THE WATTS FAM­ILY MUR­DERS

A mon­ster’s dou­ble life re­vealed

WHO - - Contents - By K.C. Baker and Steve Helling

“If he wanted a new start, get a di­vorce... You don’t an­ni­hi­late your fam­ily” — Pros­e­cu­tor Michael Rourke

Chris Watts dodges a death sen­tence for killing his wife and daugh­ters – as au­thor­i­ties re­veal his twisted plot to start over

Chris Watts did not look up – didn’t even flinch – as the fam­ily he wrecked strug­gled, one by one, to put words to their an­guish. His guilty pleas en­tered, Watts was in court on Nov. 19 to re­ceive his sen­tence – life with­out pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role – for the mur­ders of his preg­nant wife, Shanann, 34, daugh­ters Bella, 4, and Ce­leste, 3, and un­born son, Niko.

“We loved you like a son. We trusted you,” Shanann’s mother, San­dra Rzucek, told Watts as he sat, head down, at the de­fence ta­ble. “Your chil­dren loved you to the moon and back.” Added Shanann’s fa­ther, Frank Rzucek: “They also trusted you, the heart­less mon­ster. And then you take them out like trash.” Watts’ own fa­ther, Ron­nie Watts, was too emo­tional to speak in the Colorado court­room. In a state­ment read aloud by the fam­ily’s lawyer, he re­called coach­ing his boy in Lit­tle League and teach­ing him about cars. Now, he went on, “We are forced to ques­tion ev­ery­thing.” For the Rzucek and Watts fam­i­lies, the im­pos­si­bly painful ques­tions that have haunted them since 15-week­spreg­nant Shanann and her girls went miss­ing from their home in Fred­er­ick, Colorado, on Aug. 13 may never be an­swered: how could a man who ap­peared to every­one so dot­ing on his fam­ily take a se­cret mistress and then kill his wife and lit­tle girls with his bare hands?

Asked at sen­tenc­ing if he wished to make a state­ment, Watts spoke just two words to Judge Marcelo Kop­cow: “No, sir.” Weld County District At­tor­ney Michael Rourke tells WHO that a full con­fes­sion – “what hap­pened, why it hap­pened” – was not a con­di­tion of Watts’ plea deal. “I didn’t want some con­cocted BS story,” Rourke says.

In the three months since Shanann’s body was dis­cov­ered on Aug. 16 in a shal­low grave – and the bod­ies of Bella and Ce­leste in sep­a­rate oil tanks nearby – on prop­erty of Anadarko Pe­tro­leum, where Chris worked, in­ves­ti­ga­tors pieced to­gether a damn­ing pic­ture of cold and cal­cu­lated mur­ders by a cheat­ing hus­band who wanted to start afresh with a new woman.

A 1960-page doc­u­ment made pub­lic at Watts’ sen­tenc­ing brimmed with hor­ri­fy­ing de­tails of Watts’ de­prav­ity and dou­ble life. Judge Kop­cow, a 17-year vet­eran of the bench, called it “per­haps the most in­hu­mane and vi­cious crime that I have han­dled of the thou­sands of cases that I have seen.”

Rourke laid out how in the early hours of Aug. 13, after Shanann got home from a week­end busi­ness trip, Watts stran­gled her to death over the course of two to four min­utes. “The hor­ror she felt as the man that she loved wrapped his hands around her throat and choked the life out of her must have been unimag­in­able,” Rourke told the court as Shanann’s par­ents and brother, Frankie Jr, wept. As for the girls, they were smoth­ered. “Bella fought back for her life,” Rourke ex­plained, de­scrib­ing lac­er­a­tions that showed the girl bit her tongue “mul­ti­ple times” as, ac­cord­ing to an au­topsy re­port, she “strug­gled to get away”. Watts’ text mes­sages show that he had pre­ar­ranged to be alone at a ru­ral Anadarko work site that morn­ing and a neigh­bour’s se­cu­rity cam­era showed Watts back­ing his truck into the drive­way and then walk­ing from the house to the truck three times – “one time for each of their bod­ies”, Rourke said. At the site, Watts shoved his daugh­ters’ bod­ies through 20cm hatches of sep­a­rate oil tanks and later told in­ves­ti­ga­tors “that Bella’s tank seemed emp­tier than Cece’s be­cause of the sound the splashes made”.

That morn­ing, phone records show, Watts called the girls’ school to un-en­rol them, called a real­tor about selling their home, “texted with his girl­friend about their fu­ture” and googled for get­away hol­i­day deals. Only after Shanann’s friends were un­able to reach her and alerted po­lice did he put on a pub­lic show, plead­ing in tear­ful TV in­ter­views on Aug. 14 for his fam­ily’s re­turn, say­ing he couldn’t wait for his daugh­ters to hug him. But be­hind doors, he “gig­gled” when he told po­lice he had noth­ing to do with their dis­ap­pear­ance, ac­cord­ing to the po­lice re­port.

The girl­friend, Ni­chol Kessinger, 30, a co-worker at Anadarko, told The Den­ver Post when she and Chris started dat­ing in June – less than two months be­fore the mur­ders – he told her he was in the fi­nal stages of di­vorce. She dis­cov­ered that was a lie – and went to po­lice on Aug. 15 – after see­ing the miss­ing­per­son news on Aug. 14. “We had just met,” she told The Post. “I barely knew him.”

The texts on Kessinger’s, Shanann’s and Chris’ phones show a mar­riage in cri­sis just as the new re­la­tion­ship be­gan – while Shanann and the girls spent five weeks with her par­ents in North Carolina. Tex­ting a friend on Aug. 7, after she and the girls re­turned home to Colorado, Shanann wrote: “He has changed. I don’t know who he is ... He hasn’t touched me all week, kissed me.”

The Watts house now sits dark, life­less. “It felt like there was a lot of love in there. Now, it’s eerie,” says neigh­bour Kel­ley Trippy. “I thought Chris was such a good dad. But I guess ev­ery­body has a mask that they put on.”

Watts ad­mit­ted to the mur­ders, Rourke

says, to avoid a death sen­tence. “He made the only move he could,” says a law en­force­ment source. “If a jury had seen the au­topsy pho­tos of those girls, they would have wanted to bury him them­selves.” A source close to Watts says the guilty plea has left him “at more peace”. Says the source, “That doesn’t mean he’s happy. He’s go­ing to think about what he did ev­ery day for the rest of his life; he is in hell.”

This may be the only com­fort the Rzuceks have left. “I pray that you never have a mo­ment’s peace or a good night’s rest in the cage you’ll spend ev­ery day of your life in,” Shanann’s brother Frankie told Watts at sen­tenc­ing. His fa­ther Frank added, chill­ingly, “And one other thing – Shanann says she is su­per ex­cited for jus­tice to­day.”

“He has changed. I don’t know who he is ... I just want to cry” —Aug. 7 text from Shanann to a friend about Watts

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