Days before Shanann Watts was murdered by her husband Chris Watts, she wrote a thoughtful and heartfelt letter to him in which she expressed her desire to fix their crumbling marriage.
Shanann was 15 weeks pregnant with the couple's son when Chris strangled her to death inside their picturesque Frederick, Colorado home. After killing Shanann, he smothered the couple’s two young daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, before dumping all their bodies at an oil drilling site where he worked. He then attempted to play the role of a concerned husband and dad. But inconsistencies in his statements to investigators stoked their suspicions and the facade he attempted to erect soon crumbled. After the bodies were discovered, he was arrested and ultimately pleaded guilty to the murders; he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“American Murder: The Family Next Door” — a documentary on the Watts family murders — incorporates texts and letters from Shanann detailing the breakdown of the couple’s marriage. Chris had become cold and distant about five weeks before the murders and Shanann began to suspect an affair.
After feeling sexually rejected by Chris, she texted a friend her suspicions that he was sleeping with someone else. She was right; Chris had been carrying on an affair with a co-worker.
“She’s completely on the money,” the documentary’s director Jenny Popplewell told Oxygen.com, adding that Shanann pinpointed the very moment that their relationship fell apart. While she gave Chris many opportunities to be honest, Popplewell noted he continued to "lie to her and she believes him and she gives him the benefit of the doubt.”
Desperate to find explanations for Chris’ distant behavior, Shanann theorized that Chris was mad over family drama. She had just visited Chris’ parents in North Carolina and Chris’ mother Cindy Watts bought pistachio ice cream for the visit, according to a 2019 interview between Chris and investigators obtained by Oxygen.com. Celeste was allergic to nuts, which prompted Shanann to yell at Cindy about the ice cream choice. In turn, Cindy kicked Shanann out of the house. It caused a rift in the family dynamic and Shanann stopped talking to Chris' family.
Just days before the murders, Shanann gave Chris a handwritten letter. Popplewell found photographs Shanann took of different drafts of that letter on her phone, which Shanann’s family provided to her. She incorporated parts of the completed letter into the documentary.
"I don't know where to begin... I am so lost for words,” she wrote. “I can't even explain how hard this pain hurts. The last 5 weeks have been so hard. I miss everything about you."
Shanann, who Popplewell feels has been unfairly criticized as being bossy by people online following the murders due to her assertive nature, vows to do whatever it takes.
“I will be civil and get along with your mom, we just all need to have mutual respect,” she wrote. “I will do anything for you.”
Popplewell explained that up until the affair, the couple were happily married.
“She thinks it’s because she’s fallen out with his family,” she told Oxygen.com. “She’s making offers to make it work with his mom. She’s doing everything she can to fix it.”
The note ends with Shannan writing, “I will always fight for our marriage and you.”
Popplewell said the note reveals how "shattered" Shanann’s confidence was over the ordeal.
“It’s a truly tragic read,” she said. “She’s been happily married for eight years, she’s pregnant with her third child and all of a sudden he doesn’t want to be in this relationship anymore. She doesn’t understand what she’s done.”
She pointed out that Chris had gained Shanann's trust after she went through a divorce in her early twenties. She didn’t want to date, but he pursued her until she felt comfortable being vulnerable with him. In a scene that got cut from the final version of the documentary, it was revealed at their wedding that Shanann was the first person to say “I love you" in their relationship.
“I was just so surprised that this woman who has been the dominant person in the relationship, she has the power over whether or not they will be together in the beginning, put her heart on her sleeve and told him she loved him,” she said. “It’s because Chris won her over because he proved himself. We are most hurt by the people who we have let our guard down with and her guard was firmly on the floor with him.”
“American Murder: The Family Next Door” is available on Netflix Wednesday.
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