On March 5th, two days ahead of Weld County’s official release of the 5-hour interrogation tapes, Dr. Phil jumped the gun and provided his exclusive. According to Weld County, they were surprised by this early release.
According to People:
A spokeswoman from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation [Susan Medina] tells PEOPLE the office plans to release more information on the case Thursday, adding that the office was taken by surprise by the Dr. Phil interview.
For me the show isn’t meaningful so much for how it cuts to bone of this case [because it doesn’t] or because it sheds new light onto any new insights or real revelations. What I find fascinating is the stage management and the PR craft that’s playing out right in front of our eyes. The scale of it is impressive. Besides America, news of the show has been reported around in the world, as far as the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
When the first episode opens, our first shot is of Dr. Phil on location in Pinehurst, North Carolina. He did the same when he interviewed Burke Ramsey on the 20 year anniversary. On that occasion he was in Boulder, standing outside the house with JonBenet’s brother.
So the show starts off providing that impression. It’s investigative. Dr. Phil is speaking to family firsthand, he’s in their back yard, digging for the truth. Right?
When I covered the Ramsey case, I noticed that although the impression is created that Burke and Dr. Phil are in Boulder together, standing outside the historic, gabled house, and later talking inside, on closer inspection I found that wasn’t true. While there is footage of Dr. Phil himself in front of the actual house, we never see Burke and Dr. Phil together in front of the house, although we do see them in front of another old house. Ditto the interiors. The interiors feel like the inside of the Ramsey home, but it’s not.
In the Watts case, Dr. Phil indicates he’s on location in Pinehurst, North Carolina? But why Pinehurst? The Rzuceks live and work in Aberdeen, about 10 miles south of Pinehurst.
We know Shan’ann’s funeral service was held at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pinehurst, but the woman and her children are buried at Bethesda Cemetery, near the old church, in Aberdeen. Shan’ann attended Pinecrest High School in Southern Pines, which is closer to Pinehurst than Aberdeen.
In any event, the Pinehurst location feels a little off.
During his opening spiel Dr. Phil, while standing under a tree and blooms, talks about “they reportedly recorded” [they being law enforcement] ” a five-hour long confession where Watts revealed what really happened in his wife and daughter’s final moments”.
The keyword here is “reportedly”. If Dr. Phil had said and the same thing and left “reportedly” out, this is how it would have played:
They recorded a five-hour long confession where Watts revealed what really happened in his wife and daughter’s final moments
Reportedly is hidden in the beginning of the sentence, because to say “reportedly confessed” or “reportedly revealed” weakens the sentence, and also reveals that this confession isn’t the glossy blockbuster exclusive it’s being made out to be. Reportedly is a word journalists use when referring to hearsay. It’s a story about what someone else said, and what they believe was said yada yada yada.
“Today, before it [the audio of the interrogation] is released, we are exclusively revealing the devastating details of…” He’s not exclusively revealing the confession, or the truth, but “devastating details”.
And then the show cuts to Dr. Phil at the seat of a table somewhere, surrounded by four lawyers. All four are people none of us are familiar with, and none of them are introduced by name. One of them, the ginger fellow with the goatee, we know is Steven Lambert – the Rzucek family lawyer. Lambert also does virtually all the talking regarding the confession, but he admits he didn’t hear it himself, but was told about it by Sandi Rzucek. And then they say who Sandi heard it from is “speculation”. So in effect the broken telephone looks like this:
Watts ->three interrogators -> [blank] -> Sandi Rzucek -> Steven Lambert -> Dr. Phil
Now lets drill into a few segments of the first show.
1. Fuzzy Storytelling + Fuzzy Logic = Fuzziness
“From our understanding, uh…Bella did not witness the actual killing of her mother, Shan’ann, it was not until Chris was in the process of trying to dispose of Shan’ann’s body, essentially wrapping her up in the sheet, while she was doing that…Bella walked in. And asked, ‘What are you doing with Mommy?'”
What’s immediately clear from this scenario is how fuzzy and vague it is. There’s no time given, no location, and when Lambert describes it he simply refers to “the night in question”.
Next Lambert refers to Watts’ answer to Bella. He tells his daughter, “Mommy is sick, and we need to take her to the hospital.” Again, we’re not told where in the house this conversation takes place, where Shan’ann is wrapped, or where Ceecee or Deeter are when all of this is happening.
CNN reported on the interview Lambert gave Dr. Phil as follows:
“She’s 4, what we’ve been told she’s quite smart — was quite smart — and knew something likely was up. And what he said was that, ‘Mommy is sick, we need to take her to the hospital to make her better,'” Lambert said.
Lambert said his understanding is that Chris Watts put Shan’ann’s body in his truck and then put his children, who were alive at the time, into the truck. He took Celeste’s favorite blanket and smothered her, Lambert said.
“At this point, Bella had unbuckled herself from the vehicle,” Lambert said. Watts walked back to the truck and that’s when Bella made the plea for her life, Lambert said.
Now when I read that, as narrator, it seems to be suggesting Watts smothered Ceecee in the car, in the driveway, and then Bella pleaded for her life inside the car, while it was still parked in the driveway.
As others have mentioned before, Armchair Detective must be having a field day with this hokum, doing a song and dance about how his prescient conspiracies have turned out to be true!
I don’t want to argue whether it was here or there, because the whole spiel is baloney. What I do want to do is expose the baloney in the psychology of the spiel.
What Lambert and all those who are fielding this supposed confession are trying to convince everyone of is that a little girl wakes up and interrupts her father when he’s wrapping her mother in a bed sheet. Fair to say? So on the night Shan’ann returns home after a weekend away, Bella doesn’t wake up during the first fight, nor does she wake up during the second fight, and she doesn’t wake up while her father is murdering her mother.
We may imagine smothering or strangling is a silent kill. It is one of the more silent murder methods, far quieter than a gunshot, and potentially more silent than a knife wound. But strangling isn’t silent. Put a pillow over your face mouth, stuff a cloth in your mouth and shout, and that sound is still very audible, and can travel quite far inside a house. And yet we’re expected to believe after three separate noise disturbances, when there is no noise, that’s when Bella walked in.
We’re not told where she walked in, but the walked in implies she’s in the home, in spite of the way CNN have reported on it. The point is, it’s fuzzy, confusing and clearly contrived. And you xan sort of see it on the expressions of some of the lawyers, who appear at times as if they’re trying not to laugh on camera.
There are few additional nitpicks to get through. In this version of their argument, selling the house doesn’t even come up. There’s also something patently inadequate about this setup of four lawyers gathered to exclusively reveal DEVASTATING DETAILS, but then we’re ultimately given is Shan’ann saying “something to the effect of…” So we don’t even know in this spiel what Shan’ann’s last words were, just approximately what they were.
How and where Shan’ann was strangled simply isn’t mentioned, and the spiel is fuzzy about where the children were smothered. The most detail is given about Ceecee smothered in her favorite blanket, and to some extent Shan’ann being wrapped in a sheet.
Although I believe it is fictional, the words: ‘Mommy is sick, we need to take her to the hospital’ have a certain ring of truth about them. Because Mommy was sick, and Mommy was pregnant, and was not feeling well that weekend, and she was intending to go to a clinic that day.
But even though the words are fiction, the psychology is sound:
Mommy is sick, we need to take her to the hospital…
Shan’ann is sick, I need to take her out…
And if this is his scenario, it’s the same scenario of using what’s plausible to lie. That’s what this confession is, as well.
2. CERVI 319 – Things Get Really Iffy
LAMBERT:…on the floorboards [of the truck]. Loads up Bella and Celeste into the vehicle. And drives 45 minutes or so to where the bodies were eventually found.
Notice how vague this is. No mention of Roggen, GPS co-ordinates, CERVI 319, well site. Just the generic “to where the bodies were found…”
LAMBERT: He takes Shan’ann body, still in the sheet [sighs], and throws it in the dirt pile next to the truck.
No mention of where Shan’ann body was, or himself digging the grave [which ought to have taken 20-30 minutes].
LAMBERT [Blinks]: And…uh…he walks over…and takes Cee’s favorite blanket and uh…smothers her. To death. And then he takes her body, takes it out of the vehicle…uh at this point Bella had unbuckled herself from the vehicle. And uh, he went back to the vehicle and uh-uh-uh at that point, Bella said, ‘Please Daddy, do not do to me what you just did to Ceecee’.
Notice how Lambert doesn’t mention what Watts did to Ceecee after smothering her. There’s no mention of tanks, or putting her in the tanks.
LAMBERT: And uh…and then he killed Bella. From what we’ve been told by Michael Rourke and the DA’s office, and that was revealed in his uh, sentencing hearing, there was a struggle, from Bella, I believe. There were signs that she had fought [sighs] for her life. And uh…I think of the things that have been hard for the Rzuceks to comprehend, to accept in this reality, what happened to Bella in those last moments have been the hardest.
Once again, without actually referring to Watts’ story, Lambert now jumps to Rourke’s. Does Watts actually admit Bella fought back? It’s implied by her saying ‘Daddy, please don’t do that to me’ and then Watts does do that. It will be interesting to see how this aspect plays out in Watts’ own words in the five-hour interrogation.
3. “What does your gut tell you?”
DR. PHIL: Do you get the sense that Chris Watts is telling the truth at this point? Does your gut-level tell you that?
Instead of a simply yes or no answer, Lambert glances down and to the right, and carefully rephrases the question.
LAMBERT: If you’re asking us, if, based on our conversations with him, based on what we’ve heard of this recounting if [pauses] we believe it is authentic and accurate, on what actually happened that day, I have no reason personally to doubt it.
I’m sorry but I find Lambert’s response here quite funny. Really? You have no reason to doubt Watts’ version of events? What – were you born yesterday?
But then Lambert adds a little disclaimer.
LAMBERT: The slight concern that we’d have, is the only reason he might lie about is if he was protecting somebody.
So maybe he wasn’t born yesterday, just the day before.
And then the other anonymous lawyer talks about an alternative reality, where Watts might have had something else in mind.
In a real scenario about coming clean about an affair, the first question the wife is going to ask is who is it, and where did you meet her, how long has it been happening and where has it been happening. The word Anadarko is never mentioned once during this hour-long interview, and neither is Thrive, for that matter.
Nichol Kessinger is briefly referenced, though, including a clip where she refers to herself as a potential catalyst for the crime. Of course in this scenario, Watts’ makes the catalyst about custody, not about her.
Let’s move on.
When Lambert refers to technical aspects of the Anadarko well at CERVI 319, he makes sure to describe it without naming names.
LAMBERT [Speaks slowly, looks down]: Right…we had been told…um…that the job site…where the…bodies were eventually found of Shan’ann, Bella and Celeste, that there were supposed to be other people at the job site.
Scene cuts to shots of the Anadarko fracking tanks.
Job site? How generic can you get. It was a well site, a very idiosyncratic location particular to this case.
4. Dr. Phil offers some meaningful insight
LAMBERT: There were supposed to be other people at the job site that day, and Chris had called them off. And so [glances to the right] there is some speculation, like Tom is saying here, that this might have had some forethought to it.
DR. PHIL [Raising his pen]: Yeah, that’s why I want to look at that tape of Bella…you know, singing in the backseat…you know this is a little girl. This isn’t a statistic. This is a little girl…
So just as the conversation is getting somewhere, it’s steered back towards sentiment. That these were real people with real feelings. Instead of dealing with the premeditation aspect, or the specifics of it [and there are many, from photos, to texts, to the affair itself as a catalyst to Watts’ increasing standoffishness to Shan’ann] let’s have four lawyers talk about the humanity of the victims.
TOM: This was our daughter. These were our grandchildren. We loved them. They were real people. And to watch him, it’s incredibly scary to see how composed he appears to be, and that he can stand there and lie.
Ironically, this moment of reflection anchoring the narrative to “real people” actually produces a real result. Dr. Phil points to an image of Watts on the screen and makes an excellent point.
DR. PHIL: You look at his forehead, and around his eyes, there’s no stress in this man’s face at all. [Several lawyers nod.] And, what I’m saying is if this had not been premeditated, and he was having to put all this together in real time, that’s when it’s…cognitive overload. And he’s not [overloaded] here, which is why I don’t believe this was a crime of passion, and you say that…there is some indication that he may have called people off of this job site ahead of time. How does he call people off? Does he…?
LAMBERT: From my understanding of it, there were multiple people working the job site that day, there was something that needed to be done at the job site, and so he essentially said, ‘No-no guys, I got this.It’s fine, you don’t need to come around. I can handle this’.
This was an opportunity to dive into the actual case file, rather than float into “my understanding of it” and what he “essentially” said.
This is what he said, when he said it, who he said it to and what it was regarding:
Morning, Friday August 10th: Preparing his alibi for his date with Kessinger, and organizing a babysitter. Notice Watts did this less than 45 minutes after Shan’nn told him she’d landed in Arizona.
Midday, Friday August 10th: It’s not clear whether Watts’ getting Shan’ann involved in discussions about realty and selling the house was done on purpose, to make it seem like a mutual decision prior to the murder, but it’s certainly possible. It was during Watts’ meeting with Troy McCoy at 13:34 that McCoy mentioned issues at CERVI 319. This occurred as a result of a call made by Kodi Roberts to McCoy while the Anadarko operators were standing side by side in a Safeway parking lot. So Watts overheard this call, and moreover, knew to contact Roberts because of this call. It’s not clear whether Watts also told McCoy he intended to volunteer to fix the leak at the well site.
Evening, Sunday August 12th: If it was a premeditated murder, and if Watts had entertained a preference for CERVI 319 as a dumping site over the weekend, then the “all clear” for the site and the murders occurred at 18:09 when Kodi Roberts handed over the job to Watts.
Morning, Friday August 13th: Many of Watts’ calls to Roberts that morning where to ask him where he was, where he was going and how long he was going to be.
TWO TAKEOUTS FROM DR.PHIL PART ONE
There are two primary takeouts from Part One of the Dr Phil examination of the Second Confession, one not much of a surprise, but the second of some significance.
Firstly, Watts’ version shifts his narrative from one of Shan’ann killing her children, and him killing her because of it, to him killing her over custody issues, and then killing his daughters [for reasons unknown]. Put simply, the second confession absolves Shan’ann.
Secondly, and this is important, Watts’ tries to sketch Shan’ann’s murder as a crime of passion, and the murder of the children [at the well site] as an almost afterthought. He tries to make it about Bella having an argument with him, or freaking out because of what he’d done to Shan’ann and her sister [burying them] and so Watts kills her as part of the passion surrounding that. What he’s doing his utmost to achieve is convey a scenario where the crime isn’t premeditated [the murder of Shan’ann isn’t and neither is Bella’s].
But the murders were premeditated. This is what the TWO FACE series has maintained all along.