Before Chris Watts admitted to investigators that his family was actually dead, not missing, and that he knew where the bodies were, he did something surprising: He asked to talk to his father.
“Can I talk to my dad or something?” he asked CBI agent Tammy Lee and FBI Special Agent Grahm Coder as he was being interrogated in the time after his family seemingly vanished. “I need to talk to my dad.”
His father, Ronnie Watts, had just flown into Colorado from the other side of the country to support him after his pregnant wife, Shanann, and their two young daughters, Bella 4, and Celeste, 3, were reported missing.
“They [Lee and Coder] have to make a decision on the spot,” Michael Rourke, Weld County District Attorney, revealed on a special 90-minute episode of Oxygen’s “Criminal Confessions” about the Watts case.
Lee confirmed she and Coder had to think fast.
“There were so many things in play at that moment that it was such a risky move and we had to really make a split second decision on whether or not we could allow Ronnie Watts into the interrogation room or not,” Lee reflected on “Criminal Confessions.”
So when Watts asked to go out to talk to his dad, Coder told him that the halls were full of people. They offered to bring his dad into the interrogation room so that they could have a few minutes alone, if Watts would tell his dad what happened.
Rourke explained that doing so presented risks. He said in theory “a father, Ronnie Watts, walks into the room and turns into the protective father for his son and tells him, ‘You need a lawyer.’ He lawyers up; this interview is over.”
But Lee and Coder decided to take that risk. Why?
“Chris was not in custody,” Lee explained. “Chris had every right to walk out of that room at any moment so we were trying to appease Chris, if you will. We wanted him to know, ‘You know your father wants to know what the truth is, he flew across the country to support you and he’s not going to stop supporting you just because you tell him what happened.’”
Coder and Lee went to the observation room to watch the father and son unite in what Lee called a “make or break moment” — and it ended up being a “make” moment for law enforcement.
Watts’ dad did not tell him to lawyer up; rather he encouraged his son to tell him what happened.
“She hurt them,” Watts whispered to his dad. “And I freaked out and I hurt her.”
Of course, it was a false confession as Watts later admitted to killing all his family members with his bare hands. Still, it was a major moment: Despite lying about Shanann killing their children, he did admit to his dad that he murdered his wife, a moment that Lee called “pretty much gut-wrenching.”
Watts admitting to Shanann’s murder gave Lee and Coder an in to find the bodies. They jumped back in the interrogation room with Watts, and Lee immediately began rubbing his shoulder, asking him if he was doing OK. It wasn’t that she was genuinely concerned with his well-being.
“I could tell Chris was not comfortable with me rubbing his shoulder but I was OK with that,” she admitted in “Criminal Confessions.” “I wanted him to be uncomfortable and I wanted him to look at me and to focus back on our questions.”
Watts did just that as the conversation with his dad served as a jumping off point. From the Shanann confession, which shifted the missing persons investigation to a murder case, Lee and Coder were able to push Watts to disclose where he dumped his family’s bodies.
To learn more about the case, watch “Criminal Confessions” on Oxygen.
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