On Monday, prosecutors in Weld County, Colorado, formally charged 33-year-old Christopher Watts with the murders of his pregnant wife Shanann, 34, and daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, who went missing on August 13, and were confirmed dead three days later. Watts has been charged with nine counts: three counts of murder in the first degree, two counts of murder in the first degree for a child under the age of 12, three counts of tampering with a deceased body, and one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy in the first degree. According to the complaint, Shanann Watts died as a result of the unlawful pregnancy termination.
The affidavit for Watts’ warrantless arrest on August 15th, which had been under seal, was also released on Monday. The contents confirm what Shanann’s family had told the media late last week — that Watts had confessed to police. However, his account is very different from what prosecutors claim, and offers a glimpse at what his defense is likely to be, should the case proceed to trial.
During a press conference on Monday afternoon, Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke declined to provide many details about the murders, including a possible motive. But court documents outlining the charges state that Shanann was killed on August 13th, while the girls died sometime between August 12-13, leaving open the possibility that they were killed before Shanann returned home from a weekend business trip. The results of all three autopsies are still pending.
All three were reported missing in the afternoon on August 13th by a friend, Nicole Utoft, who became concerned when Shanann, who was 15 weeks pregnant with the couple’s third child, missed her doctor’s appointment and didn’t respond to text messages. Further investigation revealed that Shanann’s car was parked in the home’s garage, and her personal effects were all found inside the house. In two separate informal interviews with a police officer that afternoon and a detective that evening, Watts said that during their last conversation, he and his wife discussed an amicable separation. In a televised interview with ABC on August 14th, Watts alluded to this last conversation with his wife, calling it “emotional.”
According to the arrest affidavit, police soon learned that Watts had been having an affair with a coworker, which he initially denied. Then, during a subsequent interview on Wednesday, August 15th, after consulting with his father, Watts agreed to “tell the truth” about what happened to his wife and kids. According to Watts’ “confession,” shortly after they discussed a separation, he witnessed Shanann, via a baby monitor connecting their bedroom to their daughters’ bedroom, “actively strangling Celeste” while Bella was “sprawled out on her bed and blue.” According to the affidavit, Watts claims he went into a “rage” and “ultimately strangled Shanann to death.” He then loaded their bodies into his work truck and took them to an oil work site owned by now-former employer, Anadarko Petroleum; Watts provided the police with the exact coordinates where, on Thursday, August 16, the body of Shanann Watts was recovered from a “shallow grave” and the remains of Bella and Celeste were discovered submerged in oil and gas tanks nearby.
Watts’s “confession” — however true or not true it may be – sheds light on a puzzling defense request made last Friday. Watts’s attorney, Deputy State Public Defender James Merson, filed a motion to require DNA testing on the necks of the two girls. That motion was granted, but additional motions, including a request that a defense expert be present during the autopsy, were denied.
Much of what the public knows about the Watts’s six-year marriage comes from Shanann Watts’s active Facebook presence, where she frequently documented her life as a wife and mother. In one video, posted in June, Shanann surprised Watts with the news that they were having a third child, which prompted him to laugh and exclaim, “That’s awesome.” In a Facebook post on Father’s Day, Shanann called Watts “my ROCK” and “the best father us girls could ask for.”
“They were the couple that you’d look at and then turn to your husband and be like, ‘Why aren’t we like that?’” Kris Landon, a friend of the couple, told People. “They seemed so supportive of each other, it was their public face. I had no idea what was going on behind closed doors, and I don’t think many people did.”
Though they spent a chunk of the summer apart — Shanann took the girls to visit her family in North Carolina for six weeks, with Watts only joining them at the end — she gave no indication that anything was amiss. However, after Watts’ arrest, there have been reports that Shanann had hinted at there being trouble in the marriage. One friend, Amanda Thayer, told CBS News that Shanann suspected Watts could be cheating; another friend told People that they “were having marital problems and she was getting ready to leave him.”
But it was Watts who first told Shanann’s friend Nicole Utoft that there was marital strife.
“I didn’t find out that they were going to separate or anything like that until I called Chris that morning,” she told ABC (who credited her as Nicole Atkinson). “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.”
Watts is due in court again on Tuesday, August 21s, at 10 a.m., to be formally advised of the charges he’s facing.