Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent Tammy Lee grew attached to the victims of the Chris Watts case, so much so that she feels she cried more for the slain children than their own father.
Watts became one of the most infamous family murderers in American history after he confessed last year to killing his pregnant wife, Shanann Watts, and his two young daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3. Prosecutors said he killed his family to start a new life with co-worker Nichol Kessinger, with whom he was having an affair.
After reporting his wife and daughters missing on Aug. 13, 2018, Chris Watts gave multiple emotional interviews pleading for the safe return of his family. And, while he at first denied having anything to do with their disappearance and even at one point claimed Shanann killed their daughters before he killed her, he later admitted to killing them all.
In Oxygen’s 90-minute special of “Criminal Confessions” that focuses on the case, investigators discuss tactics they used to get him to confess to callously killing his family with his bare hands. They also reveal the emotions they felt about the horrific crimes.
Early on in the investigation, while Shanann and the girls were still considered missing, Lee took a deep dive into Shanann’s very public Facebook page. Lee felt emotionally connected to the case’s victims, Shanann specifically, almost immediately.
“I can kind of appreciate her attitude I guess, sometimes,” Lee said on “Criminal Confessions” with a smile. “I come from a long line of Italian women. So, we’re very strong, sassy, assertive and that’s how I pictured Shanann.”
Lee noted “it was obvious that she [Shanann] loved being a mom, that she loved being a wife and she loved what she did for work.”
As the case turned tragic with the discovery of the families’ bodies, Lee’s feelings towards the people at the heart of the case grew even deeper.
Lee expressed disgust and internal “outrage” at Chris throughout the interrogation process and she grew protective of Shanann when Chris wrongly claimed that she murdered her own children. Furthermore, she detested how Chris disposed of Shanann, who was pregnant with Watts’ unborn son, and the kids’ bodies. Bella and Celeste were shoved into oil tanks while Shanann was buried in a shallow grave nearby.
“I just couldn’t believe a father could do something so horrible to his children and his wife,” she admitted. “I was completely disgusted. I felt sick.”
While Lee was affected by the initial grim findings, it was when she conducted the final interview with him in February, along with FBI Special Agent Grahm Coder and lead detective for Frederick Police Dave Baumhover, that she really felt the gravity of how the case affected her.
During the five-hour interview, Chris provided new details and insight into his crimes. He described in detail how he killed his wife and daughters and revealed for the first time that his young daughters were alive as he drove them out to the oil site. The drive took him about an hour.
Chris explained to investigators during that final interview that Bella watched Celeste be killed, prompting Bella to ask her father if he was going to do to her what he just did to her sister. Watts admitted he couldn’t recall if he just said yes “like a horrible person” or if he just silently began smothering her, too.
Chris revealed that Bella’s last words were, “Daddy no,” according to ABC News. “It’s like every time I close my eyes I see, I hear 'Daddy, no,'" he said.
Lee was particularly disturbed by details of the murders and Watts’ revelation that his daughters were still alive as he drove them out to the oil site.
“At no point did he decide to spare their lives, and it made no sense to us,” Lee said. She choked up as she explained that Bella had to watch her father drop her sister in an oil tank from the truck.
While crying, Lee said, “You know, he didn’t even cry for them. Like, I’ve cried more for them than he has. Like, who does that?”
Lee said when she got home after participating in that interview, she kissed her kids before she “collapsed on the floor” and began crying.
She said Watts’ final version of what happened was “more horrible than I had even let my mind go to. We had not even fathomed how horrible he could have been, what a monster he was.”
She went on to characterize what Watts did as “a complete act of evil.” Lee said that while past cases she worked on made more sense to her, she said “nothing about this case makes sense to me.”
There is one element of the crime’s aftermath that does give her some solace, however.
“Chris told us that every night when he closes his eyes, he hears Bella yell “Daddy no,’” she said. “I feel like it’s kind of what he deserves. I hope he hears that every night.”
Watch The Watts episode of “Criminal Confessions” on Oxygen.com.
Crime Time is your destination for true crime stories from around the world, breaking crime news, and information about Oxygen's original true crime shows and documentaries. Sign up for our Crime Time Newsletter and subscribe to our true crime podcast Martinis & Murder for all the best true crime content.