Chris Watts family murders

Why did Chris Watts murder his family?

The crime

On August 13, 2018 Christopher Lee Watts murdered his pregnant wife, Shannan Watts (age 34), and his two daughters: Bella (age 4) and Celeste (age 3). He disposed of the bodies on the property of Anadarko Petroleum, where he worked as a technician. The children were smothered and forced into oil tanks, and Shannan was strangled and buried nearby in a shallow grave. Watts pled for the safe return of his family on the local news, only to confess to the crime less than 48 hours later. Watts originally blamed Shannan for the murders of the children, later recanting and confessing to all of the murders. Chris Watts is currently serving 5 life sentences without the possibility of parole. Please refer to Wikipedia for the full details of the Watts family murder case.

The aftermath

Due to the shocking nature of the murders and the amount of home videos and pictures shared by Shannan Watts on social media, the Watts case has attracted millions of followers. There have been many theories about what happened the night of August 13th and what led up to this tragedy. Although Watts did confess, his account of events is still very much unsatisfactory and lacking in detail. It seems incomprehensible that a seemingly normal father and husband could commit a crime this horrific and think that he could get away with it. Three years later, many of us are still searching for answers, and while we still don’t have all the facts I wanted to share my own personal theory about his motives.

Please note: this theory is written for readers who are already familiar with the details of the case and the discovery.

A recap of Chris Watts’ massive mistakes

Chris Watts was arrested and charged with the murders quickly, due to major holes in his planning and cover up. He chose the Anadarko Petroleum property as the burial site where he was surrounded by numerous coworkers and dozens of regulations. After he murdered his wife, he used his GPS’d company truck to back into his garage and load her body in partial sight of his neighbor’s home camera which was pointing at his driveway. He also didn’t consider that Shannan might have plans for the following day or that her friends may check on her. He didn’t realize that Shannan had changed her phone passcode, disabling him from impersonating her after the murder. He invited police to enter his home without a warrant, where they discovered key evidence which pointed to him as the only suspect in the suspicious disappearance of his family. Watts’ explanation for the absence of his family was that they “went on a play date”.

If Chris Watts was planning to kill his family, why didn’t he come up with a better plan?

Let’s dive in. We know that Chris and Shannan had plans to go on a couples’ getaway the weekend following the murders. Their marriage was in trouble (to say the least) and Shannan wanted to reconnect with Chris alone, without the children. A babysitter was lined up for the girls and a resort was booked in Aspen.

If Chris Watts was planning to kill Shannan, this would have been the perfect opportunity. Remember, everyone thought that Chris Watts was a great guy with solid family values. He had such a great reputation that no one could believe he was guilty including his friends, Nick and Amanda, who let him stay at their home, across the hall from their daughter’s room, the day after the murders. Had Shannan taken a fall off a cliff hiking in Aspen, most family and friends would have accepted it as an accident with Chris as the victim of an unforeseen tragedy. Unless someone saw him do it, there would have been no proof. Watts could have come home, played the grieving husband, and later said that he was too depressed to function as a father. The Rzuceks would have eventually taken the girls. Watts could have sold the house, collected Shannan’s life insurance and lived family-free happily ever after with his beloved Nichol.

So why did he not commit the perfect murder?

Sometimes the best answer is the most simple one: because Nichol Kessinger didn’t know about the baby and Watts would have gone to any lengths to hide the pregnancy.

It is very easy to hate Chris Watts’ mistress, Nichol Kessinger, because she was so cold and self-absorbed. Her reaction to the murders seemed calculated and heartless. Nichol quickly went into self-preservation mode when she realized what she was up against. She tried to distance herself from the case as quickly as possible. Nichol Kessinger didn’t seem to have much compassion for the family. She was more preoccupied with worries of losing her dream job at Anadarko and her damaged reputation. Although she lacked empathy under the circumstances, Nichol did have one emotional reaction and that reaction was to Shannan’s pregnancy. She was outraged, specifically about the fact that Chris Watts lied to her about still sleeping with his wife. “What else was he lying about?” she asked.

But it was all on Facebook!

Yes, Shannan put everything on Facebook, but after the murders, when her Facebook page was still up in 2018, it didn’t seem to feature any “public” posts about her pregnancy. Nichol would have had to add her as a friend to see her pregnancy announcements and updates. Of course Nichol would have had to only put in a minor effort to “stalk” Shannan online, but did she? Or it possible that she just took Chris Watts at his word and didn’t try to find evidence that he was lying to her? In her own words, Chris was a nice guy who was very kind to her and his children.

Nichol was duped

Nichol Kessinger comes across as someone who is immature, territorial and conceited. She wanted Watts to herself and she was convinced that she already had all of him. She was certain that he was only sleeping with her which is why she was so shocked by the pregnancy. Shannan also took the kids and stayed with her parents across the country leaving Chris to explain her absence however he wanted. If you think about it, that is the type of thing a wife who is separating from her husband might do. Combined with the lies that Watts was telling Nichol about sleeping in the basement, putting the house on the market, Shannan seeing other guys, and them “just” parenting together, it doesn’t seem that far fetched.

Nichol finally starts to get it

Let’s remember the blow up that happened between Nichol and Chris during her July 4th visit to his home. The blow up happened after she saw all of the Watts’ family things: pictures, keepsakes, the kids’ bedrooms, Shannan’s shoe closet, decor, furniture, etc. Perhaps she got a dose of reality and it became evident to her that nobody was moving out of the house. Maybe it was the first time that she began to suspect that Chris is lying to her, but it deeply bothered Nichol to see the family home. She was jealous, it made her uncomfortable, and she wanted nothing to do with it. So while it is very easy to hate Nichol Kessinger and to want to put blame on her for what happened, it is possible that she wasn’t stalking Shannan online. It is possible that she deliberately tried to avoid looking at their family photos. She wanted the divorced Chris, not the Chris “mid-divorce”.

Nichol has one foot out the door

Tensions continued to rise between Chris and Nichol after that visit. Seeing his family home rattled her. She began taunting him with stories about other guys she met online. She told him to “work it out with his wife”. In other words she started to push him away. Chris began to feel that he was losing the love of his life and his only chance at happiness. Shannan would be home soon and he would lose the freedom to continue to court Nikki. The pregnancy would have been the final straw. Watts knew that Nichol would dump him if she found out about the pregnancy and he couldn’t let it happen. He began to scramble.

The pregnancy

Shannan was 15 weeks pregnant at the time of her death. She spent 6 weeks in North Carolina and another week at home before her death. This would mean that she was only roughly 8 weeks pregnant at the time that she left for North Carolina. Perhaps in the beginning, the pregnancy was not at the front of Chris Watts’ mind. During Shannan’s absence he was smitten by Nichol. They were in the honeymoon stage of the affair, having sex 3-4 times a day, camping, living at her place and still going to work full time. It would have been a VERY busy 6 weeks for Watts who was barely sleeping, hopped up on caffeine patches and trying to keep Shannan at bay. He likely wasn’t thinking about the baby at all. Yet the baby was the factor that would have ruined everything.


Nichol was already aware of his two daughters and was reluctantly accepting of the fact as long as Shannan was out of the picture. Nichol even told Chris that she wanted to give him his first son. Remember, Nichol was all about “firsts”. Her comment about his “first son” was likely triggered by the jealousy of all his other “firsts” that he had with someone else: marriage, a home, and having two daughters. Remember the card Chris Watts sent to Nichol Kessinger about “firsts” 2 weeks before the murders? He wrote “FIRSTS” in capital letters.

“We will have a lot of FIRSTS, Nikki, and I want to keep having them with you!!”

Chris Watts, July 30th, 2018

Shannan’s pregnancy was a looming reality. Chris Watts could NOT let Nichol find out that Shannan was pregnant with his actual first son. He couldn’t take away her only “first”. The clock was ticking and Watts grew more and more anxious while trying to come up with a plan to get rid of the baby and conceal his paternity. If Nico was born, instead of living his dream life, Chris Watts would be back with Shannan, broke, with 3 kids, and in his own personal hell surrounded by Thrive bars, Amazon packages, and Facebook live updates. He had to act fast.

Chris Watts tries to get rid of the baby

Chris Watts arrived in North Carolina for the last week of Shannan’s trip. Shannan’s brother Frankie said that Shannan was very ill around the time of his arrival. It would seem that Watts immediately executed his plan to cause a miscarriage by drugging Shannan with Oxycodone. It was also around this time that he deleted his Facebook account which Shannan noticed. What was he trying to hide?

Plan B

As we know, Chris failed at ending the pregnancy. The Oxy did not work. It was too late and Shannan was in her second trimester. If he couldn’t get rid of the baby, he would have to get rid of Shannan. But if he went with the “push her off a cliff” plan, it would come out that she was pregnant with his child at the time of her death. It would come out no matter what, but perhaps in his mind he wouldn’t have needed to hide the pregnancy as much as the fact that he was the father. Remember, Nichol was under the impression that they were separated, not sleeping together, and seeing other people. Shannan wouldn’t be around to dispute his lies.

But what if he went one step further to conceal his paternity? What if Shannan died in a manner that no DNA could be collected from her body, for example in an explosion? If her body was badly burned, there would be no way to determine paternity. Of course we can’t ever really know Chris Watts’ exact thought process. We only have to remember that the most important thing to Chris Watts was to be with Nichol Kessinger and to get rid of the baby.

There are certain factors that we cannot ignore:

  • He packed a gas can and knew that there was a leak at Cervi 319. Is it possible that he caused the leak?
  • He took a huge risk taking his family to his job site. One only has to listen to the interviews with his boss and coworkers to understand just how many protocols Anadarko had to follow.
  • Anadarko was found responsible for negligently causing two deaths in 2017 and paid out a lawsuit (perhaps this is where he got the idea)

Finally, the children were not supposed to die

The final point of this theory is that Chris Watts never intended to murder his daughters. Chris Watts took Cece and Bella to a birthday party earlier that day. They ate pizza and played with water balloons. Chris then bathed them and put them to bed. Why? This is dreadful to say, but if he was planning to kill his entire family, wouldn’t it have been easier to kill the kids earlier that day and just wait on Shannan to arrive? He could have had everything prepared, but he didn’t. He bathed his kids, dressed them for bed, and put them to sleep.

Watts also called the girls’ school the morning of the murders to say that they wouldn’t be attending. Again, if he was planning to kill them all along, wouldn’t it have been smarter to call well in advance and explain that they found another school, that they can’t afford it, or some other excuse? Everything was done in haste, as if the whole plan went awry. 

This is because the girls weren’t part of the plan. Watts made a last minute to decision to kill them because they witnessed the murder. Bella was 4 years old. That is old enough to understand and explain that daddy killed mommy. Bella woke up and saw what he was doing. Watts’ version of the story is that the girls followed him around the house “whimpering” as he was dragging Shannan’s lifeless body down the stairs. Were they whimpering or was Bella actually horrified and screaming so loudly that he had to shut her up? These girls were not known to be quiet. They would have been terrified.

Bella couldn’t stay alive because she witnessed the murder and if she told, he would go to jail and everything would have been ruined. Of course Cece would become a casualty as well, because how would he explain that Bella and Shannan were gone, but not Cece? Choosing himself over his daughters’ lives, Chris Watts decided that the whole family would have to die in this horrible “accident”. How he planned to explain their presence at his job site, is unclear. Perhaps the oil tanks were supposed to serve as a hiding spot until he could complete his plan, or maybe he just ran out of time when he realized that he couldn’t dig a large enough grave for all three of them. There is also the horrific detail shared by Cherlyn Cadle about putting the girls in the oil tanks so that they wouldn’t wake up. 

Why didn’t Chris Watts change his plan?

Although he was running out time, and now had two extra bodies on his hands, Watts didn’t deviate from his plan to take them to the Anadarko property. He could have reassessed the situation and came up with a much better plan. If everyone was dead in the house, he could have taken his time to cover up the murders. He could have called in sick, texted everyone to say that Shannan isn’t feeling well and waited for the following night to dispose of the bodies. The fact that he didn’t, indicates that whatever he was planning HAD to happen that morning. He packed the gas can because he planned to use it. The rest is still a mystery.

There are so many questions still left unanswered

What was said in the 111 minute conversation between him and Nikki? How was he planning to explain his family’s presence at Cervi 319? Why did he ignore neighbor Nate’s camera?

Chris Watts isn’t talking about what really happened, but his stories about God, witchcraft and demons aren’t fooling anyone. He definitely had a cold and calculated plan, with the intention to get rid of any evidence that he fathered Nico: a plan that could have gotten him a payout, freedom from his family, and in his mind a life with Nichol Kessinger. Unfortunately for Watts, he got greedy, sloppy and careless.

While we may never know the full details of the case, we can at least find comfort in the fact that Chris Watts is exactly where he belongs: alone in a jail cell with no Bojangles, no Metallica concerts and definitely no Nikki.