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

“I think he’s a sociopath with absolutely no remorse.”- Catherine Townsend, Private Investigator and Investigation Discovery Expert

Sometimes – especially on social media – I encounter members of the public all saying the same thing at the same time. Sometimes they’ll be saying with absolute confidence that Chris Watts is a monster, then it’s that he’s a narcissist, then a sociopath.

Typically this follows a Dr. Phil Show, a documentary, or when some expert appears on HLN. If everyone is saying the same thing, and thinking the same thing, and repeating the same thing, it’s no wonder the mainstream never figures out so many of these cases.

Can anyone say why this crime happened? Can anyone reconcile the evidence to the psychology to the family dynamics, forwards and backwards, cross-ways, making sure everything lines up?

Because the sociopathic, monster and narcissism labels only fit the crime itself. What about the rest?

While in the clip below Townsend is broadly correct, there are clear sociopathic traits in the aftermath of this crime, were they present before? If Watts was a despicable, heartless narcissist, why did everyone like him up until the moment of the crime? And if he’s a sociopath with no remorse, why did he start acting cold to Shan’ann and the kids. Why did they pick up on him being distant and standoffish?

How can you become cold and distant if you weren’t warm and affectionate to begin with? So a more complete picture is that as Watts became more ensconced in an affair, he began to act less affectionate. But that’s not sociopathy, that’s normal!

Now I want to briefly illustrate why this kind of labeling is simplistic and reductionist, and how it actually prevents us from figuring out cases like this, rather than helping us.

Before we get to that, watch this clip.

So in the clip Townsend plucks the low-hanging fruit and on the face of it it seems pretty straightforward.

Watts just wanted out of his marriage, he wanted to be single, and he just saw his family as things he wanted to get rid of…

But under that face, under the sur-face – which is why we talk of the TWO FACE-dness of Chris Watts – it’s not nearly so simple. He didn’t just want to be single, he wanted to be with Kessinger. He didn’t want to be on his own because he spent every night – when his family was away – with Kessinger.

Fullscreen capture 20190611 164356

So the narrative you’re getting from these experts, and these episodes, is derived from the truth, but how much time have these experts really spent studying the case? Is it the only case on their desk, or is it one of many, and is this one of many appearances on one of many shows?

The notion that Watts just saw his family as things he wanted to get rid of is a tempting thought. It makes absolute sense retrospectively, but as soon as we park the wheelbarrow beside the retrospective aspect of true crime, all there is to excavate is the dirt from the crime scene and the aftermath. Believe it or not there is another side – another face – to this story, it’s the long backstory and run up that leads to the crime itself. How long was this phase? Moments? Seconds? Minutes? Months? Or a lifetime in the making?

Chris Watts didn’t treat his wife or his kids, or anyone, as things, prior to the murders. So does the crime make him a sociopath retrospectively, or was he always one, he was simply hiding it?

And it’s because we’re hitching the wagon to a pair of horses named Sociopath and Saw his family as Things, that we’re prevented from seeing how this crime actually played out. Because in reality, Watts didn’t see his family as things, he loved them, and then he didn’t love them, and then yes he did want to get rid of them. The story is that he did so violently and heartlessly. The position of TCRS is that the murders of the children weren’t violent, and even Shan’ann’s murder – though more violent and physical – isn’t the way it’s been portrayed.

I know what you’re thinking. How do you commit a murder without aggression, without violence? But there are ways. We see it in true crime all the time. And if we weren’t focused on labels and making things so simple, we might see how things are more subtle.


  1. Sideaffected

    You are correct. From the literal book on psychopathy, “one common mistake that leads to overrating some of the affective symptoms like ‘lack of empathy’ is to focus on a single bad thing that the person did. Many people will assume that if someone commits a sex act against a child, they should automatically score high on ‘lack of enoathy’ but they are wrong. They may, but if they do it’s because they show impaired empathy for a long time in other areas of his life as well.

    “Narcissist” has become the word used to apparently describe anyone’s ex-spouse. It does have an actual meaning, but it’s so overused that it’s becoming meaningless. When used correctly though, it doesn’t apply to Chris Watts. He also displays some psychopathic traits but is lacking quite a few of them like parasitic lifestyle, poor impulse control, criminal versatility, need for stimulation, and grandiose sense of self-worth. He does show shallow affect, manipulation, lack of guilt, and callousness.

    • nickvdl

      Good points, thank you Sideaffected.

    • Sideaffected

      I meant to add that he very well may not have any diagnosable condition and that scares people because then, anyone could theoretically “do a Chris Watts”

      • nickvdl

        Precisely. I do think he belongs in the “Introvert” box, but that applies to a third or half of all Americans, which as you say is pretty scary – Chris Watts could be everyone and anyone.

    • thetinytech2018

      Very well said.

      I don’t think people realize just how very rare ASPD (sociopathy) really is. It’s hard to diagnose and it usually isn’t done by a standard, run of the mill counselor or therapist (like the ones shanann kept attempting to drag Chris too, after she dismissed the ones that told her to change). Narcissistic Personality Disorder isnt as rare, but it’s just as overused if not more. For some reason people think narcissism and NPD is the same, and I think they’d be very surprised that every human being on the planet will at some point display narcissism and the like, and still won’t fit the criteria to be diagnosed. That’s not how these things work but the public, especially the uneducated harpies (like the ones that come here touting their garbage in all caps), aren’t very educated. It’s also our culture, in America everything has to fit into a nice neat category, there’s a diagnoses for that and a pill for this, our culture has become pill happy. Im not sure how it is in AUS, but it’s gotten out of hand in the US.

      I used to browse the “raised by narcissists” sub on reddit, and while it was always a joke, these last few years it’s grew to be a dumpster fire of epic proportions. Don’t like how someone acts? They’re a narcissist! The stories some people tell are so laughably ridiculous that you’d think it was a parody subreddit, unfortunately it’s not. The people that post there however, don’t notice and aren’t met with any logic or reasonable decent because they stay in their echo chamber. I mention this because a portion of readers here do come from Reddit, and the dumbest of the crazy like to try to rip Nick apart anytime he takes a critical look into Shananns deluded, lie filled life. Those Redditors will offer up the most ludicrous things while tearing down Nick’s actual research, claiming he isn’t qualified. When you remind them that he’s written acclaimed, well researched and received books on multiple true crime cases, and that they are basically SAHMs with no education or critical thinking techniques, they call you a narcissist…

      • nickvdl

        Great term: dumpster fire. I recently had an experience where I was getting to know someone, from zero, and she started talking about narcissism, and worrying that I was a narcissist. I think narcissism is the favored “insult” term now, it’s even more flavor of the month than pedophile, atheist or – going back into ancient history now – Communist.

        I agree with you on the ASPD and NPD score but I think as a society we’re all becoming more sociopathic and self-centered. I don’t think narcissistic is the right word, although some cases it definitely is. Our whole celebrity-model-movie star culture, the whole social media mechanism, is about narcissism. But that’s not who we are, it’s not everything we are [one hopes], it’s just one [bigger or smaller] part of us. With Shan’ann it was a very big part and that’s the lesson here – get real, be real and not on social media – outside, with people, with your family, directly.

        • Ralph Oscar

          Someone a while back noted that everything that family did was *in the house*. They were living in Colorado, yet they weren’t talking the girls to play in the snow or enrolling them in ski school (granted, they might have been too small yet for that). But it seemed that all those children did outside of daycare was sit around the house.

    • M.Hyland

      My ex husband actually had NPD, he was diagnosed with it. Yes, its definitely the catchphrase of the day but what most dont understand is that it is a sliding scale. Some present with clusters of symptoms, but milder, right up to full blown Narcissistic sociopath. Not every bullet point fits every narc. Mine was full blown NDP, no sociopathy, but he wasnt criminally versatile, or completely guilt or remorse free. EVERYTHING depended on the narcs environment, whats in it for them, and who theyre interacting with. I imagine a true diagnoses for any Dr. would not be easy.

      • nickvdl

        Interesting. Were you ever diagnosed with anything?

  2. methatis

    Just like CBI, DA’s office and all of law enforcement they were so quick to file this away, put a pretty bow on top with a notch in their belt, the media is following suit. This is a triple homicide and illegal termination of a pregnancy that was fast tracked in a matter of a couple of months like no other case I can recall. The media and this particular show didn’t want to dig and go through the multifaceted, complex layers of all the characters because either it would be to much like work, or if they did they would point out variables the entire legal system missed completely. I think they rushed to sputter something out that was no more than regurgitation of what we already know. Can’t take everything at face value, as you are pointing out. I’ll pull a page from Shrek, onions have layers, as you go through them it will bring tears to your eyes and yes it may blur your vision momentarily but sometimes you need to so you can see things you otherwise would have never seen.

  3. Holly

    Exactly there was so much more at play here than a man killing his family and being called narcissistic or sociopathic but like you said above, LE had no idea then and still have no idea today the full scope of this crime or CW mindset. The problem in this crime is you have the 3 major players, Chris, Shanann, and Kessinger who are all 3 f’d up. Then you have their families who won’t tell the truth about how messed up their kids were and actually protect or deny any and all aspect of their mental health. All 3 major players in this crime plus the parental dynamics from childhood ALL played a key role in this murder. It would take lots and lots of resources, time, and professionals to unravel this knotted ball of yarn. One could only imagine all the shit that would have come into play had this gone to trial. I don’t know exactly what label to put on Chris Watts as he’s a little of this and that and some in between but, the strange thing about this crime is so are Shanann and Kessinger.

  4. Remembering Lives

    Many people successfully hide their true natures from their loved ones for decades. I was fascinated by a book written by a female sociopathic lawyer. Those around her do not have a clue about her sociopathy. I think many manage to go through their lives probably causing all manner of chaos around them but still remain relatively unnoticed. Those of us who have had our lives touched by the likes of narcissists and psychopaths tend to notice certain things more readily.
    If anything I think we underestimate the effects of their behaviours.

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