Family Crimes

5 Key Moments In Chris Watts' Journey From Worried Father To Confessed Murderer

When his family vanished, he pleaded on television for their safe return. Then, after their bodies were found, he claimed his wife Shannan killed their daughters. Now, he's admitted to killing them all. 

Nearly three months after reporting that his wife and two young daughters had disappeared, Christopher Watts has admitted a dark truth: he killed them all.

Watts pleaded guilty to the deaths of Shanann Watts, 34, and their children, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste, in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

Shanann was 15 weeks pregnant when she and her little girls seemingly vanished from their home in Frederick, Colo., a small town north of Denver in August. What started off as a search for three missing people turned into the recovery of their remains, and within days Christopher Watts was being scrutinized as the main suspect.

His admission of guilt, however, didn’t come right away. In fact, he went from playing a distraught husband and father pleading for the safe return of his family to a man whose voice trembled as he pronounced himself “guilty” of all the charges brought against him in court.

Here are the key moments in the tragic case of Christopher Watts’ family.

1. Family vanishes

Shanann Watts and her two daughters went missing from their home Aug. 13. At first,  Chris Watts made several emotional media appearances in which he expressed concerned about his missing family. He told police he last saw his family at about 5:15 a.m. the morning they vanished, when he left for work. In an interview with "Today," he said he saw his daughters sleeping peacefully on a baby monitor. He claimed he grew worried a few hours later after he remotely viewd a friend knocking on the door through a doorbell camera. His wife didn’t answer the friend’s knocks and Chris Watts claimed he came home to find her car in the driveway but no trace of his wife and girls.

In an interview with Denver7, he said, “If somebody has her, just bring her back. I need to see everybody, I need to see everybody again. This house is not complete without anybody here.”

2. He turns from worried husband to suspect

The same week his family went missing, Chris Watts transformed from a worried husband pleading for his family’s return to a suspect. On Aug. 16, three days after the family vanished, police recovered the body of Shannan in a shallow grave on a property owned by Anadarko Petroleum. That same day, Chris Watts was charged with three counts of murder and one count of obstruction of justice. Then, just hours later, the bodies of Bella and Celeste were found hidden inside of oil and gas tanks, not far from where the body of their mother was discovered.

3. He tries to blame girls' murders on wife

Chris Watts admitted to police that yes, he did hide the bodies at an oil site owned by his former employer. But, he maintained that he only killed his wife, and that he did so in a fit of rage after he caught her murdering their daughters.

"While in the bedroom, via baby monitor located on Shanann's right stand, he observed Bella 'sprawled' out on her bed and blue and Shanann actively strangling Celeste,” an affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com states. “Chris said he went into a rage and ultimately strangled Shanann to death." From there, he told police that he put all three bodies in the back of his truck, and drove them to an oil work site.

He claimed that Shanann killed his kids after he admitted to her that he was having an affair and wanted to "go through with a separation."

4. The trouble contradicted their pristine online presence

On social media, it looked like the Watts family had it all. A rock-solid marriage and a loving family life. Shannan would often refer to Chris Watts as “my ROCK!” and “the best dad us girls could ask for.” In many, many videos that Shanann posted to her Facebook page, there is footage of Chris Watts being a loving father to his children and teaching his daughters how to read. He expresses excitement when he learns that Shanann is pregnant for a third time and in one clip, his daughter Bella sings about her “hero dad.”

Meanwhile, Chris Watts seemed to be preoccupied by the concept of “relationship deterioration.” Back in 2012, Chris Watts conducted a class presentation about that very topic. He posted a video on YouTube as part of a class project for Central Piedmont Community College, a college in Charlotte, North Carolina where he studied.

Its title: “Communication Speech, Relationship Deterioration and Repair.”

"The first phase of deterioration is interpersonal dissatisfaction, which is when you become unhappy with all the everyday interactions with you and your partner," Watts says in the video. "You also begin to see your future with your partner as a negative future.”

Watts is often seen rocking back and forth on his feet during the presentation, recorded in a kitchen. The words “Live, Laugh, Love” are framed upon the wall behind him. In the presentation, Watts divides breakups into two categories: “sudden" and "gradual."

"Sudden would be an example of infidelity but somebody is not faithful to their partner," Watts says. "The partners realize that it cannot be sustained. Gradual would be if you met somebody at work or a new friendship has occurred and as it goes on you see that, OK, maybe this relationship has more potential than the relationship on behalf of my partner and that will gradually push the old relationship out and push new relationship in."

5. He admits to murdering all of them

On Nov. 6, Chris Matts took a plea deal which allows him to avoid the death penalty. It will put him in jail for life, however, without a chance of parole.

Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said investigators have established at least some of Watts' motive, but he won't reveal that until Watts' sentencing on Nov. 19.

“We believe that we have a partial motive,” Rourke said at a news conference following the plea. “I’m not sure if it’s the entirety of the motive, but I will be happy to comment on that following sentencing.”

[Photo: Associated Press]

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