When Chris Watts' pregnant wife and two daughters went missing in August and were later found dead - deaths he'd ultimately confess to and be sentenced to life in prison for - Colorado investigators began probing a part of his life that he'd kept hidden from his family: the affair he'd been carrying on with a co-worker.
That co-worker, Nichol Kessinger, would eventually come forward to authorities with information about their illicit relationship and say that she herself had been duped by the confessed killer into thinking his marriage to Shanann Watts was all but formally over.
Police have said they don't believe she was involved in Watts' horrific crime - he smothered daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, before strangling Shanann and dumping the bodies of all three at an oil site where he worked - but his relationship with her provides some key insight into what drove him to kill, or in the words of Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke at his sentencing, to seek a "fresh start."
In the days after Watts' Nov. 19 sentencing, the District Attorney's Office released approximately 2,000 pages worth of documents detailing the case, including interviews with Kessinger that offer a window into their relationship and her mindset as she quickly learned the man she once entertained ideas of marrying was a killer.
Here is what we've learned so far:
She’s a contract employee
Kessinger was hired as a contract employee at Andarko Petroleum in Platteville, Colorado where she works in safety. She met Watts in the office where they both worked, though he would also spend time out at oil wells in the fields.
The two met in either May or June.
“She manages the gas monitor sensors they have and she had seen Chris before,” investigators wrote. “He came in for sensors one day and they started talking; they had a good conversation. One day he told her he had kids. He also said he had a wife but they were getting separated.”
Kessinger told police she found him cute and said he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.
She had been to Chris and Shanann’s house
Kessinger told police she went to Watts' house twice but that both visits were very brief.
“She did not feel comfortable there and that is someone else’s life and existence so she did not want to be there,” police wrote. “She respected that as their space. She went to the house very early in the relationship.”
Kessinger said that Watts told her he was living in the basement of the home and that he and Shanann were getting ready to sell it.
She has suspicions about Chris immediately after his family vanished
The records reveal that Kessinger suspected something was odd about Watts' behavior beginning on Monday, Aug. 13, the day his wife and children supposedly disappeared. Watts' initial story was that Shanann told him she was taking the kids to a friend's house that day after he revealed to her he wanted a separation. However, Shanann left her car at the house and no one could track her down, at which point they were reported missing.
“Nichol does not believe Chris ever went to look for his family,” police wrote. “Nichol recalled speaking with Chris on Monday night and he was sleeping. She thought this was strange due to the situation with his family.”
She deleted Google searches
On Aug. 14, the day after Chris Watts’ family went missing, Kessinger spent “nearly four hours searching the internet for information on Watts and news accounts of Shanann's disappearance.”
Then,she deleted the search history, police noted. “These searches were conducted frequently by Kessinger throughout the next several days. She deleted every one afterwards,” investigators wrote.
That same day Kessinger searched Google for the following topics: "can cops trace text messages" and "How long do phone companies keep text messages" as well as "Difference between text message content and text message detail,” according to police documents.
She deleted texts between her and Chris
On Aug. 16, a Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent noted that in an interview with Kessinger, who said she hadn't slept much in the previous few days, she admitted to deleting all of Watts’ information from her phone.
Kessinger told police that she decided to delete the contact info after she found out Shanann was pregnant through readings newspaper articles after her disapperance.
“Nichol thought if he could lie to her about this, what else would he lie about,” investigators wrote. “This made her think about his wife being in danger. She deleted all the information on her phone (call and text logs) that had anything to do with him. She was ‘grossed out by him’, so she deleted all his stuff.”
Police were able to recover the deleted texts and call logs.
Kessinger also appeared to want all signs of her relationship with Watts out of her home. She gave investigators articles of clothing as well as a birthday card he gave her.
She Googled Amber Frey
On Aug. 19, days after the bodies of Shanann, Celeste and Bella were found but one day before Watts was officially charged with their deaths, Kessinger searched the internet on topics related to Amber Frey. Frey was the mistress of Scott Peterson, who murdered his wife and their unborn child.
“Her searches included Frey's book deal, her net worth and ‘did people hate Amber Frey,’” police wrote.
Semi-nude photos of her were stored in Chris Watts’ phone
In July “Watts transferred assorted images of Kessinger, some semi-nude, into the Secret Calculator application,” police noted. “Certain images were taken by Watts, as evidenced by his reflection in a mirror in the background.”
Others appeared more innocent, such as a smiling photo of Watts and Kessinger went they went to an establishment at the Rooftop Tavern in Morrison, Colorado and assorted images of their trip to the Great Sand Dunes.
She Googled affairs and wedding dresses
Back in July, weeks before the family went missing, Kessinger searched Google for, "Man l'm having affair with says he will leave his wife.”
Then, in early August, she spent over two hours searching Google for wedding dresses. She also "searched Google on topics related to 'marrying your mistress'" on Aug. 8, according to police.
[Photos: Weld County District Attorney’s Office]
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