On August, 15, Christopher Watts, 33, confessed the murders of his pregnant wife Shannan, 34, and their daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3.
These long interview was released to Denver7 on August, 14, just one day after Watts reported his family of three missing.
According to Colorado court records, Christopher Watts faces three counts of first-degree murder after deliberation, two counts of first degree murder victim under 12/position of trust, one count of first degree unlawful termination of a pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body.
Chris Watts could face execution, Judge Marcelo Kopcow told him on August, 22. District Attorney Michael Rourke has nine weeks to decide whether to seek execution.
We expect from Chris Watts:
to express verbal concern for the well being of his pregnant wife Shannan and his young daughters, Bella and Celeste;
to show urgency;
to show a sense of need for his wife and daughters, not for himself;
to introduce his family with a complete social introductions indicative of a good relationship between him and his wife and daughters;
to show fear, impatience, frustration, sense of impotency;
and to ask for help in finding his wife and his daughters.
Bella and Celeste Watts
Chris Watts: Chris Watts, W-A-T-T-S
Journalist: What’s going on right now in your house?
Chris Watts: Right now it’s the Canine Unit of the Sheriff’s Department, everybody is like there, they are doing their best, right now, to figure out, like, if they can get a scent to see… where they went, they went on foot, they went in a car, they went somewhere and right now it’s like the… they’ve been at a point, they are going through the house trying to get scent, hopefully they can pick up something up towards that gonna lead to something.
Note that Watts refers to his wife and daughters as “they”, no names, no titles, no possessive pronouns.
“hopefully they can pick up something up towards that gonna lead to something” is vague. If Watts is unable or unwilling to say “I hope they’ll find my wife Shannan and my daughters” we are not allowed to say so for him.
Journalist: What happened (inaudible)?
Chris Watts: As you made, she came home from the airport 2 am and I left around 5:15, she was still here and… like, about 12:10 in the afternoon, her friend Nicole showed up at the door. I get her texted Shannan few times that day, I called her to say, you know, she never got back to me but she wasn’t getting back to any of her people as well and that’s what really concerned a lot of people, is like she’s not getting back to her, like, she is not getting back to me, that’s fine, like, she gets busy during the day but she didn’t get back to her people which was very concerning and Nicole called me when she get at the door and that’s when I came home and then walked in the house and… nothing, it’s vanished, nothing was here, I mean, she wasn’t… she wasn’t here, the kids weren’t here, nope, nobody was here.
Note that he refers to his wife as “she”, he doesn’t use her name (Shannan) or her title (wife) and the possessive pronoun (my).
Note that Watts says “left” instead of “went to work”; the verb “left” when used as a connecting verb, is an indication of missing information.
Note that the fact that she didn’t answer the phone “really concerned a lot of people” not him.
Note that the first time he uses his wife’s name in in relation to her friend Nicole.
“you know” is a pause and a signal of an acute awareness of the interviewer.
As humans often speak in an economy of words we note any additional words. “she was still here” or “walked in the house” are unnecessary words that evidently Watts has a reason to add to his statement, therefore, any word that a subject needs to add is double important for us.
Is “she was still here” alibi building?
Watts’ need to add “walked”, as a reference to his body posture, is a signal of increase in tension.
We note in the sentence “I came home and then walked in the house” that “home” becomes “the house” when he walked in. This is distancing language. What induced Watts to substitute the word “home” with “the house”?
When Watts says “and… nothing, it’s vanished, nothing was here, I mean”, he is referring to his family as objects; usually murderers verbally dehumanised their victims not to face up the sense of guilt.
“she wasn’t… she wasn’t here, the kids weren’t here, nope, nobody was here”, he refers to his wife as “she” and to his daughters as “the kids”, who’s kids? This is distancing language.
Chris Watts: Shannan, S-H-A-N-N-A-N.
Journalist: (inaudible) your kids (inaudible)?
Chris Watts: Bella and Celeste.
Note that he didn’t use his daughters’ names except when asked. This is distancing language and is not expected from an innocent father.
Journalist: And spell Celeste?
Chris Watts: C-E-L-E-S-T-E.
Journalist: And how old (inaudible)?
Chris Watts: Bella is 4, Celeste is 3.
Journalist: And so, how many times did you check on her?
Chris Watts: I called her three times, texted about three times, just to say, you know, what’s going on, like, I did… I after… after I called her and texted her once, like, right maybe she was just busy, like, she’d just got back, you know, like, everybody probably calling her from her trip, she just got back from Arizona and… I figured that she is just busy but when her friend showed up that (inaudible) I registered, like, right, this isn’t right.
Note that he refers to his wife as “her” and “she”, not as “my wife” or “my wife Shannan” or “Shannan”.
Note his frequent use of the word “just”. “just” is a dependent word used to comparison. Its communication is found in dependence upon another thought and as other dependent words reveals withheld information.
Journalist: Do you think she just took off, do you think?
Chris Watts: I mean, right now, I don’t want to just throw anything out there, like, I hope that she’s somewhere safe right now and… with the kids but, I mean… could she (inaudible), could she have just taken off? I don’t know, but if somebody has her and they’re not safe like I want them back now, like that… that… that’s what am I like if they are safe right now, they’re gonna come back, but if they are not safe right now, that’s what… that’s the unknown part like if they’re not safe, I… I… last night… I wish, I had every lights in the house on, I was hoping that I would just get… just ran over by the kids running in the door just like barrel, rushing me but it didn’t happened and it was just a traumatic night trying to be here.
Note the use of “I mean” to take time to think.
“I don’t want to just throw anything out there” sounds like leakage (an inadvertent release of information). Why did he say “throw out”? Because “throw out” was in his mind. Did he “throw anything out there”? Remember his reference to his family as objects “nothing, it’s vanished, nothing was here”.
“I hope that she’s somewhere safe right now and… with the kids but, I mean…” is an incomplete sentence. This is self censoring. There are missing information here. We also note his use of “but, I mean…”, was he trying to explain why he believes she is unsafe?
Note the stuttering “I” which shows increase in anxiety.
We note his reference to “lights” and “door”.
Note again his frequent use of the word “just”.
Journalist: Can I ask another tough question, your relation with the kids?
Chris Watts: Whe… whenever, I mean, the kids are my life, I mean, those… those smiles are my life and there’s, like, I mean, last night, like, during (inaudible), you know, when they usually dinner it was just, like, I missed them like, I mean, I missed tell them: Hey, you got to eat that or you’re gonna… not gonna get your dessert! You know, and just, like: Not gonna get your snack after! I missed that, I missed them, you know, cuddle up on their couches. They have like a Minnie Mouse couch and Sophia couch that they cuddle up on and watch on Bubble Guppies or something and it was just, like, you know, I mean, I… I was com… it was tearing me apart last night and I needed that, I needed that last night and for that… for nobody to be here last night and then going into their rooms and not… and know that I wasn’t gonna turn the rain machines on, I know that I wasn’t gonna turn their monitor on, no, I wasn’t gonna kiss them to bed tonight, it was… it… it was like I… I co… that’s why last night was just horrible, I couldn’t do it th… I was… I just want… I want everybody to come home like wherever they are at. Come home, that’s what I want.
Note that, in his verbalised perception of the reality, his two beautiful daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, are just “the kids”. This is distancing language.
Note that he is unable to say “their smiles” instead he says “those smiles” showing no closeness to his daughters.
Note the stuttering “I” which shows increase in anxiety.
Note the use of “I mean” to take time to think.
Note again his frequent use of the word “just”.
Note that the focus is on himself, on his needs, not on his wife’s and daughters’ needs: “I missed them (…) I missed tell them (…) I missed that, I missed them (…) I… I was com… it was tearing me apart last night and I needed that, I needed that last night (…) I couldn’t do it th… I was… I just want… I want everybody to come home like wherever they are at, come home, that’s what I want”.
“I want everybody to come home like wherever they are at, come home, that’s what I want” is probably true and it’s due to the stressful position he is right now.
Note that Watts doesn’t show any concern for his wife Shannan and his daughters, this tells us that he knows that his family is beyond need of help because they are dead.
Journalist: She came back Sunday (inaudible)?
Chris Watts: Yeah, cause her flight got delayed from Arizona, cause, like, other storms around the nation, so she was supposed to get home like 11:00, she got home at like 1:48, around about 2:00.
Chris Watts: It was a thrived wrecked sales, uh… it was a local event that was down there between a bunch of leaders in their company.
Journalist: (inaudible) the day she was back, I mean (inaudible)?
Chris Watts: I lef… I left wor… for work early that morning like 5:15, 5:30 so like she… barely let me, she barely got… barely got in the bed pretty much.
Note the initial repetition “I lef… I left wor…”, a signal that the question is sensitive to him.
What happened between 2:00 am and 5:15 (am)? There are missing information here. He likely kill them between 2:00 am and 5:15 am.
Note the verb “left” in the same position as before. “left”, when used as a connecting verb, is an indication of missing information.
“barely” is repeated three times, this is sensitive to him and has to do with the element of time as the verb “left”. “barely” repeated three times opens to the possibility that Shannan never got in the bed the night she came back home from Arizona.
Journalist: This might be a tough question but… did you guys get into an argument before you went to work?
Chris Watts: It wasn’t… it wasn’t like an argument, we had an emotional conversation but I’ll leave it at that, but it’s… I just want them back, I just… I just want them to come back and if… if they are not safe right now that’s what’s… that’s what’s tearing me apart because if they are safe, they are coming but if they are not, this… this… this has got to stop like somebody has to come forward.
Note the initial repetition “It wasn’t… it wasn’t”, a signal that the question is sensitive to him.
“I’ll leave it at that” is a way to close the topic.
“but it’s…” is self censoring, a signal that Watts is withholding information.
Note the mantra “I just want them back, I just… I just want them to come back”.
Note his frequent use of the word “just”.
For the second time, Watts is the one to open to the possibility that his family is not safe “and if… if they are not safe right now”.
Journalist: What are her parents saying to you?
Chris Watts: They just say, hey if they need to get on a flight just let them know because, I mean, they don’t… they feel hopeless right now because they… they are on the opposite side of the country, I mean, Colorado, I mean, can’t just drive around and look, I mean, it’s just like you wouldn’t really know what you are looking for, that’s what the cops told me, the first day I was like: I want to get out and drive around! You wouldn’t know what to look for.
Note the use of “I mean” to take time to think.
The journalist invited Watts to make an appeal:
Chris Watts: Shannan, Bella, Celeste, if you are out there, just… just come back, like, if somebody has her, just please bring her back. I need to see everybody. I need to see everybody again. This house is not complete with… without anybody here. Please bring her back.
Why “out there”?
Note “I need to see everybody. I need to see everybody again”, the focus is again on himself, on his needs, not on his wife’s and daughters’ needs. However “I need to see everybody. I need to see everybody again” is probably true and it’s due to the stressful position he is right now.
The family home
Chris Watts: The most important thing, I’m not sure, I’ll just wait for you to ask questions, but like it’s… I want… I want them wherever they are at, like, I have no inclination where they’re at right now, like, I’ve exhausted like every friend that I know of and every friend that I have has called friends that Shannan has that maybe I didn’t know about and it’s just like, there is, just like, is vanished like, when I got home yesterday, it was like a ghost town like, she wasn’t here, kids weren’t here. I have no idea, like, where they went and it doesn’t just earth shattering, I feel like this isn’t even real right now. It’s like a nightmare that I just can’t wake up from.
“I have not idea” is not a reliable answer as everybody has ideas on everything.
After just 24 hours, it’s premature to call these disappearances “a nightmare”.
Chris Watts: Yes… uh… I’d text her a few times, called her but I didn’t get a response, that was a little odd and then her friend Nicole showed up about that afternoon, I see her on the doorbell camera and I was like: Hey, what’s going on? I can’t get ahold of Shannan and that’s when I was, just like, something’s not right. She’s not answering the door and she said the car was here, it’s like I gotta go home and got here, got inside and no… nobody was here, not… nothing.
Note again that he refers to his wife as “Shannan” only in relation with her friend Nicole.
Note the reference to his missing family as “nothing” for the second time.
Chris Watts: Yeah, cause Bella was gonna start kindergarten next… next Monday and they… they were just getting ready to start, start back again.
Note the words “was” and “were”, his daughters are missing and he speaks of them in the past tense. This could be a linguistic signal that he knows or believes that they are deceased. We expected Watts to believe Bella and Celeste alive and to speak in the present tense as when a child goes missing, a parent has a natural, parental denial, especially so early on.
Chris Watts: She was here at the front door and… that’s when I knew: Okay, like, if she’s not answering anybody else either, this’s… this isn’t like her. I mean, she works at direct sales business and that’s her, that’s what she does and for her not to respond to any of her people that, I mean, she hasn’t answered to me, that’s fine, I’m like she is busy, she has staff going on, but not to respond to her people, that was… that was not like her.
Journalist: Chris, you got a beautiful family, you know, and it looks like you love each other very much, what went in your mind the minute you kind of like something is wrong?
Chris Watts: Like I… I was trying to get home as fast as I can, I was blowing through stoplights, I was pulling through everything just trying to get home as fast as I can because none of this made sense like, if she wasn’t here, where did she go? Like, once I get here it was: Alright who can I call? Who do I know that could be with right now? If she went to a friends house, where could she‘ve been staying? And we went through everybody, I mean, just everything in my… in my contact list and her fri… friends’ contact list and nothing has come up, everybody said they haven’t heard from her either. I’m just hoping right now that she’s uhm somewhere safe and maybe she’s just… she’s there but right now it’s just like if she’s vanished, like I want her back, I want those kids back so bad.
Note again the stuttering “I” which shows increase in anxiety.
The reaction he had on Monday morning sounds premature, it was just 12:10 am, his wife Shannan could have been out for a walk with her daughters.
Journalist: People think you may have done something.
Chris Watts: Yeah, I mean, nothing… nothing… everybody is gonna have their own opinion on… on anything like this, I just wanna people to know that I want my family back, I want them safe and I want them here like, this house is not the same, I mean. Last night was traumatic, last night was… I… I can’t really stay in this house again, like with nobody here and last night I wanted… I wanted that knock at the door, I wanted to see th… I wanted to see this kids running… running, just… just barrel rush me, just give me a hug and knock me on the ground, but that didn’t happen.
“I mean, nothing… nothing…” is an incomplete sentence. Watts is unable or unwilling to say “I didn’t kill my family” and we are not allowed to say so for him.
After Watts says “everybody is gonna have their own opinion on… on anything like this”, accepting a possible guilt, something that an innocent doesn’t accept, he fills his answer with the same mantra “I want my family back, I want them safe and I want them here”.
When watts says “Last night was traumatic, last night was… I… I can’t really stay in this house again, like with nobody here and last night I wanted… I wanted that knock at the door, I wanted to see th… I wanted to see this kids running… running, just… just barrel rush me, just give me a hug and knock me on the ground, but that didn’t happen”, the focus is on himself, again.
Journalist: What’s the hardest part of this?
Chris Watts: Not knowing, like if they’re safe or if they’re in trouble like there is a stat it’s the variable like I’m nor sure, I mean, I can’t do anything right now from I’m at… like, I’m not sure if they are safe somewhere, just huddle up somewhere, or if they’re in trouble and knowing that they could be in trouble, it just spare shattering right now and it doesn’t feel like it’s real.
Chris Watts: I… I… I wouldn’t put anything out there like this, suspecting, like, you are something, like, someone pulled in the back and because we have the driveway back from the new townhomes, but it’s so hard to tell, like there is no camera in the backyard or anything like that, so it’s… it’s really hard to even suspect anything right now as far as how she could left or someone came and picked her up or someone took her.
“I… I… I wouldn’t put anything out there”:
after a stuttering “I”, which shows increase in anxiety, his words “put anything out there” should be considered leakage, again, remember, during the interview he referred to his wife and daughters as “nothing”.
“someone pulled in the back” is an embedded admission.
Chris Watts: It’s… I’ve never seen something like this in my life time unless it was on tv or a movie and this… this doesn’t seem real at all, it just seems like I’m leaving in a nightmare and I can’t get out of it, I just want them home so bad.
Note the mantra “I just want them home so bad”, again.
Journalist: Did you see your kids and your wife, you had the kids?
Chris Watts: I had the kids over the weekend.
Journalist: Did you see your wife when she get home?
Chris Watts: She got home really late, about 2 am, from the airport when she got back from Arizona.
This answer is evasive. “really late” are unnecessary words, where does he want to drive the point? He wants the journalist to think that he was sleeping. This is alibi building.
Journalist: Did you wake up and say (inaudible)?
Chris Watts: No… yes, I saw her when she get in but it was really quick, just because it was 2 am in the morning, but I saw the kids in the monitor before I left and that was it.
Note that he first says “No” then “yes”. Note that what he says is in contradiction with what he said before about the “emotional conversation” he had on Monday morning with his wife before he went to work.
Note the verb “left”, again and in the same position of his narrative. “left”, when used as a connecting verb, is an indication of missing information.
“and that was it” is a way to close the topic.
Journalist: Describe your daughter to us.
Chris Watts: Celeste, she’s just a bubble of energy, she’s called rampage because she’s like… she’s always… it’s… she’s got two speeds to go or she’s sleeping and she’s always a troublemaker, she’s always the one jumping off things, you know, and she’s yelling at you and all kind of things. Bella she’s the more calm, cautious, mothering type and she’s… she’s more like me, she’s more calm, she’s… but Celeste has definitely got her mom’s personality where she’s always hung-ho ready to go.
Note that words as “rampage”, “troublemaker”, “yelling” are referred not only to his daughter Celeste but also to his wife Shannan, as “Celeste has definitely got her mom’s personality”. This is a sneaky way to blame his wife. Moreover, Watts feels the need to ingratiate himself with the journalist as he uses words as “calm”, “cautious”, “mothering type” to describe his daughter Bella and himself, as he says “she (Bella)’s more like me”. This is the “Good Guy/Bad Guy” Principle in Statement Analysis. He has a desire to appear as a “Good Guy” to cover up a “Bad Guy”
Chris Watts: As I said, it’s like just I want everybody back, that’s what I want, I need everybody back here, I need everybody safe.
Note the mantra “it’s like just I want everybody back, that’s what I want, I need everybody back here, I need everybody safe”, again.
Chris Watts: It’s not something I could ever ever fathom would happen in my lifetime and I have no inclination of where she is. She said she was going to a friend’s house with the kids and that’s the last thing I heard, and that was it. It was very vague. If somebody has her, just bring her back. I need to see everybody. I need to see everybody again. This house is not complete without anybody here.
“She said she was going to a friend’s house with the kids” is something he never said before.
Note the mantra “I need to see everybody. I need to see everybody again”, again.
Chris Watts: In my heart, I believe that she is somewhere and I hope that she is safe. I don’t know what to do right now. I just feel so alone in this house right now. I don’t know where to go from here.
Note that the focus is still on himself as he says “I don’t know what to do right now. I just feel so alone in this house right now. I don’t know where to go from here”.
Watts never called his daughters “my daughters” nor he ever used his daughters’s names except when asked. This is strongly indicative of distancing language showing the need to remove himself from them, something not expected from an innocent father.
Watts never introduces his wife as expected. The social introduction is a key to understand their relationship at the time of the interviews. His linguistic disposition towards his wife tells us that they had a poor relationship.
He never showed any linguistic concern for his family.
There is no urgency in his words, no impatience for them.
He did not ask for help for them.
He distanced himself from them.
He did not offer tips to police, nor even suggest what might have happened, or who might have taken them.
He was unable to deny his involvement in his wife and daughters’ disappearance and he accepted what the de facto innocent doesn’t accept: he allowed people to believe he is involved.
His deception and the lack of any words referred to his pregnant wife and daughters’ needs, reveal that he knows that they are beyond needs.
They are dead.
Chris Watts at the preliminary hearing
On November 6, 2018, Christopher Watts pleaded guilty to all nine counts against him, including five counts of first-degree murder, one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy, and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body, in a deal that removes the death penalty as a possible sentence, according to the Weld County District Attorney’s Office.
On November 19, 2018 Christopher Watts was sentenced to three consecutive sentences of life in prison with no possibility for parole.
Ursula Franco, MD and criminologist