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The Two Biggest Booboos by the Feds & Cops in the Chris Watts Case

While researching ANNIHILATION [published on April 8th, 2019], I stumbled across a few additional insights in the Chris Watts case.

Officer Coonrod and Detective Baumhover were in a unique situation when they arrived at 2825 Saratoga Trail on that fateful Monday in August. They had a witness there who had been with Shan’ann hours before she disappeared. Not Chris Watts, Nickole Atkinson.

Although they turned to Watts as the most reliable source on the whereabouts of his wife and children, they ought to have focused more on Nickole especially when Watts started behaving strangely.

It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback, but just for the sake of arguments, let’s see what happens when we do.

1. Search the house for Shan’ann’s Clothing

Firstly, the cops could have asked Nickole what clothes Shan’ann was wearing when Nickole dropped her off at 01:48. Nickole could have given them an exact description of Shan’ann’s jeans and shirt.

One of Watts’ earlier versions was that Shan’ann left in the evening. In any event, by locating these items the cops would be able to ascertain if Shan’ann had changed, if she had slept that night and the location and state of the clothing could have told them something about her last movements. They may also have been able to find evidence on the clothing of a struggle. The shirt itself may have been ripped, and may have had traces of sweat, blood and touch DNA on it.

It’s not clear what happened to Shan’ann’s shirt. It appears the jeans she wore were removed, washed and placed into the laundry basket.

When Officer Coonrod did his check early in the afternoon at the Watts home, Watts made no mention of jeans or the laundry basket, even though he walked past that area and into the walk-in closet several times.

The laundry basket or a portion of it appears to be visible at 39:19 in the clip below.

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At 2:01 in the clip below, taken on Tuesday morning when the K9 unit was looking for items to scent, Watts of his own accord picked up Shan’ann’s jeans [out of the basket]. This was an interesting move because the K9 handlers had specifically asked Watts which items they could scent off that Watts had not touched. So Watts lifting the jeans out of the basket was almost a way for him to say, “Look, see, I’m touching her jeans. Gee, so I guess you can’t use these…”

The question is, had they been washed earlier, immediately after the murder and prior to Watts heading off to work? It seems unlikely. It seems more likely that he would wash Monday night and then place them in the laundry basket to make it seem as if Shan’ann had changed [slept] and put them there herself.

Interestingly, as Watts is asked by Officer Lines on Tuesday, August 14th, if there are any other items of clothing they can scent off, Watts leads her to the laundry. She asks if he has touched the clothing and he smiles wryly, answering:

I may have.

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2. Watts Should Have Been Arrested Based on Trinastich Surveillance Video

Was there probable cause to arrest Watts based on the video of him backing up his driveway and loading unknown objects at 05:18? Everyone who knew Watts said he never backed his truck into the driveway. Trinastich never saw him do it, and the Rzuceks, when they lived with the family for over a year never saw him do it either. So him doing it on that night of all nights was suspicious.

It turns out now there was probable cause, but an argument can be made that even based on what we know now the video was simply not clear enough to establish anything. One might argue there was possible cause, but not probable cause.

We also know the prosecution referred to the video, saying Watts went back three times to collect each body, but the prosecution were sort of bluffing, implying they knew more from the video than they actually did. The prosecution and the cops have to observe strict protocols in terms of evidence, and executing arrests. Often, if these protocols are exceeded or violated, a defense can argue that an arrest was procedural illegal and that there was a “rush to judgement”.

In the Casey Anthony case, Casey was arrested when her explanations didn’t make sense and the nanny stuff didn’t add up. On that occasion the little girl had been gone for a month, and Casey’s car smelled of cadaver odor. Even then, Casey wasn’t arrested and taken into custody until the next morning. It may be that during these additional hours prior to her arrest someone deleted her browser history on the family computer. Interestingly, in the Anthony case she was also seen backing her car into the garage…

Like Casey, Watts would have had time to do similar polishing of the crime scene during his extra night of freedom, especially after the scare of cops trampling through his house, looking for something but of course only Watts would have known what was potentially incriminating. That night he would have ample opportunity to take care of those things.

But what sort of behavior counts as strange, and what qualifies as probable cause? This is a tough one. In hindsight we know Watts’ behavior was odd because he was guilty, but at the time it could simply have been because Watts had argued with his wife [and not necessarily done anything].

At 1:08:52 in the clip below Coonrod asks Watts if he has any idea where Shan’ann is. Watts pulls a face, shakes his head and attempts a convincing answer.

WATTS: All the friends that I know…that I know…if there’s other…

And then Watts gives up answering, pretending to be on his phone.

WATTS: That’s the only ones that I know of….Th-there could be people that I don’t know of…

And then, standing directly opposite Coonrod, Watts does his swaying thing.

But the mosaic of evidence – including the fact that Shan’ann’s phone was phone, her car, and the medication – probably did add up to probable cause. Nickole could have impressed this upon the cops then and there, rather than talking to Sandi the whole time on the phone. Nickole could have let them know Shan’ann would absolutely not have left home without her phone, because it was what she used to do her work and was always on it. Although this was mentioned to Coonrod, it wasn’t emphasized. Watts also interferred with what the cops were thinking and checking by suggesting other possibilities – that Shan’ann may have left through the back entrance, and may have simply gone to a friend. The going to the friend narrative, which he said he told her, took a long time to disprove. And how does one disprove a negative?

It’s also worth mentioning one YouTuber who seems to have identified the second blue nitrile glove, lying under the pillow on the bedroom floor, and possibly a Yankee blanket tossed into the corner.

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None of these observations are certain. And in keeping with uncertain observations, here’s mine. Is that Oxycodone on the counter in Shan’ann’s office?

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  1. Sylvester

    It would be odd if he left a bottle of oxycodone out in plain sight in the office – but given Watt’s propensity to stage a scene (like the kitchen island and clothing at the foot of the bed), it’s strange a prescription medication would be placed in between a placard that states “Dreams can come true” and a ceramic skull. And to go along with the office theme, there was something odd to me that I never knew it’s significance – on 8/11/18 Shan’ann called or texted Chris from Arizona at 1230 and asked “will you lock my office?” He did not delete his response, which was “Definitely.” Yet when Officer Coonrod, Nickole and Nick A. went in to the house that office door was open. Now he may have had reason to go back and forth into her office and might have forgotten to lock it or it didn’t matter to him if he locked it or not. If he did lock it then I’m sure she wouldn’t have unlocked it and left the door open upon arriving home 8/13 at 1:48 a.m. – or placed her purse in there. Also “definitely” is an odd response to a request. It sounds like the respondent understands the significance of the request, and is “definite” about complying. Why would her office need to be locked up – because she didn’t want the children running in there, because of sensitive financial records and bills – that he would have a right to anyway, because the office is where some meds are stored? Why lock an office in your own home. It was the only room in the house that was a mess, other than the floor of the Cinderella closet.

    • nickvdl

      Coonrod also notes to a fellow officer that the keys to Shan’ann’s car weren’t in the ignition, but were on the central consol. What were they doing there?

      • Frances

        What do you mean? I leave mine on the console, too.

    • Amina

      I believe she asked him to lock her office on Saturday night, when babysitter was coming over and when Chris told SW he was going to a baseball game. She probobly didn’t want babysitter going through her office, or if she had pills just sitting around like that she didn’t want kids grabbing it.

  2. Diana

    Shan’ann’s request for Chris to lock her office was because the babysitter, McKenzie, would be there to watch the kids while Chris went to the game that Saturday night. With their personal papers in there, and having someone else in the house, I think it’s perfectly normal for them to lock up her office.

  3. Sylvester

    I tend to believe Mr. Armchair Detection on that one. He thinks the keys to the Lexus is what Watts was removing from the truck before shaking Officer Coonrod’s hand, running under the garage door, opening the Lexus car door, pretending to look at something inside, then bent down to the floor of the car and likely threw the keys in then.

    • nickvdl

      Could be, but then where were his car keys?

  4. Sylvester

    Let me try and figure this out. He may have put her Lexus key on his key ring because he used the Lexus that weekend. If she really had slept through the night and gotten up that morning as usual she would have asked that he put her key back – either on the kitchen island or wherever they keep them – on a hook or whatever. The fact that she wasn’t allowed to utter a sound after returning home in the aftermath he forgot he had her key with him. Since he wanted to make it look like they got into an argument and said she was going to leave and take the kids to a friend’s house, he had to at least put the Lexus key back in the car. Of course his story fell apart because how could she leave without the car. He couldn’t have both keys (if there were two) to the Lexus on him – he’s essentially leaving her without the keys to her own car, so he had to put it back when the Officer was called.

    • Ralph Oscar

      That makes the most sense to me, Sly.

  5. Sylvester

    It’s really astounding to me, that I missed the prescription bottle above, nestled between the “dreams” sign and the skull – watching the body cam footage again I can see why I missed it. I’m not sure if it’s Officer Manley or not, but Officer Coonrod is in the office with him when he says “Albuterol” and “Nebulizer” but his back is to the prescription bottle. He’s looking at something probably on the desk. And although the body camera shows the bottle, neither officer comments about it. That’s how I missed it – distracted. But you didn’t miss it! You don’t miss a thing Nick. It seems odd to me though why he would leave it out in plain sight, if it is oxycodone.

    Also Diana, that’s a good explanation why the office door would be locked, providing he told Shan’ann he was going to a Rockies game around 12:30 and getting a babysitter on the 11th. Thanks.

    Something else maybe of note, maybe not. Under the basement stairs there is a cooler visible with the lid raised. It’s evident during the K9 search. He could have put one of the bodies in the cooler, then taken it back down to the basement by the 14th. On p. 554 of the documents an officer noted Watts going into his garage and putting blankets and a cooler in the trunk of the Lexus. I don’t think he was going on a picnic and I never did find out what he did with the blankets or the cooler.

  6. Kaye

    Another good detail from the YouTube video in this post is the fact that there is clearly a sippy cup in the garage trash can. Why would that be thrown out, other than to remove evidence of medication that they might have had? the YouTuber also points out a Yankees blanket in the corner of the master bedroom but I’m not sure how that can be determined. It looks like a fuzzy pile on the video.

    • nickvdl

      Your sippy cup observation is interesting, thanks.

      I personally have a problem with making huge, definitive pronouncement when there are fuzzy images. We can speculate about what we’re seeing, but as you say, that fuzz in the corner could be anything. It’s unfortunate we don’t have law enforcement on hand to clarify this stuff.

  7. aziannguyen

    Right after watching the neighbors’ camera, I just think the police/investigators should already keep him in question & preserve the house/evidence….not that it would change any outcomes of this tragic crime

  8. Amina

    She wasn’t wearing jeans when she came home that morning. She had a pair of leggings on that look like skinny torn jeans on the camera footage. I belive she had the same leggings as she does in a picture taken of all four of them when she left for her trip to NC.

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