A pregnant Colorado woman and her two young daughters may have been strangled, according to court documents filed by the defense team for the husband and father accused of killing his entire family.
Christopher Lee Watts, 33, of Frederick, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of tampering with physical evidence, for allegedly hiding the bodies of his wife, Shanann Watts, 34, and their daughters, Bella Watts, 4, and Celeste Watts, 3. The mother and daughters were reported missing Monday when a friend of Shanann Watts could not reach her.
9News in Denver reported Friday that motions filed by defense attorney James Merson offered a glimpse into some of the details of the slayings. In one motion filed in Weld County, Merson indicated he'd spoken to a DNA expert, Richard Eikelenboom.
Eikelenboom told Merson in the filing that "even though the bodies of two of the decedents have been in an oil well filled with crude oil for several days, DNA would still be present," the news station reported.
Bella and Celeste Watts' bodies were found hidden inside oil or gas tanks on the property of Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which employed Chris Watts until his arrest. The company said in a statement last week that he was fired Wednesday.
Eikelenboom wrote in an email to Merson that it was his "expert opinion that DNA evidence would remain on the necks of the decedent children, in spite of the fact that the remains were in oil for four days," the court records said. "In my opinion, the presence of oil will not destroy the DNA."
The Coloradoan reported that Merson's motions focused on having the pathologist swab the children's necks for DNA during their autopsies, which were scheduled for Friday. He also asked in the motion that DNA samples be taken from Shanann Watts hands and fingernails, along with the fingernails of the couple's children, the newspaper reported.
Merson also requested that Eikelenboom be present during the autopsies.
The Coloradoan reported Sunday that a judge denied Merson's requests for DNA swabs, saying he would not tell the medical examiner's office how to do its job. The newspaper also reported that the autopsies were completed Friday, but the cause of the victims' deaths have not been made public.
Additional court documents obtained Saturday by 9News indicated that Shanann Watts, who was about 15-weeks pregnant when she died, was found buried in a shallow grave near the tanks where her daughters were dumped. Those details were unveiled in a court filing by Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke, who was responding to the motions filed by Merson.
"The body of defendant's wife was located earlier this morning after being recovered from a shallow grave near an oil tank," prosecutors wrote in the motion filed late Thursday. "Later this afternoon, law enforcement recovered the bodies of defendant's two daughters from inside oil tanks located near the grave of their mother. The Weld County coroner has informed the prosecution that time is of the essence in conducting the autopsies, especially for the children given the period of time their bodies were submerged in oil."
Shanann Watts and her daughters were reported missing last Monday, Aug. 13, when a friend of hers went to the Watts home and they were not there. That friend, Nickole Atkinson, told ABC News that she dropped Shanann off at the Watts home around 2 a.m. that morning, following a business trip.
She was supposed to pick her friend up again later that day, but when she arrived at the house around noon, Shanann and the girls were gone. Police later determined that Shanann Watts’ vehicle and purse were at the house, as were medications for the children.
Atkinson told ABC News that she "didn't want to think the worst," but felt that something was amiss because Chris Watts seemed unconcerned that his pregnant wife and young daughters were missing.
"He was just sitting there waiting for something to happen; it just didn't seem right to me," Atkinson told the news agency.
Chris Watts gave an interview to 9News the day before his arrest. See his entire interview below.
Atkinson said she was not shocked when Chris Watts was arrested, but said she did not know of any trouble in the marriage until the day her friend disappeared. She told ABC News that Chris Watts suggested that day that his wife had left him.
"When I called him and asked him where she was, that's when he told me and I basically told him that that wasn't my (concern) at that particular moment, because it wasn't, and that their business was their business, that they would either work it out or they wouldn't," Atkinson said.
Chris Watts spoke out the day before his arrest in an interview with 9News, in which he described the situation as "a nightmare that (he) just (couldn't) wake up from."
The young father also addressed those who might think he had a hand in his family’s disappearance.
"Everybody's going to have their own opinion on anything like this," Watts said. "I just want people to know that I want my family back. I want them safe and I want them here. This house is not the same."
Less than 24 hours later, Watts was in custody. A law enforcement source told 9News that Watts confessed to killing his wife and children.
No suspected motive has been made public by investigators.