, which I do not believe matches the socially-accepted definition. From the dictionary: “the action of planning something (especially a crime) beforehand.”

      It has *nothing* to do with envisioning outcomes or anything of that sort – that is completely disconnected to the definition of “premeditation”. All that is required for “premeditation” is that the events were planned in advance – full stop. None of the rest of your definition applies – your “what if” actually matches the conventional usage of the term.

      I don’t think this fits, either:

      “More like, I’ll see what happens when I get there. I’ll see what people can prove. I’ll see what the consequence is. I’ll see what they can do to me.”

      That’s just a very *strange* way of looking at it, I think. CW clearly had an idea for how he was going to get away with it – suggesting that SW had taken off with the children because she was upset that they were approaching a divorce.

      If I had to point a finger, I’d say that the bankruptcy and subsequent financial disaster was ALL SW’s fault. Thrive was her *seventh* MLM – if *any* of the previous 6 had worked for her, she wouldn’t have quit them, would she? But no, she had to have her something-for-nothing pie-in-the-sky magic source of money so she could sit on her butt at home and get mani-pedis with her Thrive cult members while CW was off working hard in the oil fields…

      • sarah

        Answer this: does ONLY a successful preplanned crime deserve the label “premeditation?”

        If a crime (which it does) have many different variables of possible outcomes and the action of the crime has many different intentions at different points (say, a friend interrupting or a child that is too big to fit in an oil tank) and because of this the crime has to change DURING the action even though it was preplanned, then does the premeditation cease to exist?

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