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

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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.

Guest Post: The Second Confession has a gigantic gaping hole in one particular area

In his Second Confession Watts himself seems to have found closure. Now he loves his kids and wife again [apparently in that order], and daydreams of reading them bedtime stories and sitting with his months-old baby boy on his lap.
But isn’t this spiel missing something?
There was a giant volcano of debt hemorrhaging just beneath the surface of their marriage at the time of the murders. If Watts is a liar about the scale and scope of his crime, it stands to reason he’d lie about the scale and scope of debt rumbling in the background. And if the proceeds from the sale of the house [present day] will be swallowed up by all this debt, how are the Rzuceks lawyers going to get paid for their efforts in the civil suit?
Going back to the timeline of that fateful Monday morning in mid-August, we know the first non-work-related calls Watts made after the murders were to the school and the realtor to contain the financial plague gnawing at his future happiness. We also know on the same day Watts seemed reluctant to make calls to find out where Shan’ann was, and only called a few hospitals at around 18:00.
In his confession he dismisses the calls to the school as “a mistake”, but in fact part of what he communicated in that call was that they were selling the house and moving out of town. In almost every conversation Watts had, he repeated the same spiel. He told Nickol Atkinson, Cassie and others that Shan’ann was gone, and by the way, they were selling their house and moving. This also became part and parcel of Watts first version of events to law enforcement. But as early as his call to school at 09:00 Watts first move was to get the house sold. That same morning on his way back to the crime scene he went to look at another property suggested by the realtor.
Quite a huge shift in the circumstances and it happened immediately after the bodies were taken care of, didn’t it?
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The screengrabs above are all from the afternoon of August 13th, 2018.
In a rare moment of insight, Nichol Kessinger admitted to the CBI that her being in Watts’ life “accelerated the process” [referring to the murders], but added that she thought money was the “biggest catalyst for this event happening”.
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TCRS also maintains that money was the biggest catalyst, along with Shan’ann’s stranglehold over the finances, and her fatal infatuation with MLM.
The trio of investigators glossed over the finances in their five-hour interview, but there were a few exceptions. For example Watts claimed they had been sending checks to the homeowners association – just to the wrong address – for over a year.
I’m assuming because Shan’ann did that and she’s gone, those checks are in some financial purgatory, some limbo, an unknown abyss where they can never be found and confirmed. If that’s the case that’s one thing, but one would imagine if the checks  weren’t cashed “for an entire year” amounting to several hundred dollars, someone like Shan’ann ought to have noticed.
Thanks to Maura for your contribution on this subject:
10 Reasons the Watts Finances Were A Factor
This second “confession” doesn’t bring up their poor financial situation at all including:
1. Behind on their mortgage several months and being sued by HOA for non payment of fees
2. Credit credit cards maxed out/debts owed—paying minimum amounts monthly
3. Medical bills from SW and the kids
4. Large house expenses
5. Thrive MLM costs vs. income remaining after coststhrive-level-review
6. Private preschool costs of $25,000 per year
7. Niko’s upcoming birth, medical expenses and SW’s taking time off from work for maternity leave, and having another mouth to feed.
8. Cost of wining, dining and traveling with NK who expected CW to pay for their dates.Visa-Exe.Black-Univ-rel
9. If divorced, CW would need security deposit and income to pay for a separate apartment plus a home for his ex-wife and 3 kids. SW would have been on maternity leave Jan. to ?? and not able to work FT with a newborn.
10. If SW took a leave after Niko’s birth and could not meet lease payments on the Lexus or earn $800 Thrive bonus, she and the kids wouldn’t have a car either especially if CW lived elsewhere. Would they have moved to another area like NC where her family could help?alimony-guage-pic-opti
Chris decided that he was going to be the only one to benefit from the sale of their only asset, the house, which would enable him to have a fresh start with Nichol. Premeditated the murders were his solution to fix things.
Would Nichol have stayed with him if his wife and kids truly disappeared? Or, if he was going through a bitter divorce and had 3 small children including a newborn? If she knew the extent of his finances? If their infatuation cooled and she got to know the real Chris?
If police had given him another lie detector test I don’t think he’d pass it with his new story either.

NOTE: Watts does mention exorbitant wedding costs playing a drag on their finances six years after they got married in Charlotte, North Carolina. The bankruptcy/financial problems of the Rzuceks is not referenced.


Guest Post: Pondering the financial angle

In true crime we often don’t see the wood for the trees. It’s always useful to get some perspective on what we’re looking at, and to make sure we’re not too close to or familiar with our case, by looking elsewhere [either the real world or other analogous true crime cases].

This post by Ralph Oscar does that. It not only humanizes Shan’ann and Chris Watts financial circumstances, but personalizes how they may have responded to them:

I was pondering the financial angle, which I feel is the wild, drunken elephant in the room in this case. I was talking to a new acquaintance online, who revealed that he was twice divorced. Something he said brought to mind the Watts case, and so I’ve been quizzing him about the finances of divorce 

He and his first wife divorced in a state with *permanent* alimony. Even though his ex now has a really good tech sector job, he still must pay her alimony. He’s asked if they can change this; she says no. Who would turn down free money? He remarried, had two daughters. His financial situation has never recovered – he’s been unable to set aside anything for his two daughters’ college. He lives paycheck to paycheck, and meanwhile, there sits his first wife, who is earning good money, receiving permanent alimony. He describes the two divorces with child support/alimony leaving him with “virtually nothing”. Some of his observations:

“It’s virtually impossible to stop or modify the alimony as long as she wants it. I’d attempt to talk to her and she’d say things like ‘would you stop taking money if you didn’t have to?’”

“It can get pretty bad financially when you’re busting your ass at work and doing well but still taking home as much as if you were working for minimum wage. The wife getting alimony … lives in a paid off home with her mom.”

“Meanwhile I can’t save to retire although I can modify or stop the alimony when I’m ready to. The catch 22 is that I can’t save to retire but that’s the only way to stop it.”

“Many angry men and a few women in my shoes. Very frustrating but you need to make it work somehow.”

“I can’t honestly relate to the idea of killing someone to avoid giving them money but I do understand how another might get there. I also can’t honestly say I’d mourn her passing if that did happen. I’ve joked about loosening the lugs on her car wheels but that’s just out of frustration, etc.”

“I haven’t been able to recover financially. I’ve gotten raises at work and the dollar amount of my commissions increase but never enough to pay bills without having anxiety about next week or next month.”

“I had two daughters with my second wife and haven’t been able to save anything towards college.”

“The person making the payments becomes nothing more than a source to enable the other to be ok with no consideration regarding its affect on the payer.”

“The ex who receives the alimony seems to feel fully entitled to my money to this day. If I bring it up in any shape or form she will move away or discontinue the conversation immediately.”


While Colorado is not a permanent alimony state, in 2014 a new law went into effect that prescribed a formula for how to determine spousal maintenance payments: 40% of the higher-earning spouse’s income minus 50% of the lower-earning spouse’s income. Shan’Ann would finally have incentive to come clean about how much she was *not* making on her “business”, or at least there would finally be an accounting of just how much it was *costing* her to make that income amount (which means that’s not the actual income). If she’d been making $80K/yr in actual income, they’d have been paying their bills. That’s all there is to it.

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While my acquaintance would never countenance murder (he has two daughters from that first marriage), he is clear that the financial fallout of his two divorces, particularly that first one with the permanent alimony, has changed his life for the worse. His perspective is that the financial situation for the Watts family was likely a very important factor in Chris Watts’ deciding to do what he did.

If Chris and Shan’Ann had won the lottery the day before the murders, I’m confident there wouldn’t have been any murders.


GUEST POST: Did the murders happen in the bedroom or the basement?

The post below is from a reader who asked to remain anonymous. Thank you for your thought provoking contribution!

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…did Shan’ann, not seeing her husband immediately as she entered the home, decide to head downstairs where Chris Watts had admittedly been sleeping and working out the last several weeks or months to find him and speak with him face to face?

Anxious and with blatant and bold determination to wait not a moment longer to confront him right then, an argument could have taken place over something as simple as Chris’s last credit card charge that Shan’ann had been alerted to on her phone.

Could it have been an argument in the basement of their Saratoga Trail home, near the foot of the downstairs steps and across from Chris’s bed where Shan’ann was killed; rather than by a totally unexpected, surprise blitz attack from behind her at the foot of the stairs? There are two main reasons why neither of these possibilities should be discounted.

The first reason is the fact that the dogs that were brought into the Saratoga Trail home on the 14th of August trained to sniff for possible trauma or traumatic events alerted that some sort of event, such as an argument or possibly even an altercation may have occurred in a few places within that house.

Curiously, one area where a trauma dog provided an alert was in the basement, near where the bed in which Chris Watts slept was situated.

Eager to talk to her husband and find some resolution to the tumult that had become their lives in the months leading up to the murders of her and her children, it’s a definite possibility that after entering her home if she did not see Chris Watts at first, Shan’ann proceeded down the stairs leading to the basement to talk to him. Perhaps an argument began downstairs. Shan’ann, oblivious to the fact that her children MAY have been deceased at that point in time, would not have thought twice or worried about talking loudly or even yelling in her interaction with Chris if they were way down in the depths of their home because she knew it was highly unlikely the children could hear anything or be woken up by noise that far down from where they slept.

If she went downstairs to find and or confront her husband after arriving home in those early morning hours and an argument did ensue in the basement, the possibility that she was murdered there cannot be ruled out. Then however, we are still left with the how of the logistics of her strangulation. The autopsy report for Shan’ann Watts states that she died by means of strangulation/asphyxiation. Yet, one of the biggest mysteries in this case that still requires much in depth questioning and examination, must be how absolutely no visible defensive marks or wounds were found on Shan’ann. The only thing found were finger shaped bruises on one side of her neck. That begs the question once again of how could her murder have been carried out in a way that essentially left her completely disabled to fight back in any manner?

Is it possible that given the supremely high state and level of extreme fitness Chris Watts had worked diligently to commit himself to by the time these murders took place, coupled with the fact of an almost guaranteed physiological adrenaline surge while committing the murder, that he was able to lift his wife right off of her feet; off of the ground and continue to hold her up, one hand firmly held to one side of her neck, compressing her caryodid artery in precisely the right location for the necessary length of time to end her life? If this is possible, it’s also possible the murder really could’ve taken place either downstairs or on the main level of the house at the foot of the stairs. If her murder took place in this manner, the location of her murder becomes less important in a sense.

The reason this premise is even a possibility is because not only were there no defensive wounds or marks found on Shan’ann, but even with Shan’ann’s perfectly groomed and religiously upkept long fingernails, there were absolutely no obviously visible scratches, bites, cuts or even minor abrasions found on Chris Watts either. Even further; to the public’s knowledge, no trace of blood, urine or other bodily fluids were found on any carpeted areas in the Watts home.

If Shan’ann was killed down in the basement and some form of bodily fluid or excretions were present during or afterward her being killed, wouldn’t a more comprehensive and effective clean up on a concrete surface be even a little bit quicker, easier and more efficient than attempting to remove all trace of DNA evidence from plush, medium depth, light colored carpeting found on the main and upper levels of home? We do know from the discovery documents in this case that it was noted the home smelled of bleach and cleaning fluids when first entered by the Atkinsons and law enforcement the afternoon of August 13th.

Obviously, swabs for DNA can be collected and tested from almost any surface. Therefore, if when Shan’ann was killed, her face was pressed directly against carpet, possible bleeding from her nose or mouth due to pressure being exerted on her head, cheeks or some area of her face, while up against even a carpeted surface should leave blood/fluid stains that would be quite difficult to get rid of in all traces, especially in a very limited time period in terms of clean up. However, the same thing would have occurred if Shan’ann was in fact strangled at the bottom of the basement stairs. If her head or face was pressed up against any surface really while her heart was still actively pumping blood through the organs of her body, there would have been evidence of bruising in and around her face and yet, apparently, there was absolutely nothing. Are we to believe this strangulation occurred in midair? Extremely difficult, yet perhaps not impossible.

The Second Reason

After reviewing all of the discovery evidence available, I concur with Nick’s view that a premeditated murder would almost guarantee Bella and Celeste were already dead when their mother returned home. This scenario would also indicate that Chris Watts would not want to risk his wife heading upstairs to check the girls first thing after arriving home. If one goes with this train of thought, perhaps the possibility of Shan’ann being murdered in the basement must be abandoned.

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Yet once again, given the limited amount of evidence that we have to indicate anything to the contrary, the thought must at least be explored that Shan’ann could have met her end in the basement.

I think her feelings and internal drive of extreme anxiousness and desperation at that point in time in terms of her need to confront and immediately speak to her husband, cannot be entirely discounted.

Therefore, unless she happened to see Chris Watts almost as soon as she walked in the front door of that house, I believe it’s quite probable that Shan’ann’s first thought was to locate and confront Chris Watts.

She had likely finally realized Chris had to have been lying to her for months and she wanted, needed to hear the whole truth once and for all and to hear it directly from him. If that was her final wish, it’s highly unlikely her husband granted it. 

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GUEST POST: The most overlooked and crucial pieces of evidence related to establishing a timeline of events that night by Ralph Cifaretto

Below is some excellent analysis and commentary in response to the 28th Tranche [NCRFL Digital Evidence Analysis]:

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In my opinion this is one of the most overlooked and crucial pieces of evidence related to establishing a timeline of events that night. I’m surprised you posted this without comment Nick and have not delved into the subject more.

As a preface to the rest of my post: If you’re unsure what these graphs are you are looking at, they are “step counts” recorded by iPhones of both Chris and Shan’ann. An iPhone has a “health app” that passively records your movement based on a variety of factors using gyroscopes, accelerometers and other various good stuff. It does this as “step counts” and represents them in a graph. The [quality of the] photos here are shocking but I can tell you that the Y axis goes up in increments of 200 steps, and the x axis is a is a 24 hour time period in one hour increments, starting at 12am on the selected day. I personally use this app frequently and am quite familiar with it.

How accurate are iPhones in recording steps? Pretty accurate. Refer to this video to get an idea:

Its important to note: The iPhone can ONLY record your steps if it is directly on your person and in motion. It can still be on but not record steps you do not have it. Is it also not fooled by car/air travel movement. Given that both Chris and Shan’ann were almost constantly glued to their phones, I feel this would be a quite accurate way to track their movement.

Now on to what the iPhones show:

Chris’ work iPhone:
– Barely any activity on the Sunday, some very minor stuff late Sunday afternoon on the 12th. (possibly when he picked up the phone to text Kodi Roberts he will be at Cervi tomorrow morning).
– 0000-0400 on the 13th. NO recorded activity.
– 0400-0500 on the 13th. Some very minor movement in this hour. Establishes Chris as awake
-0500-0600 on the 13th – Lots of movement and activity, Chris takes over 400 steps with the phone in his possession
-0600-0700 on the 13th – Minor activity, this is when he had loaded the bodies and was driving the truck out to Cervi and dumping the bodies
-0700 – 1000 another flurry of activity, Chris takes a combined total of around 1400 steps during these hours with the phone in his possession

Chris’ personal iPhone:
– 2300-0000 on the 12th. Chris takes over 200 steps with his personal iPhone in his possession. We know he is awake at this time and the last time he texted Shan’ann was at 23:21.
– 0000-0400 on the 13th. NO recorded movement from Chris’ iPhone during this period. He receives an alert from his Vivint security system at 0148 telling him the front door has been opened.
– 0400-0500 on the 13th. Minor activity on the phone. Around 20-30 steps are recorded during this period. Establishes Chris as awake at this time.
-0500-0600 on the 13th. A similar story to the work phone, increased activity with around 200 steps with the iPhone in his possession during the hour.
-0600-0700 on the 13th. Another lull in activity with 20 or so steps record. Once again he is driving to Cervi and dumping the bodies.

Shan’ann’s iPhone:
0000 – 0100 on the 13th. Around 100 steps recorded
0100 – 0200 on the 13th. Around 800 steps recorded. She arrives home during this hour at 0148
0200 – 1500 on the 13th. NO recorded activity.
1500 – 1600 on the 13th. Just over 400 steps recorded. This is likely just after Chris ”found” the phone and switched it on again.

-Both of Chris’ iPhones (work and personal) show absolutely no movement with the phone in his possession after 12am and before 4am on the day of the murder. There is slight activity during the 4am to 5am period on both phones, with increased movement between 5am-6am before another lull. They are both very consistent with each other.
– Shan’ann’s phone shows no movement after 2am Monday and before 3pm Monday. This means its likely that Chris turned her phone off completely after the murder and did not switch it back on until it was found by Nickole’s son.
– The Vivint motion sensors on the ground floor alerted to Shan’ann opening the front door at 1:48am and did not detect any other motion on that floor until 4:23am. This matches almost perfectly with the recorded movement from all 3 iPhones and I believe has huge implications for when the murders took place.

Side note: More shoddy police work done in this case. If detective Baumhover had tried a little bit harder at his job, he would have noticed that underneath these graphs on the iPhone is a menu that contains an option named “Show All Data”. Clicking this option will allow you to see the EXACT times that the iPhone was picked up and moved during a given day, and the time that it stopped moving, and an approximate distance traveled/step count for each time.

Unfortunate that this wasn’t done as it would have helped nail down both parties movements much more accurately in the given time periods. Unfortunately these graphs broken into hour increments is all we have to work with.27356392_10156298753408825_7054522965536622121_o

Postscript – The iPhone Data shouldn’t be confused with the iWatch Data

The data reference above is entirely drawn from the 3 iPhones described in the document (Items 40, 41 and 42).It is possible to synchronize your iWatch to the iPhone so the data appears the same on both, but in this case I believe if the data had been synced the step counts and activity levels throughout the day would be much higher. (Based on personal experience and the fact that the watch is literally strapped to your body the entire day.)

In the discovery I cannot find any information about the iWatches themselves being forensically examined. I believe this is another huge and glaring omission by the police again. Why? Because the iWatch itself has an even more advanced suite of biometric data it gathers from the person its attached to, the main one of interest being their heart rate. If Chris and Shan’ann were wearing their watches at the time of the murder, the iWatch would have most definitely detected the massive heart rate spike resulting from that (along with the fact that Shan’annss watch would stop giving a heart reading entirely), and could have possibly even given us an exact time of murder.

Incredibly, frustratingly, it wasn’t done. Why?