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

Tag: thief hatch

FBI Interview with Melissa Parrish, Chris Watts’ co-worker at Anadarko [55th Tranche]

As part of ongoing research for the 6th book in the series, I spent a fair amount of time studying the image below. It’s one of the view truly authentic crime scene photos in the entire Watts case.

When this photo was taken by Crime Scene Analyst Dave Yocum [using his cell phone], he was trying to see inside the tanks. They knew the children had been dumped in the tanks, and yet when he shone a special torches inside the tank, the view was obstructed by venting mist.

No smoke or gas fumes are evident in this image, but the tape measure unfortunately obstructs and reflects a lot of the light that would otherwise penetrate the orifice beneath the thief hatch.

I was also looking very carefully at many of these surfaces for traces of blood, hair fragments, fibers or skin tissue. There is a strange flap of something at about two ‘o clock on the image below. It could be a fragment of pajamas, or it could be part of the thief hatch apparatus.

In a comment left on TCRS today by Sylvester, I went to look at Melissa Parrish’s comments about Watts releasing the pressure value on the tanks at CERVI 319 [on Monday morning] causing oil to spray out. Parrish was surprised not only by this, but by Watts not bothering to clean up the mess he’d made.

It’s often missed that Watts was also OCD in his own way, just as Shan’ann was. He was meticulous about cleanliness, which is possibly why Shan’ann used this to her own advantage and put him on permanent laundry duty for the whole family.

Fullscreen capture 20190211 234247

Watts’ emphasis on appearance is also perhaps why he appeared to like wearing matching outfits, and why his well-groomed appearance played so well into the “fairy tale” aspect of this case in particular. His meticulous attention to detail [in certain areas] also explains why so little crime scene evidence was found in totem.

Watts’ OCD may be why they got along in a certain sense, and perhaps why Watts [quite uniquely] understood and loved Shan’ann, and she him, certainly during the initial phase of their marriage. And so, because of this clear behavior pattern, Parrish thought it was weird that on this day of all days, Watts was being something of a piggy on the site.

Curiously Troy McCoy made a similar observation in terms of Watts appearance that same morning.

Fullscreen capture 20190211 233823


Clearly this manoeuvre to vent the tanks was intended to contaminate, and indeed eviscerate all traces of his daughters and himself in, on and around the hatch. In some footage of venting that I’ve come across, it sounds like a jet engine when high pressure hot gas escapes out of these eight inch holes.

The image below, photographed Tuesday night, also appears to indicate some of the residues of this spray that Watts deliberately discharged over his crime scene the previous day. It was the equivalent of dumping bleach over a kill scene, just quicker and more effective.

Kudos to Sylvester for bringing my attention to this. In true crime we try to be omniscient, and when many eyes and heads apply themselves to the same thing, we can come close. If we keep paying attention, what is buried or simply obscure is eventually brought to light.


Fullscreen capture 20190211 230515Fullscreen capture 20190211 230508Fullscreen capture 20190211 230458

Yes, there is a way to test whether bodies could be placed through the Thief Hatch with [or possibly without] breaking bones – but you’re not going to like it…

Everyone expected fireworks in the autopsy results. Remember? We all thought the autopsy results were going to blow the lid off this case. I expected possible chemical processing of the bodies and/or dismemberment. But the only anomalies in the autopsy results were elevated [but apparently normal] alcohol levels in Shan’ann’s cadaver, and a damaged frenulum in Bella’s case.

Later on Dr. Phil made an “error” on his show, when he spoke about broken bones. At 4:47 in the clip below he says:

“He had to break their bones to get ’em in there…”

To demonstrate his argument, Dr. Phil used this graphic:

fullscreen capture 20190111 223351

It seems pretty straightforward right? The width of the hatch is 8 inches, the width of Bella’s shoulder’s was 9.5 inches, ergo to force her body into the hatch Watts had to break her bones.

According to the Discovery Documents, the “smallest width” [presumably of the shoulders or hips] was measured on Ceecee’s body at 9.5 inches.

This is the width of that overlap:


It’s about 38 mm, just under 4 centimeters or less than half the horizontal width of your debit or credit card. It’s basically as wide as two to three average-sized adult fingers side-by-side.

The Discovery Documents and autopsy reports are surprisingly vague about the measurements, and are also unexpectedly vague about the dimensions of the oil tanks and hatches. There are no diagrams. There’s very little detail.fullscreen capture 20190111 224421

Even so, it doesn’t take a Rocket Scientist to see that by slightly elevating a horizontal structure of a particular width [say the hip or shoulder skeletal bones] through a circular hole of fixed width, the total width can be slightly reduced. When people move furniture through doors or manoeuvre them up and down staircases, this lifting or lowering to alter width is routine applied.

This manoeuvre can be described mathematically as follows:

fullscreen capture 20190111 230415

By raising the shoulder or hip on one side by about 33 degrees [or approximately 5.1 inches above horizontal], a small body could theoretically be fitted through a small hole without breaking anything.

The Discovery Documents and autopsy reports are silent on Bella’s minimum skeletal width. Let’s assume it to be inch wider [which is a completely uninformed, and uneducated guess]. The lifting to reduce the additional inch, once again, isn’t impossible.

fullscreen capture 20190111 231039

The fact that both children’s bodies were dumped with their clothes on, suggests as tight as the fit was, it wasn’t so tight to necessitate the removing of the clothes [the fabric remaining in place could cost a quarter of an inch or so].

Dr. Phil’s illustration is also misleading, because the girls did not have their arms stretched out horizontally, but lifted above their heads. In this position it would also be easily to lower one shoulder through the orifice, and then the other, rather than trying to force both through simultaneously. fullscreen capture 20180915 101246

Although it seems possible to push both bodies through without breaking bones, the only way to verify this would be to use a model skeleton [to scale], and re-enact trying to place the skeletal through the hole. Theoretically easy to do, by practically not quite as straightforward. Another option is a computer animated model using a scaled skeleton and the thief hatch to scale.

Any volunteers?


8 Inches – The Width of the Thief Hatches in Pictures

The thief hatches are small, about the same size at the white hard hat of the man on the right, exiting the gangway. When one zooms to directly above the hatches, the perspective shifts and you can see just how small they are. Bear in mind, the opening inside tapers, which means the silver dome is wider than the opening underneath. In fact the exterior of the hatch – at 15.5 inches – is virtually twice as wide as the opening underneath.

Fullscreen capture 20181203 100708Fullscreen capture 20181203 100723Fullscreen capture 20181203 100734Fullscreen capture 20181203 102340-001

JT81040 New Lid June 2015JT20.1 openJT20.1 a look insidevcrdefullscreen-capture-20180915-101246fullscreen-capture-20180915-101246-001Enardo-ES-665-Blog-Image-3Fullscreen capture 20180911 144456Fullscreen capture 20180911 144510Fullscreen capture 20180916 104145Fullscreen capture 20181103 012551Fullscreen capture 20181103 012024

8 Inches: A Tight Fit or Too Tight?

The area under the thief hatch where Chris Watts dumped his daughters’ bodies into two separate oil tanks measures just 8 inches [20 centimeters] in diameter. Is that wide enough to push through a 3-year-old child and a 4-and-a-half-year-old child?

According to the WHO’s average measurements for girls 3-5, the average width of a girl’s head is around  16-7 centimeters. There’s about 3.5 centimeters to spare, or just over 1 centimeter on either side of the skull. [The calculation from circumference to diameter can be performed using this tool].

Fullscreen capture 20181103 012024 In July 2011, the BBC reported on an adult man whose body [but not his head] was dragged through a 5-inch [12.7 centimeter] hole. He survived, but these are the circumstances surrounding what happened to him:

Two companies have been fined a total of £75,000 after a man was dragged through a 5in (13cm) gap in machinery. Matthew Lowe, 25, broke his back in two places during the incident at Compass Engineering in Barnsley in December 2008. As well as suffering from a broken back, Mr Lowe ruptured his stomach and bowel, shattered his pelvis and fractured his right arm and several ribs. Only his head was not dragged through the machinery. He survived, and went on to retrain in a different role.

Lawyers for Mr Lowe said he was left with psychological injuries and still suffered from the effects of injuries to his arm and hips.

To further complicate matters, it’s possible the area under the vent looked like this:


Is that a ladder [doubtful] or a sensor of some sort? Is it used to visually measure volume? Or does it perform some other function like stabilize the liquid inside, or chemically alter it in some way through exposure to the metal?

The video below illustrates how bodies can, perhaps counter-intuitively, penetrate through small, uniform round holes. It also shows there must be an absolute limit to this, both for living creatures and non-living, before internal damage occurs.

That’s the real question this line of inquiry faces. Did the bodies of the children require tampering, crushing force or involve any kind of post mortem injury when they were dumped into the tanks? The autopsy reports will hopefully provide certainty on these questions.

Fullscreen capture 20181103 012551

Watts Family Murders: Rocket Science SOLVES Thief Hatch Mystery!

On September 15th, 2018, one month after the remains of his wife and children were recovered from CERVI 319, I posted a blog analyzing a question that members of the public were repeatedly asking:

“Why wasn’t Shan’ann’s body dumped into the oil tanks as well?”

One aspect of the answer [and admittedly the simpler one of the two] was – I thought – easy to answer. The children were dumped into the respective tanks because they were small enough [barely] to fit through the thief hatch. Shan’ann was not.

I “proved” this theory by intuitively [visually] measuring up the size of the hatch against an adult operator standing beside it.

Fullscreen capture 20180916 104145Fullscreen capture 20180915 101246-001

My assessment, without any more factual or scientific data to go on, was that the children would barely fit through these small openings. They had to, how else could he have gotten them in there short of chopping up their bodies or chemically reducing them beforehand?

About two weeks later, on September 28th, HLN covered the same issue.

They had an expert on board, and the expert’s was unequivocal on the size of the opening. 8 inches.

Fullscreen capture 20180928 025708

The screengrab above doesn’t make it very obvious just how small 8 inches is. It’s 20 centimeters, roughly the width of this paragraph or the length of the average dinner fork when viewed on a desktop monitor.


Needless to say a 4-year-old child’s head and hips can’t fit through such a small opening. This was devastating to my theory, hence I posted a follow-up blog the same day HLN challenged the notion.

Chris Watts: The crime scene at CERVI 319 just got a LOT more complicated

The problem was, although HLN had provided more information, they’d actually shot their own theory in the foot. They speculated that Watts had used the clean out manway at the bottom of the tanks to access the tanks. It made sense from a size perspective – yeah, it’s big enough to put a child inside, hell, an adult could step inside as well.

Fullscreen capture 20180928 030356

The problem with the manway access point is the fact that the oil tanks were almost full when the cops arrived on the scene. They were so full, they took several hours to drain.

Fullscreen capture 20181102 093333

HLN seemed to miss the fact that in order to open up the manway cover, the tank had to be completely empty. So what, one might argue, maybe it was empty to begin with. The problem is if it was empty the tank would have to fill to almost full within hours. These are huge tanks, and they aren’t filled up rapidly. They take months to fill to capacity. The sequestration of gas and liquids also happens over an extended period.

Besides this, any sudden change in the conditions inside the tank would set off monitoring alarms. This would likely attract attention to the CERVI 319 site by Chris Watts’ colleagues, perhaps even his boss – something he’d want to avoid.

Fullscreen capture 20180916 144350

I struggled with this impasse over the next few days. I decided, ultimately, that the thief hatch HAD to have been used, but the only way to dump the remains of both children through those small 8-inch orifices was if the bodies had been dismembered or “processed” in some way.

#Shakedown’s Call on the Chris Watts Case: The Bodies were “Processed”

The extensive “processing” theory doesn’t sit well with me for 2 reasons:

1. Chris Watts had very little time to process one cadaver, let alone three.

2. There appears to be no obvious evidence of tissue fragments, blood or body fluids at #2825 Saratoga Trail [the bodies could have been processed at CERVI 319, but doing so outdoors with three bodies seems very likely].

It’s taken six weeks for this enigma stewing in the subconscious to resolve itself, but I believe it has. The solution appears to be that an operator might be able to remove the entire thief hatch with the right tools. That’s the housing and the contoured core section.

This doesn’t get us back to where we started with the manway housing. The thief hatch has about half a dozen bolts to loosen and tighten again whereas the manway housing appears to have hundreds.

JT81040 New Lid June 2015fullscreen-capture-20180911-14445339-Peak1-TeflonJT20.1 a look insideimages (1)

In Conclusion:

I believe the thief hatch was used to dump the bodies into mostly full oil tanks from the top of the tanks. I do believe there was some processing or preparing of the bodies irrespective of whether they fit into the hatches or not. If they didn’t fit, this would involve substantial processing including dismemberment. It’s possible to dismember a cadaver without creating a bloodbath if it’s frozen first. If the cadavers did fit through the thief hatch, they were probably prepared in a minimum manner, including cutting off hair and probably removal of clothing that could clog the grates inside the tank.

The arrest affidavit is also unambigous on this point, that all three of the victims’ bodies were tampered with to the extent serious enough to charge Watts with a felony in each and every instance.

Fullscreen capture 20181102 082205