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Crime News Criminal Confessions

How It All Happened: The Timeline Of The Chris Watts Investigation

Chris Watts admitted to killing his family with his bare hands — how did authorities get the confession?

By Gina Tron

The Watts family murders has become one of the most publicized and shocking tragedies in recent American history.

Chris Watts was a man who appeared to have it all: a beautiful, happy family who he lived with in inside a beautiful Colorado suburban home. But images of what appeared to be a picture-perfect family now paint a different story; one of a soon-to-be family annihilator

While he initially seemed concerned when his pregnant wife, Shanann Watts, and his two young daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, seemingly vanished in August 2018, he soon admitted he murdered all of them. Investigators broke down all the details of what led to this shocking confession in a special 90-minute episode of Oxygen’s “Criminal Confessions,” focusing on the case, airing on Saturday, December 7 at 6 p.m. ET/PT.

The show provides a deeper, more intricate timeline of what happened in the hours, days, and months after the three people vanished. Here’s a breakdown of the tragedy.

Aug. 13, 2018 

2 a.m.

Shanann’s friend Nickole Atkinson drops Shanann off at her Frederick home after taking a business trip together. 

9 a.m.

Shanann, who was 15 weeks pregnant with her unborn son, misses a doctor’s appointment.

1:37 p.m.

Atkinson calls 911 to report to the Frederick Police Department that she can’t reach Shanann, according to “Criminal Confessions.” It was unlike Shanann, a person who was very active on social media, to be unreachable. She also didn’t answer the door for her friend.

Soon after, police are dispatched to the Watts home. Shanann’s car is in the garage and her favorite shoes are home, visible through a window.

Watts’ neighbor Nathan Trinastich offers surveillance footage, which police watch with Chris present. It reveals that the only person seen leaving the home was Chris and that he was loading up his truck with something.

Aug. 14, 2018

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation begins an Endangered Missing Alert for Shanann and her daughters, the Denver Post reported.

Chris Watts pleads for his family to return in an interview with Denver 7. But the way he conducted himself in the interview prompted Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent Tammy Lee to want to get Watts into an interrogation room, pronto.

Watts is brought into an interrogation room where he is questioned. He maintains, during the hours-long discussion, that he has nothing to do with their disappearance — but he talks about them in past tense, as if they were dead.

He denies cheating, but investigators search through his phone records and computer records that night and discover he was having an affair with his coworker Nichol Kessinger.

Aug. 15, 2018

11 a.m.

Chris arrives at the police station for a polygraph test along with his father, Ronnie Watts, who had just flown in that morning. His dad is put in another room while Chris takes and fails his polygraph.

Simultaneously, a white sheet and disturbed dirt are found at an Anadarko oil (where Chris works) site by investigators. 

After failing the polygraph, Chris admits to having an affair, which investigators inform him they already knew.

Around 4 p.m.

Then, after Lee suggests to Chris that maybe Shanann hurt the kids, he asks to speak to his dad. Ultimately, they let him speak to his dad in the interrogation room, and even though they say it was a risky move, they explain it worked in their favor. While talking to his dad, Chris admits to killing his wife, although he puts forth a false story that she murdered the girls before he killed her.

This admission gives investigators an in to find the bodies. Chris tells investigators he hid the bodies and tells them where they are located.


Investigators use an excavator to retrieve Shanann’s body from the oil field. She had been put into a shallow grave in the dirt. Investigators locate the two separate oil tanks that Bella and Celeste were put in.

Aug. 16


Investigators retrieve the bodies of Bella and Celeste from the oil tanks, and Chris appears in Weld County District Court for a bond hearing.

Aug. 17

“I don’t think the media is going to portray a nice picture of me,” Kessinger says in an Aug. 17 phone conversation with a Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent. She reveals that on Aug. 13, the day Watts' family was reported missing, Chris asked to FaceTime her.

She says that the conversation made her uncomfortable because the sheets were missing from his bed and because of Chris’ fixation on her.

Aug. 21, 2018

Chris is officially charged for the murder of his wife and kids, according to the Denver Post.

Nov. 6, 2018

Chris admits to killing all his family members and pleads guilty to avoid the death penalty.

Nov. 19, 2018

Watts is sentenced to three consecutive life sentences. He keeps his head down as Shanann’s family gives victim impact statements.

Dec. 4, 2018

Chris is transferred out of Colorado for safety reasons. He is moved to a maximum security prison in Wisconsin.

Feb. 18, 2019

In a final follow-up five-hour-long interview with investigators in prison, Watts confesses for the first time to everything. He not only goes into detail about how he killed his wife, but he revealed how he killed his daughters. 

He explained that he drove out to the oil field with them, about an hour drive, with them still alive, their mother dead on the floor of the truck. He smothered Celeste in front of Bella with a blanket before killing Bella.