• Jim Leach

What have you done to Mommy?

The town of Frederick Colorado had never experienced evil like this before.

While he was wrapping his wife’s body up in a sheet in preparation for the disposal of her body, the children walked into the room. One of the children said, “What have you done to Mommy?”.

When 34 year old Shanann Watts and her two young children, Celeste, 3 and Bella, 4, were discovered missing on August 13th, there were several things that were strange. Shana car keys, purse, wallet, and cell phone were at home. Her car was home as well the car seats for both babies.

Shanann had been out of town on a business trip and when she got back in town, her friend Nichole Atkinson gave he a ride and dropped her off at home about 2 am on August 13th. Her husband, Chris was at home the the kids.

Nichole says Shanann, who was pregnant, missed an OB-GYN appointment and a business appointment later that day, and Shanann was not returning Nichole’s text messages. When Nichole contacted Chris about where Shanann might be, he seemed unconcerned and said something about his wife being gone on a “playdate” with other women. That seemed especially strange since this was the first day of school for the children. Nichole went to the Watt’s home around noon but did not find Shanann at home. At that point she contacted the police who arrived at the Watts’ home at 1:40 pm on August 13th.

Once police arrived they discovered the house was locked from the inside. Shanann’s husband, Chris, got home soon after the police showed up and he had to use the garage door opener to let the police in the house. There was no reasonable explanation as to how a stranger could have gotten into the house, abducted the people inside, then left the house locked up. Someone would have had to have a key or garage door closer. Watts told police he and his wife they were talking about selling the house. He told officers Shanann was taking the kids to a friend’s house. When he opened the garage door, the first thing he did was start looking through the car parked in the garage. It was a terrible lie to say Shanann was taking the kids somewhere since the car and both baby seats were still home. Considering all he had just done, murdering his entire family, it is understandable that he could have been a little confused.

Chris began giving TV media interviews the day after police became involved . He told reporters his last conversation with his wife before she disappeared “ wasn’t, like, an argument”. Watts went on to describe the conversation as an “emotional conversation” and ended up by saying “I’ll leave it at that.'' During the interviews Watts seemed more focused on himself than on his missing family. He talked about being lonely and said the house wasn’t the same without his wife and children. He said he couldn’t sleep. Watts stated more than once, “I don’t know where she is”, and said “I could never fathom something like this happening.'' In cases of this nature one of the common characteristics of the perpetrator is to focus on themselves. Reporters noted they saw no tears and no evidence of fear or anguish from Watts during the interview.

In viewing the interview on You Tube, the murderer was seen to have his arms crossed high on his chest in a defensive, closed body language posture. He exhibited inconsistent eye contact even to the point of slowly closing his eyes on several occasions while talking. Other signs of stress, nervousness, or guilt observed during the media interview included body swaying, nervous laughter, and excessive nose scratching. Watts later failed a polygraph examination administered by police.

Police obviously suspected foul play and looked for someone who had means, opportunity, and motive (M.O.M.). Even though the motive was not clear at this time, Watts definitely had the means and opportunity to abduct his wife and two children, so he needed to be cleared before investigators moved on to look at someone else. It turned out to be much worse than an abduction.

When they began to question Watts,the killer told police several different stories.

He initially admitted to having an emotional conversation with Shanann, and the point of contention was Chris’s admitted infidelity. Watts said he told Shanann he wanted a separation, then he went downstairs. Chris claims he looked at the baby cam and saw their daughter Bella stretched out on the floor. The killer tried to put the blame on his wife by saying Bella had turned blue because Shanann had strangled the child to death. He goes on to say Shanann was in the process of strangling their other daughter Celeste when he went back upstairs. Watts claimed he flew into a rage, lost control of himself and strangled his wife to death.

In a later interview the murderer claimed Shanann threatened to divorce him and take the children. When faced with the threat of losing his children, Watts says he felt like something “snapped” inside of him. At this point, Watts admitted to strangling his wife to death. Strangulation is a terribly vicious way to murder someone. According to experts, death by strangulation would probably have taken 2-4 minutes. The victim would be desperately struggling for air and panicking at the most extreme level imaginable until she blacked out. He would have continued to strangle her to make sure the job was done. Watts says his wife did not struggle. This is a preposterous lie. She would have been, literally, fighting for her life and the life of her unborn child. Watts said while he was wrapping his wife’s body up in a sheet in preparation for the disposal of her body, the children walked into the room. One of the children said, “What have you done to Mommy?”

The killer went on to say said he loaded his wife’s body into his truck. He also put his children in the truck and then drove to his work site at Anadarko Petroleum. Words cannot express the horror the children must have experienced in the 45 minute drive from home to the work site. When asked why he didn’t just kill the children at home, he was unable to give any reason.

Upon reaching his work site he strangled Celeste while she sat next to her sister. He forced Celeste’s dead body through a pipe and into a petroleum pit, then returned to his truck to kill Bella. Of course the Bella had witnessed her sister being murdered and by this time she had to know her father had killed her mother. She begged her father not kill her. Watts says the last words his daughter spoke were “Daddy, NO!” The medical examiner found evidence Bella fought back, but of course she was overpowered. It appears as though she struggled so hard she bit through her tongue. Bella was also stuffed through a pipe and into a petroleum vat. The monster used the same blanket to strangle both children. The pipes he forced them through were only 8” in diameter, so it was hard to shove their little bodies through such a small opening. Remnants of hair and skin were recovered by police around the openings of the pipes. After killing Bella and Celeste and disposing of their bodies, Watts buried Shanann. Her body was found face down in a shallow grave.

In an effort to distance himself from the sheer evil of his act, Watts said maybe Shanann was praying for him while he murdered her. He tried to compare his murderous act with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Watts referred to Jesus asking God to forgive the people who were killing him and the killer speculated Shanann may have been asking God to forgive her murderer while he was killing her. The killer says, now that he is in prison, he is reading the Bible every day.

Watts says he did not plan the murder. He claims he asks himself the question, “did I know I was going to do that?” He goes on to say, “It just felt like there was already something… and I had no control over it.” The killer says it was as if “other” hands were on top of his while he was choking the life out of his wife and those “other” hands wouldn’t let him stop killing her. Watts went on to say it was like he had lost his mind and “didn’t know what had happened.”

It is common for murderers to attempt to lessen the cruel intent of their acts by trying to blame someone or something else instead of accepting the blame themselves. Tommy Lynn Sells who was convicted of 23 murders said ,”sometimes the knife just goes crazy”. Kenneth O’Guinn confessed to killing 5 people and said he murdered them because they reminded him of his wife who had been unfaithful to him. Walter Stitts who choked 2 people to death and tried to kill another tried to excuse his murderous actions by saying the victims owed him money and refused to pay.

Prosecutors say Chris Watts’ motive must have been the killer’s desire to establish a new life and give himself a fresh start.

In the past Shanann talked about how great Chris was and what a happy marriage the two enjoyed. On social media, she seemed to be very happy, bragging on both her husband and the children. She said Chris was the motivator behind deciding to have a third child. Shanann was suffering with poor health when she first met her future husband. She is quoted as saying Watts “knew me at my worst”,“he stuck around”, and, “he is amazing”.

More recently Shanann had begun to question her husband’s fidelity. It turns out she was right. One of Shanann’s friends said Shanann’s was for the couple to separate. When Shanann went to South Carolina to visit her parents, Chris also showed up there for a brief visit. He was probably just making sure his wife would be gone from home for a while giving him a chance to see more of his girlfriend. Evidence revealed he did a lot of traveling with his girlfriend while his wife was in South Carolina. After he murdered his family, but before their bodies were discovered, Watts continued to text his girlfriend and talk about future vacations they could take together and what kind of jewelry he was going to buy for her. When the girlfriend found out about the murders, she came forward voluntarily. She had deleted many of the messages and videos that showed her relationship with the killer because she had decided to end the affair. Following a thorough investigation, authorities concluded there was no reason to believe Watts’ girlfriend had prior knowledge or any involvement in the murders.

The Watts family had serious financial issues. They were forced to file bankruptcy in 2015. There were two savings accounts. One had a balance of less than $10, while the other account had a balance of less than $900. Monthly expenses included a $500 car payment and a $3,000 mortgage payment. On the very day Watts executed his family, the murderer mentioned to a neighbor he was considering selling the home. There was a third child on the way.

The prosecutor discussed the cases with Shanann’s family and there was a mutual agreement not to pursue the death penalty. Chris Watts was charged with 1 count of First Degree Murder as well as 2 counts of First Degree Murder of a Child Under the Age of 12 by a Person in a Position of Trust. Lesser charges included one count of Unlawful Termination of Pregnancy in the First Degree and 3 counts of Tampering With a Deceased Human Body.

Watts quickly entered a guilty plea and received 3 consecutive life sentences with no parole plus 84 years on the murder charges. He also pleaded guilty to other lesser crimes.

Jim Leach has served as a former Special Agent in Charge with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Director of Criminal Investigations for the Tennessee Highway Patrol. His website is

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