Chris Watts did not look up – didn’t even flinch – as the family he wrecked struggled, one by one, to put words to their anguish.
His guilty pleas entered, Watts was in court on Nov. 19 to receive his sentence – life without possibility of parole – for the murders of his pregnant wife, Shanann, 34, daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, and unborn son, Niko.
WATCH: Chris Watts Smothered His Daughters and Strangled Wife
“We loved you like a son. We trusted you,” Shanann’s mother, Sandra Rzucek, told Watts as he sat, head down, at the defence table.
“Your children loved you to the moon and back.” Added Shanann’s father, Frank Rzucek:“They also trusted you, the heartless monster. And then you take them out like trash.” Watts’ own father, Ronnie Watts, was too emotional to speak in the Colorado courtroom.
In a statement read aloud by the family’s lawyer, he recalled coaching his boy in Little League and teaching him about cars. Now, he went on, “We are forced to question everything.” For the Rzucek and Watts families, the impossibly painful questions that have haunted them since 15-weeks- pregnant Shanann and her girls went missing from their home in Frederick, Colorado, on Aug. 13 may never be answered: how could a man who appeared to everyone so doting on his family take a secret mistress and then kill his wife and little girls with his bare hands?
Asked at sentencing if he wished to make a statement, Watts spoke just two words to Judge
Marcelo Kopcow: “No, sir.”
Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke
tells WHO that a full confession – “what happened, why it happened” – was not a condition of Watts’ plea deal. “I didn’t want some concocted BS story,” Rourke says.
In the three months since Shanann’s body was discovered on Aug. 16 in a shallow grave – and the bodies of Bella and Celeste in separate oil tanks nearby – on property of Anadarko Petroleum, where Chris worked, investigators pieced together a damning picture of cold and calculated murders by a cheating husband who wanted to start afresh with a new woman.
A 1960-page document made public at Watts’ sentencing brimmed with horrifying details of Watts’ depravity and double life. Judge Kopcow, a 17-year veteran of the bench, called it “perhaps the most inhumane and vicious crime that I have handled of the thousands of cases that I have seen.”
Rourke laid out how in the early hours of Aug. 13, after Shanann got home from a weekend business trip, Watts strangled her to death over the course of two to four minutes. “The horror she felt as the man that she loved wrapped his hands around her throat and choked the life out of her must have been unimaginable,” Rourke told the court as Shanann’s parents and brother, Frankie Jr, wept. As for the girls, they were smothered. “Bella fought back for her life,” Rourke explained, describing lacerations that showed the girl bit her tongue “multiple times” as, according to an autopsy report, she “struggled to get away”.
Watts’ text messages show that he had prearranged to be alone at a rural Anadarko work site that morning and a neighbour’s security camera showed Watts backing his truck into the driveway and then walking from the house to the truck three times – “one time for each of their bodies”, Rourke said.
At the site, Watts shoved his daughters’ bodies through 20cm hatches of separate oil tanks and later told investigators “that Bella’s tank seemed emptier than Cece’s because of the sound the splashes made”.
That morning, phone records show, Watts called the girls’ school to un-enrol them, called a realtor about selling their home, “texted with his girlfriend about their future” and googled for getaway holiday deals. Only after Shanann’s friends were unable to reach her and alerted police did he put on a public show, pleading in tearful TV interviews on Aug. 14 for his family’s return, saying he couldn’t wait for his daughters to hug him.
But behind doors, he “giggled” when he told police he had nothing to do with their disappearance, according to the police report.
The girlfriend, Nichol Kessinger, 30, a co-worker at Anadarko, told The Denver Post when she and Chris started dating in June – less than two months before the murders – he told her he was in the final stages of divorce. She discovered that was a lie – and went to police on Aug. 15 – after seeing the missing- person news on Aug. 14. “We had just met,” she told The Post. “I barely knew him.”
The texts on Kessinger’s, Shanann’s and Chris’ phones show a marriage in crisis just as the new relationship began – while Shanann and the girls spent five weeks with her parents in North Carolina. Texting a friend on Aug.7, after she and the girls returned home to Colorado, Shanann wrote: “He has changed. I don’t know who he is ... He hasn’t touched me all week, kissed me.”
The Watts house now sits dark, lifeless. “It felt like there was a lot of love in there.
Now, it’s eerie,” says neighbour Kelley Trippy. “I thought Chris was such a good dad. But I guess everybody has a mask that they put on.”
Watts admitted to the murders, Rourke says, to avoid a death sentence. “He made the only move he could,” says a law enforcement source. “If a jury had seen the autopsy photos of those girls, they would have wanted to bury him themselves.” A source close to Watts says the guilty plea has left him “at more peace”.
Says the source, “That doesn’t mean he’s happy. He’s going to think about what he did every day for the rest of his life; he is in hell.”
This may be the only comfort the Rzuceks have left. “I pray that you never have a moment’s peace or a good night’s rest in the cage you’ll spend every day of your life in,” Shanann’s brother Frankie told Watts at sentencing. His father Frank added, chillingly, “And one other thing – Shanann says she is super excited for justice today.”