American Murder: The Family Next Door revealed a lot about the Chris Watts case. The riveting true crime documentary on Netflix is especially heartbreaking, as it chronicles the murder of Shanann Watts and her two young children, Bella and Celeste Watts. While the horrific crime dominated headlines in Colorado when it was an active investigation, the entire country only learned all of the gruesome details of these senseless murders when this heartbreaking film landed on the OG streaming service.
From the outside looking in, you wouldn’t have suspected that anything was amiss with the picture-perfect family of four (and one on the way). Certainly the Watts’ social media pages gave the impression that all was well in their happy home. But as we now know, that wasn’t the case.
What else did American Murder: The Family Next Door reveal about this tragedy? Read on to find out everything we learned while watching the devastating true crime story play out.
In May 2018, Shanann Watts revealed she was pregnant, as seen on American Murder
American Murder: The Family Next Door quickly brings viewers inside the world of the Watts family, thanks in a huge part to pictures, posts, and videos from Shanann Watts’ social media pages. After introducing the mother of two and her family via clips of holidays and other family moments, the documentary drops a bombshell on viewers: In May of 2018, Shanann revealed to her husband, Chris Watts, that she was pregnant with their third child (via Harper’s Bazaar).
That fact would be fine in an ordinary film or documentary, but given that this is a true crime documentary, that detail is quite unsettling — especially because it’s obvious from the start that she and her kids get killed.
Chris Watts’ reaction to the news of Shanann’s pregnancy seems to be fairly happy, according to the video she made of the reveal. The expectant father isn’t ecstatic or bouncing off of the walls, but he calls the news “awesome,” and gives his wife a celebratory smooch. Sadly, that baby would never get the chance to come into the world.
As seen on American Murder: The Family Next Door, Chris Watts started having an affair
Although Chris and Shanann Watts were expecting their third child together, that didn’t stop Chris from starting an affair with a co-worker just a few months later (via Insider). Viewers learned this while watching American Murder: The Family Next Door, which delves into the relationship by examining texts, photos, and other documentation of the affair.
Chris Watts and his mistress, Nichol Kessinger, apparently got serious about each other in June of 2018, a month after Shanann’s pregnancy reveal and two months before the murder of her and her children. It didn’t take long after that for Chris to fall in love with Kessinger, as evidenced by his Google searches, which included searches like “When to say I love you for the first time in a new relationship” and “How does it feel when someone says I love you,” as reported by People.
Kessinger was just as serious about the romance as Chris was; two months after they started dating, she was looking at wedding dresses online, according to her cell phone data.
Chris Watts lied about his marital status, according to American Murder
While Nichol Kessinger could have been a villain — or at least a villain’s accomplice — in American Murder: The Family Next Door, she appeared to be just as in the dark about who Chris Watts really was as everyone else. For starters, Chris lied to Kessinger about his marital status from the start, telling her that he was in the process of separating from Shanann Watts (via Insider).
Additionally, Kessinger also revealed that Chris wasn’t wearing a wedding band when they first met, and she honestly just thought he was cute. “When he spoke to me, he was very [soft-spoken],” she once told The Denver Post. “He appeared to be a good listener.”
It wasn’t until Shanann and her children’s disappearances that Kessinger found out that not only was Chris still married, but also that he was expecting a third child with his wife. Upon learning the truth — from the news, no less — Kessinger wondered what else he had lied about, and she suspected that he had something to do with his wife’s disappearance. That’s why, as viewers of American Murder: The Family Next Door know, Kessinger went to the FBI immediately.
In late June 2018, Shanann Watts and her children left Colorado for North Carolina
While the Watts family continued to look totally happy on social media as seen on American Murder: The Family Next Door, as Chris Watts’ affair with Nichol Kessinger progressed, viewers learned that cracks were forming in the foundation behind the scenes (via Harper’s Bazaar).
On June 27, 2018, Shanann Watts traveled to North Carolina with her two daughters for a five-week vacation, while Chris stayed behind, ostensibly to work. However, during the entire month of July, he repeatedly saw Kessinger for dates and failed to communicate much with his wife. Naturally, Shanann grew suspicious that something was going on, as he was missing her calls, being distant, and, in general, seeming distracted (via Insider).
By the time Chris joined Shanann and the kids in North Carolina at the end of July, Shanann was having serious conflicts with both her husband and her in-laws. At that time and into the next month, Shanann confided in her friends that Chris was acting like a stranger. She even ended up canceling the baby’s gender reveal because Chris seemed cold as ice during the ultrasound.
Shanann Watts tried to save her marriage to Chris Watts during the summer of 2018
Despite Chris Watts’ infidelity and cold behavior, it’s clear in American Murder: The Family Next Door that Shanann Watts loved her husband and truly believed their marriage was worth saving. This was in spite of the fact that he was refusing intimacy, declined couple’s counseling, and told Shanann that he didn’t want to have their baby anymore (via Oxygen). That had to be insanely jarring, especially considering things went downhill in the span of six weeks — which isn’t a lot of time.
For as dismal as things seemed, Shanann held onto the hope that things could improve. On Aug. 9, 2018, she texted a friend and told her that Chris was acting a bit more like himself again and that they had the “best talk yet,” as noted by Insider. So when she left for a short business trip in Arizona the next day, she was working on a letter to give her husband, as per texts to her friends.
That’s another thing we learned from American Murder: The Family Next Door – while Shanann had a horrible spouse, she had amazing friends who cared about her.
While Shanann Watts was away on business, Chris Watts saw his mistress
Viewers of American Murder: The Family Next Door know that while Shanann Watts was trying to save her marriage while she was in Arizona, Chris Watts had other plans back in Colorado. Rather than embark on some soul-searching, or even spend quality time with his daughters, he hired a babysitter so he could see Nichol Kessinger while his wife was away.
Specifically, Chris took Kessinger to The Lazy Dog Sports Bar and Grill in Erie, Colo. (via Harper’s Bazaar). There, Chris spent a total of $60.00 on food and drinks, though he made the charge to the card he shared with his wife. It’s like he wasn’t even trying to hide his affair!
That outing is what finally tipped Shanann off to the fact that Chris was cheating on her. According to the Frederick Police Department, Shannen did an internet search for the restaurant’s menu, likely trying to figure out what he ordered, and if he dined alone. A confrontation was, as viewers of American Murder: The Family Next Door know, inevitable.
Shanann Watts and her children went missing, as American Murder: The Family Next Door showed
On Aug. 13, 2018, Shanann Watts and her two daughters, Bella and Celeste Watts, went missing. And while viewers of American Murder: The Family Next Door knew it was coming, it was still a particularly difficult moment in the documentary, as you know just who would be convicted of murdering them.
The first person to suspect that something terrible had happened was Shanann’s friend Nickole Atkinson, who picked her up at the airport. After dropping Shanann off at home at nearly 2 a.m. that morning, Atkinson called the police when she couldn’t get ahold of her friend later that day, as noted by Harper’s Bazaar. Shanann also missed a doctor’s appointment, which was completely out character for her, especially at 15 weeks pregnant.
Atkinson met officers at the Watts’ residence that afternoon, and, with Chris Watts’ permission, the authorities searched for evidence of Shanann’s return from Arizona. And while they found her purse, medication, and phone, there was no sign of Shanann or her two daughters (via People). It was the beginning of the end: Shanann Watts was officially missing, and Chris was sketchy as hell about it.
Chris Watts made a plea for Shanann Watts and her children to come home
When authorities asked Chris Watts where his wife and children were, he didn’t have much to say about it, as viewers saw in American Murder: The Family Next Door. He said only that they’d gone to a friend’s house, after he’d told Shanann he wanted a separation in the hours after she got back home, as noted by People. However, when pressed, he didn’t know the friend’s name.
Additionally, a neighbor tipped off the police about Chris’ odd behavior, as they’d seen him behaving strangely that morning as well. Chris claimed he was just going to work, but American Murder viewers knew all too well what he’d be up to that morning: cold-blooded murder, as he’d later confess.
That evening, Chris made a plea on a local television station, asking his family to come home. “We had an emotional conversation, I’ll leave it at that,” he said. “But I just want them back. I just want them to come back.” And while his words sounded emotional, it wasn’t lost on viewers how restrained he looked and sounded (via People).
After Shanann Watts and her children vanished, Nichol Kessinger went to the police
In American Murder: The Family Next Door, when Nichol Kessinger saw the Watts family on the news, she learned that Chris Watts had lied about everything. But rather than try to cover for him, or assume that he was innocent, viewers watched as Kessinger instead tried to get to the bottom of things.
After texting Chris to see what he had to say about the disappearances, Kessinger knew something was up. “It got to a point that he was telling me so many lies that I eventually told him that I did not want to speak to him again until his family was found,” she later told The Denver Post. She added that she would do anything she could to help find a missing pregnant woman and her kids.
After checking the news on Aug. 15, 2018, in the hopes that Shanann had been found, Kessinger went to the authorities. She would go onto become one of the most critical people in the investigation of Shanann, Celeste, and Bella Watts’ murders.
American Murder: The Family Next Door showed that Chris Watts failed a polygraph test
After Nichol Kessinger told the authorities what she knew, as seen on American Murder: The Family Next Door, authorities learned that Chris Watts had a mistress, which was the vital information they needed to make a break on the case. That’s when the cops gave Chris a polygraph test, asking if he knew what had happened to Shanann Watts and their children. Of course, he failed, and that’s when officers began to question him in earnest, as noted by Insider.
In a particularly heinous twist, viewers watched as Chris confessed to strangling his wife — but he tried to pin the murders of his daughters on her. He said that he killed her after he discovered what she’d done to their two young girls. It was yet another one of those hard-to-watch moments in American Murder: The Family Next Door.
Of course, Shanann had no motive for killing her children, and police pretty much knew at that point that they’d found their man.
On Aug. 15, 2018, Chris Watts was arrested for the murder of Shanann Watts and their children
On Aug. 15, 2018, authorities arrested Chris Watts for the murder of Shanann, Bella, and Celeste Watts. The next day, they recovered their bodies; Chris’ wife was reportedly buried in a shallow grave, and their daughters’ bodies were found inside of oil tanks, according to Insider. If you found yourself crying when you learned this watching American Murder: The Family Next Door, you’re definitely not alone.
Five days later, Chris was arraigned as Shanann’s family tearfully looked on. There he was charged with a host of crimes, including five counts of first-degree murder (since his daughters were so young), three counts of tampering with a dead body, and one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy.
It wasn’t until Nov. 6, 2018 that Chris pleaded guilty to all of the charges against him, in a deal that would take the death penalty off of the table, as noted by The New York Times.
What really happened the night the Watts family was killed?
So what really happened on the night Shanann Watts and her two young daughters, Bella and Celeste Watts, were killed? It wasn’t until after Chris Watts’ sentencing that he opened up about all of the gory details, which viewers saw first-hand in American Murder: The Family Next Door.
Though he finally admitted to murdering his children in court in 2018, in February of 2019, Chris told three investigators everything that happened, as noted by Insider. After fighting with Shanann (via ABC News), Chris claimed he snapped and strangled her to death in a tussle. Things were so loud that young Bella reportedly walked in and asked what was going on. After that, Chris said he put his wife’s body in his truck, strapped in his young daughters, and drove to the dump site. There he shared that he smothered his two young children and threw their bodies into an oil barrel.
Chris is now serving five life sentences without the possibility of parole, according to The New York Times.
After American Murder: The Family Next Door dropped, Chris Watts got an influx of mail
After watching American Murder: The Family Next Door, viewers know all about the horrible crimes Chris Watts was convicted of, as well as everything that Shanann Watts did to try and save her marriage. Additionally, it’s safe to say that Nichol Kessinger didn’t know anything about what Watts did and that she wants nothing to do with him.
However, that hasn’t stopped legions of fans from writing to Chris in prison, as noted by People. “Many of them are from women who thought he was handsome and felt compassion for him,” a source told the magazine. “He had nothing better to do, so he wrote them back.” That’s how Chris found himself with several pen pals, with whom he communicates on a regular basis.
While this may sound surprising to some, given the heinous things that Chris was convicted of, his pen pals don’t seem bothered by the murders. “They have compassion on him, despite what he did,” the source continued. That’s not uncommon either, according to Psychology Today, as many women have found themselves attracted to murderers in the past.
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