Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock.
A wall clock in an interview room at the Frederick Police Department counted the seconds Aug. 15 as convicted Colorado killer Christopher Watts, calm and appearing to show little to no emotion, confessed to killing his pregnant wife, Shanann Watts, after he claimed she strangled their two young daughters.
The two hour-long confession video was among a trove of videos and documents released Thursday in the August murders of Shanann Watts, 34, and the couple’s two daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, in their Frederick home. Shanann Watts, who had lupus, was also about 15 weeks pregnant with a baby boy the family planned to name Nico.
Chris Watts, 33, pleaded guilty Nov. 6 to nine separate felony counts: five counts of first-degree murder, one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a human body. He was sentenced Nov. 19 to five life sentences without the possibility of parole, with three of those sentences to run consecutively, or one after another.
Shortly after the case files were released Thursday, the Weld County government website that contained them stopped working. An administrator with the district attorney’s office told Fox 31 in Denver that it was a technical glitch.
“We have determined that the reason why the bandwidth is so overloaded is because the link to this Sharefile has been posted to stories on websites today,” the administrator told the news station.
Among the released files was body camera footage that showed detectives searching the Watts home during the investigation.
The files also included Aug. 15 footage of Chris Watts, 33, talking to Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent Tammy Lee just before taking a polygraph test, which detectives and prosecutors said he failed. It was after the failed the polygraph test that Chris Watts asked to speak to his father, Ronnie Watts, to whom he first confessed his involvement in the Aug. 13 disappearance of his family.
Watch Chris Watts talk about his troubled marriage below, courtesy of Fox 31 in Denver.
Prior to the polygraph examination, Chris Watts talked calmly about how he and his wife felt a “disconnect” during a five-week period in which Shanann Watts and their daughters were visiting her family in North Carolina. Chris Watts later joined them for the sixth week of their stay.
“Over that period of time, like, our conversations were shorter, text messages were a little bit less, you know, more like emotional type things, less lovey-dovey type things,” Chris Watts told Lee.
A previous 1,960-page release of case files showed a tense situation in the couple’s marriage. The files indicated Chris Watts told his wife he was no longer in love with her and did not want a third child.
“I don’t know how you fell out of love with me in 5.5 weeks, or if this has been going on for a long time, but you don’t plan another baby if you’re not in love,” Shanann Watts texted her husband on Aug. 5.
Watch investigators search the Watts home below.
The previous release, made available Nov. 21 following media outlets’ public information requests, also showed that, while his wife and children were in North Carolina without him, Chris Watts was going on dates in Colorado with his mistress. The girlfriend, Nichol Kessinger, came forward and talked to investigators after learning Chris Watts had lied to her about the state of his marriage and that Shanann Watts and the girls were missing.
Audio of her interview with detectives was part of Thursday’s release of files, as were images of greeting cards and notes in which Chris Watts professed his love to her. In Kessinger’s interview with police, she told investigators she thought their relationship may have “accelerated the process” of the crimes, but that the family’s finances were the biggest factor in the triple homicide, the Denver Post reported.
Listen to the audio of Kessinger’s interview below.
“I legitimately think his cheese was sliding off his cracker long before he met me,” Kessinger told detectives, according to the Post.
Chris Watts initially held back the fact that he was having an affair, although agents knew about the relationship from the start of the interviews that were made public Thursday.
Watts told Lee during the pre-polygraph interview how much more difficult marriage is when kids are involved. He admitted that the couple’s troubles predated his wife’s trip to North Carolina.
“I was hoping that, you know, maybe it would just work itself out,” he said.
In another portion of the pre-polygraph discussion, Watts talked about how difficult it was to know his wife and children were missing. He said the presence of Colorado state investigators and FBI agents on the case made him worry that someone had his family and “something terrible” had happened.
“That’s the nightmare,” Watts said.
“And what would that terrible thing be?” Lee asked.
“That somebody hurt them,” Watts responded. “I don’t want that to run through my mind, but it’s running through my mind that somebody’s hurt them and that they are not safe.”
At the time Watts was describing that fear to Lee, Shanann Watts and their unborn son were buried in a shallow grave that Chris Watts dug on property belonging to his employer, Anadarko Petroleum, near Roggen, Colorado, about 60 miles from the family’s home. Bella and Celeste were submerged in crude oil in two tanks about 100 feet away.
After ultimately confessing to killing his wife, Watts led investigators to the site of the tank battery.
‘You lied to everyone you talked to, and they all bought it’
Once Watts failed the polygraph test, Lee and FBI Agent Grahm Coder told him the results and urged him to tell the truth.
“There’s a reason you’re sick to your stomach,” Lee said. “When people hold stuff inside, it makes you physically ill.”
Lee said she could tell from the look on his face that he was ready to “come clean” about his family’s disappearance. The agent told Watts that even though he knew walking in that he would fail a polygraph, he stayed, which she said indicated to her that he wanted to get the truth “off (his) chest.”
“Holding this lie in is going to do nothing for you,” Lee said.
Lee told Watts that it was a normal response to try to hide the truth in a situation like his. “Normal people” try to lie their way out of a tight situation, she said, before they eventually tell the truth.
“This is your eventually-telling-the-truth time,” the agent said. “This is where the rubber meets the road, Chris.”
She urged him to not let the situation continue any longer.
“I’m not trying to make anything continue,” Watts said. “I want them back home.”
“But you know they’re not coming back home. You know that,” Lee responded.
“I hope they come back home. I don’t know they’re not coming back home,” Watts said.
Coder spoke up, telling Watts that investigators have been doing a lot of work overnight and knew more than Watts thought they did. He told Watts that in all the interviews they’d done, they’d not found a single person to say a negative word against him.
“‘Chris is a great guy. He’s a good father. He’s a good man,’” Coder quoted those interviewed.
“We’re confused as to why you’re not taking care of your beautiful children,” Coder said before again asking Watts where the children were.
“I do not know where they’re at. If I could have my babies back home right now, I would. I want them back. I want everybody back. That is the God’s honest truth,” Watts said.
The agents were silent for several moments, the clock on the wall behind them ticking away the seconds. Coder finally began talking about the “two Chrises,” one who took excellent care of his daughters and a second who was sitting in the interview room, lying to investigators.
At that point, Watts admitted to having an affair.
“I didn’t hurt her,” Watts said. “I cheated on her. I hurt her emotionally; I cheated on her. I feel horrible about this, but that’s what I’ve been holding back.”
He told the agents that he spent most of his five weeks without his family with Kessinger.
Coder and Lee told Watts that his affair was not discussed during the polygraph, so his secret life could not have been the truth he was holding back during the test. Coder said that he “failed miserably” on the questions about where his wife and children were.
Watts claimed he was a “nervous person” and felt like he would say the wrong thing on every question.
“That’s not how the polygraph works,” Coder said.
The FBI agent pointed out that Watts’ father, Ronnie Watts, was waiting outside, having flown across the country to help his son. He accused Chris Watts of lying to everyone, including his father.
“You lied to everyone you talked to, and they all bought it,” Coder said.
Watch Chris Watts’ two-hour interrogation, and his confession to his father and investigators, below. Warning: The video includes some graphic language.
The agent told Watts that investigators had his text messages, as well as those from his wife and girlfriend, along with the Watts home’s Alexa device, which he said is “trained to record distress.”
Coder did not say if the device recorded any of the murders.
“Tell us about that night again, and please tell the truth this time,” the FBI agent said.
Watts told the detectives the story that police officials documented in his arrest affidavit: that he awoke around 4 a.m. Aug. 13 and talked with his wife, who had returned home from a business trip just before 2 a.m., about a separation. Watts said that despite the emotional conversation, during which they both cried, it did not get confrontational and when he left for work around 5:30 a.m., his wife and daughters were in bed.
A friend of Shanann Watts reported her and the children missing later that day when she could not get in touch with Shanann and no one answered the door at their home.
‘God almighty, son’
As the interview continued, Lee remarked upon how, despite telling her and Coder how he sobbed during his separation discussion with his wife, Watts had shown little emotion over his daughters’ disappearance.
“You have not shed one tear in two days that you’ve been here,” Lee said. “Not one. Help me understand that, because I don’t get it. These are your baby girls, and you have not shed one tear over them not being around.”
She pushed what appeared to be a photo of Watts’ children across the table and jabbed at it with a finger.
“Chris, I lose my 4-year-old in the store for 10 seconds and I start to go panic. Panic. I have not seen any of that from you. At all,” Lee said.
Watts said that just because he has not shed tears over his daughters did not mean he did not love them or want them back home. He told Lee he hoped his girls were still alive somewhere.
“Yeah, but you don’t have them right now,” Lee countered. “You’re not reading stories to them at night. You’re not giving them midnight snacks. You’re not giving them their medicine. You’re not waking up with them in the morning. So that should cause you pain.”
“It does cause me pain,” Watts said.
“But I don’t see that,” Lee said. “I want to see the Chris that cares. I want to see the Chris that feels bad about what he did and wants to get this off his chest and be done with this and let us find your little girls so that they’re not out there in the middle of a field or whatever somewhere.”
“I love those girls to death,” Watts said.
“Then show us that. Show us that,” Lee said. Pointing to the photo on the table, she urged him, “Show us this Chris.”
Coder interjected, telling Watts that they could continue talking about what happened after Shanann Watts and the girls were located, no matter what condition they were found in.
Lee asked Chris Watts if Shanann Watts hurt the girls.
“No… I don’t… no. I have no clue,” Watts said.
“No, you would have known, because they did not leave the house,” Lee said. “Did Shanann do something to them and then did you feel like you had to do something to Shanann?”
“No, they were at the house when I left,” Watts said. “They were there.”
“They weren’t there. They didn’t leave. They vanished,” Lee said. “The only way they could have left was in your truck.”
Surveillance footage from a neighbor’s home, also part of Thursday’s file release, showed Chris Watts back his truck up into the family’s driveway the morning of the murders. It also shows him make several trips from the house to the truck, which prosecutors said was him loading the bodies of Shanann Watts, Bella and Celeste into the truck. Watts, who eventually admitted the video showed him putting their three bodies in the backseat of the truck, drove away a few minutes later.
“She didn’t do anything to these kids,” Chris Watts told the agents. “We both loved them with all our hearts. There’s no way.”
Lee told Watts something happened to all three of the victims, and that she believed he knew what it was. She again suggested that he might have cleaned up something Shanann Watts did, or that something might have happened accidentally.
“Chris, you’ve got to tell us,” she said. “Something happened to these baby girls.”
Lee told Watts that he took the girls out with their blankets and their stuffed animals, a sign of his love for them. As he grew quieter, Watts continued to say he had done nothing to harm his daughters.
About 32 minutes into the interview, Watts asked to see his father.
“Can I talk to my dad or something?” he asked, agreeing to tell the truth to the agents after talking to his father.
After Ronnie Watts was left alone in the room with his son, Chris Watts told him Shanann Watts smothered their children after he asked for a separation. He told his father he did not want to protect his wife.
“She hurt them,” Chris Watts said in a soft voice.
“She hurt them?” Ronnie Watts asked.
“And then I killed her,” Chris Watts said in almost a whisper.
“What now?” Ronnie Watts asked.
“And then I freaked out and I hurt her,” his son responded.
Chris Watts further told his father that he did not hear anything as he went downstairs after having a discussion with his wife about a separation.
“When I was downstairs, I came back up and they were gone,” Chris Watts said. “I freaked out and had to do the same (expletive) thing to her. Those are my kids.”
Ronnie Watts, seeming stunned, continued to ask his son questions. Chris Watts contradicted his earlier statement that he heard nothing while he was downstairs.
“I heard a commotion upstairs, but I didn’t think anything of it,” he said.
He told his father that when he got upstairs, his wife was on top of Celeste, who the family called Cece, choking her.
“They were blue,” Chris Watts said of the children.
“Both of them?” Ronnie Watts said.
“Yes,” his son responded.
“She choked both of them to death,” Ronnie Watts said.
“I freaked out, you understand me?” Chris Watts said.
“Oh my God,” Ronnie Watts whispered, rubbing his face with his hand.
“I don’t know what to say,” Chris Watts said. “I don’t want to say it to them. I didn’t, like, call them, call the cops or nothing.”
Ronnie Watts asked his son if he hauled the bodies away, and Chris Watts said he didn’t know what else to do.
“So she killed both Cece and Bella, choked them to death, and you lost it and choked her?” Ronnie Watts asked, seemingly trying to wrap his mind around what happened.
“Mm hm. That’s just… it’s rage,” Chris Watts said.
“God almighty, son,” Ronnie Watts said, turning away and putting his head in his left hand.
He reached across the table and put his right hand on his son’s arm as they continued to talk about Chris Watts’ affair and the alleged conversation he had with Shanann Watts the morning of the murders.
Chris Watts said he thought his wife “just lost it” when he asked for a separation and said she suspected he was cheating, though he denied it to her. He told his father that they had discussed the possibility of splitting up before, but that Shanann Watts wanted to go to marriage counseling.
“I didn’t want to go to counseling,” he said quietly.
The clock ticked as father and son sat together for several more minutes.
“It’s the last time I’ll see the light of day again,” Chris Watts told his father at one point.
After about 10 minutes, Coder and Lee returned and Watts confessed to killing his wife, saying he strangled her after seeing on the baby monitor in the master bedroom that Shanann Watts had killed Bella and was on top of Celeste.
“I ran in there and got on top of her,” he said. “Those were my babies. Those were my kids.”
Watts never mentioned the baby monitor in his confession to his father. A video released Thursday, which can be seen above, showed investigators testing the baby monitor in the family’s home.
After telling the agents about killing his wife, he told them where to find her body, as well as those of Bella and Celeste. A portion of the files released Thursday, including drone footage, dealt with the Anadarko site where Watts disposed of his family’s bodies.
See the entire 1,960-page file released Nov. 21 by the Weld County District Attorney’s Office below.
Watts marked on a map the spot where he buried his wife, who he said was dressed in a T-shirt and underwear. The girls were wearing their pajamas when he shoved their bodies into the hatches of the oil tanks in which they were later found.
Prosecutors said during Watts’ sentencing earlier this month that the hatch of each tank was so small that Bella suffered scratches to her buttocks from being pushed inside. A tuft of blonde hair was also found stuck to the hatch of one tank, likely the one Celeste was placed inside.
When Lee and Coder asked why Watts chose the site near Roggen to get rid of the bodies, he told them that he was scheduled to work there that day and he didn’t know what else to do. Coworkers of his subsequently told investigators that he appeared normal as they worked and did not behave as though he had disposed of bodies there earlier that morning.
According to police documents, Shanann Watts’ decomposing body was found around 11 p.m. the night of Aug. 15. Her body was removed from the site shortly after midnight on Aug. 16.
Later that day, Anadarko used vacuum trucks to drain the crude oil from the tanks. Around 3:30 p.m., a Colorado State Police hazmat crews entered one tank and found a diaper-clad Celeste, her decomposing body covered in crude oil.
A little over two hours later, Bella’s body was recovered from the other tank, which had also been drained.
Autopsies showed that Shanann Watts was strangled. Bella and Celeste were suffocated, with Bella fighting so hard for air that she bit her tongue multiple times, prosecutors said.
Thank you for reading the Dayton Daily News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to exclusive deals and newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Dayton Daily News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.