On Aug. 13, 2018, petroleum operator Chris Watts murdered his pregnant wife and smothered his daughters in front of each other. An expert offers insight into his mindset.
Chris Watts, 34, was arrested on Aug. 15, 2018 in Frederick, Colorado and charged with murdering his beautiful 3-month pregnant wife and adorable young daughters. His family and friends, along with the entire country, have wondered how a father and husband could murder his wife, Shanann, 33, their unborn baby, and his two little girls – Bella, 4, and Celeste “Cece”, 3. Within weeks Chris had confessed to their murders and admitted to disposing of his daughters’ bodies in oil tanks and buried his wife in a shallow grave at his worksite.
Observers have struggled to understand still what would enable any man to do this to his innocent family. Lena Derhally, licensed psychotherapist and author of My Daddy is a Hero: How Chris Watts Went from Family Man to Family Killer, has examined the case thoroughly. While she has never met or spoken with Chris, she believes his behavior “wasn’t a psychotic break” and that he “was not insane at the time of the murders.” She explained this EXCLUSIVELY in an interview with HollywoodLife.
Derhally, a clinical instructor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the George Washington School of Medicine, specializes in trauma-informed individual and couples’ therapy. She became drawn into this case after seeing Chris’ now-infamous Aug. 14, 2018 television plea when he shared his version of what happened when Shanann and their daughters went missing.
“That was what drew me into the case initially,” Derhally explained. “There was something just really weird because he looked like this really nice, handsome guy from a middle-class family. He just seemed like a normal guy. But most people I think had this very strong gut feeling that something was off with what he was saying. As soon as people saw that interview, they were like, ‘Oh, it’s got to be him.’ Without even having evidence, it was just something about his interview, there’s something not right here. He became suspect number one based on that interview, and I think I felt the same way when I watched; like he has something to do with this.”
“It was clear based on Chris’ behavior after the crime that this wasn’t a psychotic break or some kind of schizophrenia or mental illness,” Derhally explained. “He was completely of sound mind. One of Chris’ confessions, he does describe premeditating these murders for weeks and I believe a lot of the evidence backs that up. It does seem quite premeditated based on his behavior in the weeks before he killed them.”
The summer before their murders, Shanann and her daughters spent six weeks in North Carolina to visit family. During that time, Chris was home in Colorado, which was when the affair began with his coworker, Nichol Kessinger. Chris joined his family for the last week of their trip in North Carolina and they all returned home together in Colorado. A few days later Shanann went to Arizona for the weekend for a work conference before friend Nickole Atkinson dropped her off at home at 2 a.m. on Aug. 13. Chris then strangled Shanann at some point before transporting her body in his truck to his worksite. He also drove his daughters along with their mother’s body in the vehicle before smothering them and dumping them in oil tanks.
We asked Derhally if reports that Chris had murdered one of his daughters in front of the other was true. “Yes, the older daughter. Her name was Bella and she was 4 at the time,” she confirmed. “Her sister Cece had just turned 3, and Chris, apparently in his words, said that he killed Cece in front of Bella, who had watched it.”
“The parental instinct is the exact opposite of what Chris did. A person who does this has absolutely no empathy,” Derhally said. “The fact that he even killed his daughter in front of the other one and subjected her to that. I mean, there is absolutely zero empathy there. This is someone who does not take the perspective of another person. This is someone who’s severely narcissistic in the sense that they’re only taking their wants and needs into account and they’re entitled to think that they can do anything in order to get what they want.”
Sadly, Derhally does not believe there was any way Shanann could have known Chris was capable of such atrocities. “As for her knowing that he was capable of murder, absolutely not. I 100 percent believe that there was no way anybody could have known that he was capable of that. “
“One of the things that psychopathic and narcissistic people are so good at doing is crafting a mask that is completely different than who they are, and it can be a very charming mask,” she explained. “They know exactly what to do to manipulate people, they know how to get people to like them. The mask can sometimes be so good because they worked so hard at it. They’re different from normal people and so they’re working hard to blend in. Often they can seem even nicer or more empathetic than an average person, which is really interesting.”
“So that’s kind of scary too, what good actors they are and how much they can fool people with this mask that they practice,” Derhally added. “But sometimes you can see the cracks in the mask, and eventually they do come out, the cracks happen eventually. As was the case here is that it just needed a precipitating event for the mask to crack with Chris. This was one of those situations where it’s so frightening because it would be impossible to tell that this could happen. Nobody saw it coming and that’s the most frightening and unique aspect about this case.”
The Lifetime special, Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer, airs Jan. 25 at 8 p.m and is based on the real-life murders.