Netflix's latest entry in the true crime category, American Murder: The Family Next Door, presents more than an hour's worth of previously unseen police footage, security tapes, and social media posts to explore the 2018 murders of Shan'ann Watts and her young daughters. Despite all the concrete evidence, however, the documentary fails to provide a definitive answer to the biggest question of all: Why did Chris Watts kill his pregnant wife and two daughters?
After initially denying any involvement in his family's disappearance, Chris ultimately confessed and pleaded guilty to the murders, resulting in a quintuple life sentence in maximum-security prison without the possibility of parole. Even after his original confession, though, Chris' story changed. He began by claiming that he had killed Shan'ann as revenge after she had smothered to death 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste, but eventually admitted that he had killed all three, then hidden their bodies at the oil storage facility where he worked.
And while the murders were framed in that fuller confession as a spontaneous act of rage prompted by an argument with Shan'ann over the state of their marriage, Chris has since revealed in letters from prison that he had been planning to kill his family for at least a few hours before doing so. The letters were published in the 2019 book Letters From Christopher: The Tragic Confessions of the Watts Family Murders by Cheryln Cadle, who struck up a correspondence with Chris shortly after he was sentenced to life in prison in Nov. 2018.
In one of the letters to Cadle, Chris wrote that the night before he killed his wife and daughters, after putting his daughters to bed, "I walked away and said, 'That's the last time I'm going to be tucking my babies.'" He added, "I knew what was going to happen the day before and I did nothing to stop it. I was numb to the entire world," according to a copy of the letter published by The Daily Mail.
Similarly, in another letter obtained by the outlet, Chris described in grisly detail how he killed his wife after some premeditation, writing, "All the weeks of me thinking about killing her, and now I was faced with it."
The letters also reveal that Chris first attempted to smother his daughters in their beds before returning to his own bedroom, where he argued with Shan'ann and killed her soon thereafter. The girls, however, then "woke back up," he wrote. "It makes the act that much worse knowing I went to their rooms first and knowing I still took their lives at the location," he continued, presumably referring to the facility where he hid the three bodies.
The only justification he offered for the senseless killings—and the hypothesis seemingly put forward in the Netflix documentary—is that he felt it was the only way to be with Nichol Kessinger, the colleague he had begun secretly dating only a few weeks before. "I knew if I took my hands off of her, she would still keep me from Nikki," he wrote. Elsewhere in the letters, admitting to Cadle that he slipped Oxycodone to Shan'ann, who was 15 weeks pregnant at the time of her death, in an attempt to cause her to miscarry, Chris wrote, "I thought it would be easier to be with Nichol if Shan'ann wasn't pregnant."
For her part, Kessinger, who has said she was unaware that Chris was still married while they were dating, ultimately played a significant role in Chris' arrest after she got an uneasy feeling from his eerily calm reaction to his family's disappearance and voluntarily approached investigators to share what she knew.
Andrea Park is a Chicago-based writer and reporter with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the extended Kardashian-Jenner kingdom, early 2000s rom-coms and celebrity book club selections. She graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism in 2017 and has also written for W, Brides, Glamour, Women's Health, People and more.
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