Before he at last decided to tell police “the truth,” authorities say Colorado dad Chris Watts told them a shifting story about his missing wife, Shan’ann Watts, and their two young daughters.
First, according to police, Chris, 33, said he and Shan’ann, 34, had a “civil” but “emotional” conversation about him wanting to separate after nearly six years of marriage.
This was around 5 a.m. on Aug. 13, after Shan’ann had returned from a weekend work trip in Arizona. About 5:30 a.m., Chris said, he loaded his truck and went to work with his wife still in bed.
Later he corrected himself: The conversation about their marriage was at 4 a.m. and “they were both upset and crying.”
Both stories ended the same way: Shan’ann said she was going to go see a friend that day. No, Chris did not know this friend’s name.
A neighbor’s surveillance video confirmed two things for certain: that Shan’ann was dropped off at home just before 2 a.m. on Aug. 13 and that Chris was seen driving away about three and a half hours later.
Three days later, authorities announced an end to the disappearances. Shan’ann, then 15 weeks pregnant, and daughters Bella and Celeste, were dead.
Prosecutors have said all three were likely killed in their home, in Frederick, but what went on behind closed doors remains, at least to the public, a mystery.
Public court filings in the case indicate that, as Chris heads to trial, a key dispute may center on an alleged confession he gave police — and the blame he pinned on his wife for what happened.
This account of Chris’ statements to law enforcement is drawn from the arrest affidavit prepared by police, which lays out the sequence of events leading to his alleged explanation of the deaths and the central role his father played in his decision to confess.
His public defender is barred by office policy from discussing the case.
Getting Chris to Talk
Two days after Shan’ann’s disappearance, authorities discovered something crucial that Chris had kept secret: He was allegedly having an affair with a co-worker.
He’d denied cheating on his wife, but authorities say their investigation confirmed otherwise.
Confronted with this information under questioning on Aug. 15, Chris made a request, according to police: He “said he would tell the truth after speaking with his dad,” who was present at the police station at the time.
Authorities assented and the two spoke, after which Chris allegedly told his startling story.
His wife and children were dead, he said, and their bodies were concealed at an oil work site.
However, he claimed, he’d strangled Shan’ann in a “rage” after watching her strangle Celeste, 3. He said he saw 4-year-old Bella’s body, still and blue, on her bed. In Chris’ telling, Shan’ann had apparently acted out of revenge: He said he witnessed the strangulation right after telling Shan’ann he wanted to separate.
Once all three were dead, Chris told police, he loaded them into his pickup and drove them to a remote oil field some 40 miles east. There, authorities found Shan’ann in a shallow grave with the girls hidden in oil tanks, where they had been for days.
Chris was arrested late on Aug. 15, the same day he was fired from the oil company where he had worked. Authorities announced on Aug. 16 that the bodies of his family had been recovered.
He is charged with first-degree murder, among other crimes, in all three deaths.
He has not yet entered a plea and remains behind bars, where he has grown “despondent” and depressed, according to a source who has recently spoken with him. “The gravity of the situation has hit him like a ton of bricks,” this source told PEOPLE earlier this week.
Neither causes of death nor motive in the triple homicide have been confirmed as Chris’ suspected infidelity draws greater scrutiny.
The co-worker with whom he was allegedly having an affair is not further identified in his arrest affidavit, but a source close to the investigation has told PEOPLE that she is “cooperating” with police.
Prosecutors have moved to force Chris to give up copies of his fingerprints and DNA, among other identifying information, to assist in their evidence testing.
His attorney — who has objected to this request as overly vague and lacking probable cause — has filed a flurry of motions related to DNA and evidence testing.
One outside legal expert told PEOPLE the defense may be preparing to argue Chris’ version of events is true, a position previously dismissed by an investigative source.
“There is absolutely no evidence that she killed her children,” the source said. “None at all. And there is physical evidence to tie him to their murders.”
Only two parts of the arrest affidavit are redacted, at the defense’s request, though it is unclear why:
Four lines have been removed from the same paragraph where police detail having confirmed Chris was having an affair. A subsequent partial line in the following paragraph, which shows that Chris asked to speak with his father, has also been blacked out.
PEOPLE has been unable to reach Chris’ family for comment. Three days after his arrest, Shan’ann’s brother, Frankie Rzucek, posted on Facebook urging others to leave his relatives in peace, noting they had also suffered a loss.
“My prayers to his family. I pray people don’t harass them or wish harm on anyone,” Rzucek wrote. “God will take care of everyone and everything. They are our family and are hurting just as much. Don’t just pray for us, pray that everyone finds peace and love in their hearts through these unimaginable circumstances.”
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