For a few weeks in 2018, the nation turned its eyes to Frederick, Colorado, after Chris Watts, 35, pleaded guilty to murdering his pregnant wife, Shan’ann Watts, and their two daughters, Celeste, 3, and Bella, 4. The case is at the heart of the new Netflix documentary, American Murder: The Family Next Door. As the true-crime doc hits the streaming service, and fans learn the tragic, heartbreaking story behind these gruesome deaths, here’s what you need to know about Chris:
1. Chris is behind bars for killing his family. True crime fans already know the details about the case: Shan’ann Watts returned from a business trip to Arizona in the early hours of Aug. 13, 2018, after getting a ride from friend and colleague Nickole Atkinson. It was the friend who reported Shan’ann missing, because she missed a business meeting, failed to return text messages, and didn’t answer the door when Nickole visited.
Ultimately, on Aug. 16, the authorities found Shan’ann’s body on a property belonging to the Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, an oil company where Chris worked, per The New York Times. The bodies of his two daughters were also found nearby.
2. Before confessing to the murders, he appeared on television to beg for his wife to come home. On Aug. 14, a day after Shan’ann was reported missing, Chris was interviewed by Denver7. He claimed the disappearance of his wife and daughters was a “nightmare [he] can’t wake up from.” He said he last saw Shan’ann in the early hours of Aug. 13 before leaving for work. Chris did admit that he and Shan’ann had an “emotional conversation” before he last saw her, but did not initially confess to being involved in her disappearance.
3. Chris first claimed that Shan’ann, not him, was the one who killed their daughters. Chris was arrested on Aug. 15, after the police discovered he had a mistress and after he failed a polygraph test, per Insider. Initially, Chris admitted to killing his wife but blamed Shan’ann for the death of their daughters. Chris said that she went into a murderous rage after he told her he was having an affair and wanted a divorce. Chris claimed he saw Shan’ann strangling Celeste on the family’s baby monitor, per The New York Times. He claimed that their other daughter was lying on the bed and turned blue. Chris claimed he strangled Shan’ann in his own rage. He would change his story and confess to killing his children as part of a plea deal.
During his sentencing, prosecutors detailed how Chris strangled his wife for at least two minutes before suffocating his two children, per CNN. The oldest, Bella, fought back. Afterward, Chris loaded their lifeless bodies into his truck and dumped them at a worksite, believing they would never be found.
4. He pleaded guilty. Chris pleaded guilty to the murders on Nov. 6, 2018. The death penalty was not put forth by the prosecution by the request of Shan’ann’s family. Five months after he was convicted, Chris spoke with CSI investigator Tammy Lee, confirming everything the prosecution had said during sentencing.
5. He will never get out of jail. On Nov. 19, 2018, Chris was sentenced to five life sentences – three consecutive and two concurrent – with no possibility of parole. He was also sentenced to an additional 48 years for the unlawful termination of his wife’s pregnancy and 36 years for three charges of tampering with a deceased body. Shortly afterward, he was moved to an out-of-state location due to “security concerns,” per NBC15, and he’s now serving his sentence at the Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin.