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

What to expect from “Family Man, Family Murderer: An ID Murder Mystery” [airs Sunday, June 2 at 10 p.m. on Investigation Discovery]

We’re about two-and-a-half months shy of the one year anniversary of the horrific Watts Family Murders, and Investigation Discovery are the first to do what looks like a thorough and in-depth recap.

The heaviest hitter in the true crime special is deputy district attorney Steve Wrenn. This is him:

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Although Wrenn seems to be a relatively unfamiliar figure in the Watts saga, especially given the prominent role of Michael Rourke, he was part and parcel of the prosecution team from the beginning.

We also saw him in court on the few occasions [just three in fact] when the case was actually heard within the protocols and prescriptions of a criminal trial.  While Rourke addressed the court at the sentencing trial, and stood by while Frank senior and Frank junior read their statements [Rourke also read Frankie’s statement for him], Wrenn stood beside Sandi Rzucek when she read her statement.

According to Fox News:

The mini-series features interviews with those familiar with the tragedy and experts who have covered the case extensively. It also highlights body camera footage from the Frederick Police Department, as well as new details from the investigation following Watts’ jailhouse confession. Steve Wrenn, the Deputy District Attorney for Weld County who was interviewed for the special, told Fox News those who handled the case are still attempting to make sense of it.

A year after the family annihilation, almost everyone involved is still asking why. This suggests that the interrogations of FBI agent Grahm Coder and CBI agent Tammy Lee may continue until there is a better handle on Watts – at least from the perspective of the authorities and prosecutors.


Wrenn describes the “ripple effect” of the crime on first responders as being “phenomenal”. While those involved in the recovery of the Watts children from the tanks may be damaged psychologically, perhaps permanently, Watts himself seems to have emerged from his own handiwork relatively unscathed, and even upbeat.


Perhaps there is a world of difference between killing someone who is alive [even one’s own family] and the gruesome task of reaching into the dark to fish out their remains. This may seem a silly statement, but it’s one I’m grappling with as part of the research for OBLIVION, the 8th book in the TWO FACE series. In our rush to judge murderers, we ourselves tend to prefer them to be worse – sometimes – than they really are. And so when given the option of their committing a crime in a harsh and callous manner, that seems to fit better than a more subtle, strategic and painless [planned] taking of lives.

Even Watts – during the First Confession phase – seemed to wince at the prospect of being involved in fishing out the remains of his daughters. He was appalled at the notion of his coworkers being involved in the same operation. Not that this is absolute proof or proof of any kind, but when Coder prodded Watts on whether he shoved the bodies of Bella and Celeste through the thief hatches while they were alive, Watts was similarly aghast.

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In the second interview the same issue came up and Watts again denied it.

Fullscreen capture 20190530 221951 Wrenn also describes his own feelings while watching Watts during his interrogations.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been more frustrated in my life watching something take place.”

When Watts casually describes doing the unthinkable, there is a sense that there is a serious screw loose with this guy, and only he seems unaware of it. Even so, he seems to be trying awful hard to be everyone’s pal. It’s this aspect that seems to distinguish Watts from other sociopaths. He does the unthinkable, and yet he seems to care very much what people think of him, and tries very hard to appear not as monstrous as he otherwise might. It’s not just that, what’s unnerving is his effort to be pals with law enforcement, when they know who and what he really is. His game seems to be making friends, which is precisely the ruse they use to extract more information from him.  It’s done gently, painstakingly and the result is the cops get something for their trouble [maybe not very much] and Watts also gets something [ditto].

Wrenn refers to the post-conviction interview conducted in mid to late February 2019 [the so-called Second Confession] as providing “glimpses” into why what happened happened. It will be interesting to see whether Wrenn will take a firm position, or express himself clearly on Watts’ latest version of events.

Rourke seems to have accepted it, and the media as well, which suggests further towing of the lie line. But this version presents both Shan’ann’s murder and that of the children afterwards as spontaneous [in other words, unplanned].

The TCRS position on this has been clear from the beginning – the murders were all premeditated.

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In Wrenn’s view the only possible explanation for the crime is that Watts is a sociopath. As labels go he’s not wrong. A sociopath can’t understand or quite get to grips with the feelings of others, and they don’t feel guilty about harming others. While this explains Watts within the confines of the crime, as well as the aftermath, it doesn’t explain why his wife loved him [and was fighting to stay married to him] until the moment he murdered her, or why a mistress fell in love with him and he with her. Are sociopaths lovable? Are sociopaths good fathers? Are sociopaths assets to families, desirable to singletons and beneficial to societies until they aren’t?

If the sociopath label works, it’s clearly reductionist and way too simplistic. See, it also rubs against the notions the Rzuceks shared of their son-in-law, as well as the community [including the Thrive Facebook community] who regarded the Watts family as the perfect family, and Watts himself as an ideal husband and father. The media and social media have been cooing about this aspect all along – but he [and they] looked so perfect and so perfectly happy! If sociopaths can only be identified by spouses, extended family and the community in the rear view mirror, then we as a society are in real trouble.

Our ongoing failure to understand this case – and Watts specifically – speaks to some kind of systemic failure in modern society, including our inability to see those around us for who they really are, or to simply fathom those around us [and perhaps ourselves].

Wrenn insisted that despite Watts’ tell-all to investigators, we may never truly know why he was willing to slaughter his entire family.

Curiously, although the documentary on Watts claims to [feature] interviews with those familiar with the tragedy and experts who have covered the case extensively zero contact was made with TCRS. This is either an indictment of TCRS and the seven books covering the Watts case [as the work of an amateur, and thus bogus and basically bullshit] or it’s an indictment of something else.

Which do you think it is?

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Source: Fortune 


  1. stephymac

    By far the best analysis to date.

  2. stephymac

    You nailed it!

  3. Sylvester

    Hello Nick, I’m glad you are back and feel rejuvenated. To let you know, Oxygen is airing the Zahau Case June 1. I might be able to access it on hulu. Watts seems like a unique case but only in that we are all unique. His need to be liked seemed furthermost in his mind. I read he couldn’t fault Sha’nann for sending the homeowner’s dues to the wrong address because she felt bad enough about it. Really? That was his money. He also didn’t seem concerned about recouping the money. Just simply signed the document that he had been served. It’s as if everything in his world had to stay on an even keel. If it dipped down into worry or confrontation he had to right it immediately and restore everything to peace. He was driven to the extreme with fear that all would not be well and catastrophe and chaos was just around the corner. He’s at peace now because he wiped everyone out, including himself (who he was, a husband and a dad).

    I’m still processing the Deep into Darkness book. I’m contemplating a darkness unlike any I’ve read about before – not an explosive darkness but sort of a clinical darkness.

    • nickvdl

      Good to hear from you. Please do let us know your thoughts and observations on the Zahau doc, might even put it up as a guest post if you’re up for it.

      he couldn’t fault Sha’nann for sending the homeowner’s dues to the wrong address because she felt bad enough about it. >>>That sort of thing makes Watts seem not only a weak man but a weak-minded man.

      Yes, you’re right about the clinical darkness in DEEP INTO DARKNESS. It’s a pretty scary scenario, right?

    • Karen

      Can I ask you about the book you’re reading ? Who wrote it?

  4. Sylvester

    The Zahau case is called “Death At The Mansion” and will be a limited series Saturday nights, Oxygen channel. Previews are here:

    The police were just so dead certain her death was a suicide.

  5. Shannon

    Hello all…… Hello Nick.
    Glad your back. Xxoo
    Unfortunately I won’t be able to watch Watts mini documentary. I don’t Get that channel.
    Perhaps they didn’t contact you, was because they see too much truth in your books. It might open a New can of worms, questions. I’m sure they realize the investigation was not thoroughly done proper.
    It would have been wonderful to see you involved with this.
    As for the Zahau case. It was murder.

    • nickvdl

      Hi Shannon. Glad to see you’re still here. I can’t watch that channel either, in fact even the Oxygen previews “aren’t available in your location”.

      • Shannon

        Kevin Richardson…aka…the lion whisperer…in South Africa.
        Has a hyena named….Van Gogh…..he has part of his Ear missing.

        • nickvdl

          That’s hilarious 😀

      • thetinytech2018

        If you download a VPN and use a proxy in the states you can get around that. They have free VPN extensions for chrome as well.

        • Shannon

          Thanks Tiny.
          Its like that old saying, the Book is better then the Movie.
          I just read Nick’s Posts and the comments and get an idea what the documentary is about.

  6. Karen

    Welcome back, Nick! I feel like I hit the lottery! Excellent post, as well as Sylvesters.

  7. Sylvester

    Okay lets try this clip from youtube. I wasn’t able to get Oxygen without a subscription. Hopefully someone will upload it to youtube, I will remain hopeful. Try this digital preview however.

    Maybe I had forgotten but a latex glove was found in the crawlspace and garden gloves on the livingroom table. One of the garden gloves had a mixture of two DNA samples but they were insufficient for testing. I also noticed, again, that there were two knives on the bedroom floor – in addition to Adam huffing and puffing on the 911 call and claiming he had grabbed a kitchen knife to cut her down. Lots of knives! To me there is an interesting dynamic between the Shacknai brothers. One could say the one is a peacock, the other a common little brown sparrow or a seagull but both brothers are dark and violent on their own. We just tend to think the person with the most money is to be revered and respected when it’s the money we are respecting, not the person.

    • nickvdl

      I’m not able to view the clip. But will look around. Good point about peacock and sparrow. Birds of a feather stick together, and in this case, these birds are brothers, but not exactly birds of a feather, yet they seem to be united in their shenanigans.

  8. Sylvester

    Can you click on the video above – it’s youtube – I hope you can watch just the brief digital summary.

    Love it! These Shacknai birds are sticking together and both of them dirty in their own way. When you watch Jonah take the witness stand in the civil trial he is rightfully distressed over losing his son – but he lumps that tragedy in with Rebecca’s death – losing both within days of each other – and it just seems disingenuous. I think he was about to dispose of her (or dispatch her – more business-like) before she was seen dangling from a red rope by Adam. The Shacknai birds somehow signaled to each other what needed to be done.

    • nickvdl

      Yes I did. Says not available.

  9. Sylvester

    Oh, so sorry. What I saw from the clip is that we have two investigators on this case – Loni Coombs and Billy Jensen, as well as a Criminologist Paul Holes. The investigators have recreated a mock up of the bedroom, and balcony, and stated that the first thing investigators would have seen just outside the bedroom door (or inside – that wasn’t made clear from the clip) was a towel and a few drops of menstrual blood, of Rebecca’s. From what her sister said, Rebecca was a neat and tidy and modest person. She may not have known she was menstruating, but dropping the towel says to me she was startled. And, no blood on the towel? Possibly not if it was wrapped around her body and not used to dry off with – then dropped in startled shock. Of course we know there was blood on the handle of one of the knives found on the bedroom floor – the front side, back and partway up on the handle. Was that menstrual blood? I think so. And if so, that is indicative of a sexual assault. Not likely she would use the knife handle on herself, and no fingerprints on that particular knife. Our sexual predator is a sadistic one.

  10. Karen

    “Curiously, although the documentary on Watts claims to [feature] interviews with those familiar with the tragedy and experts who have covered the case extensively zero contact was made with TCRS.”

    What are you saying? TCRS should have been contacted? As what? An expert? That makes you sound narcissistic.

    • nickvdl

      Actually yes. And after seeing the show, even a regular reader of this site could have provided a lot of insight. But thanks for communicating your disdain for the efforts made here. BLOCKED.

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