Nearly four months after Colorado dad Chris Watts was convicted in the grisly murders of his wife and little girls, authorities have released an audio confession that sheds light on how he apparently snapped and snatched away their lives.
On Feb. 18, investigators sat down with the 33-year-old Watts at his new home: the Dodge Correctional Institution, a maximum security lockup in Waupun, Wisconsin. As one detective explained to Watts, “We just really want to get into the mindset of what happened, and you can imagine this is really important for us in the future, when we’re talking to a guy that’s in your position. To say, you know, ‘This isn’t really a monster. This is more like a Chris Watts.’”
In the five hours of tape, Watts discusses strangling his wife, Shanann, and loading her body into the back of his work truck. His daughters—3-year-old Celeste, or CeCe, and 4-year-old Bella—were still alive and in the backseat as he drove their mother to an Anadarko oilfield where he worked, and where they, too, would meet their end.
As reported this week on Dr. Phil, Bella watched Watts suffocate her little sister, then begged for her own life. “Is the same thing gonna happen to me as CeCe?” Watts recalled Bella asking in the moments before he killed her. “She said ‘No, Daddy’ and that’s the last thing she said.”
Tammy Lee, a Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent, joined FBI Special Agent Grahm Coder and Dave Baumhover, a Frederick, Colorado police detective, for the harrowing interview, which provides an inside look into Watts’ deranged mental state during the August 2018 slayings.
Watts’ conversation contradicts one account from Nichol Kessinger, his coworker at Anadarko Petroleum and mistress, who told the Denver Post she thought Watts was in the midst of a divorce when they began dating in the summer of 2018.
“She’s trying to save face,” Watts told investigators.
The couple met at work in June, Watts said. He didn’t wear his wedding ring, because he’d lost so much weight that it needed to be resized. They began texting each other. “One day it went to a different level. I never thought it’d get to that level,” Watts said, adding, “After that, we kept seeing each other—the whole month of July.”
Watts told police he wishes he could speak to Kessinger “just once” to say “I’m sorry this all happened.” He wondered if she had to seek counseling and leave everything behind. He told the cops that his attorney tried to call her once but she didn’t answer.
Asked if he loved Kessinger, Watts replied, “I felt like it was true.”
Throughout July, while Shanann and the kids visited family in North Carolina, Watts lived out a fantasy with Kessinger. “Every time I would open up my phone, I would see my wife and kids and think, ‘What are you doing?’ And every time I was with [Kessinger], I didn’t think. It was like a blinder was in my face,” Watts said.
Whenever Shanann called her husband, he was at Kessinger’s home. Indeed, Watts said he slept at Kessinger’s house that entire month. “I wish I had met her at work and just kept it that way,” Watts said.
“I didn’t take control of the situation,” Watts claimed. “The situation took control of me.”
Here are some other revelations from the stunning prison confession.
Watts is happier in Wisconsin
“It’s a lot different than Colorado,” Watts told police. “It’s better, I think.” He said he’s around other people, while in Colorado he was segregated and bullied by fellow Weld County prisoners. “They’re just telling me how I should kill myself, and like, what they’re going to do to me,” Watts said. “People here… it’s not like they don’t care but … they don’t judge you as soon as you walk in.”
He said he doesn’t expect to fall in love again, despite a steady stream of love letters, including one from a Colorado woman who sent him photos of herself in a bikini.
“I try to keep a low profile here,” he said, so he’s not shipped to another prison.
He only had one affair
Watts told investigators that his only extramarital affair was with Kessinger. He claimed he never slept with Trent Bolte, a man who told national TV outlets he was Watts’ gay lover. He denied having an interest in men, and also denied another woman’s claims that they hooked up in a Chick-fil-A parking lot. “It was just Nichol Kessinger,” Watts said.
Still, Watts admitted he lied to Kessinger about being separated from Shanann toward the end of their whirlwind affair.
The relationship dynamic with Shanann
Watts said he was a “shy guy” who’d “never been pursued by anybody before” and who didn’t have girlfriends in high school. He was 25 when a cousin’s ex-wife introduced him to Shanann in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It was a great relationship. Everything was great,” Watts told police. His mother, however, was “always kind of hesitant” about the new romance because he was “the baby” in the family.
“It seems to me, like, you’re attracted to maybe a more dominant personality?” one investigator asked. Watts replied, “It seems like it because I’m more reserved. I’m a go-with-the flow type. Shanann usually made all the decisions.”
‘Anything new feels better than the old.’
With Kessinger, Watts felt “more in control” and that they had an equal partnership. “She actually asked my opinion on a lot of things, what I wanted to do,” Watts continued. “I was just kind of like… OK.” It was “very new” for him, he said.
“Anything new feels better than the old,” Watts told police.
In his interview, Watts seemed to suggest he was bewitched by his coworker. He’d never cheated on Shanann before, he claimed, and even told Kessinger so. “I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who I had become,” Watts said, adding, “I didn’t know what had happened to me.”
Kessinger allegedly asked if Watts had ever strayed from Shanann. “I’ve never even thought about it,” Watts said he replied. Kessinger then asked what was different, and Watts said, “I guess it’s just you that’s different.” He further explained his fatal attraction to investigators: “I’ve seen girls smile at me before, never done anything before. With her, it’s like she had a leash on me and she tugged me away.” He said he thought, “What the hell is going on?”
Sex before murder
Shanann returned home from a work trip around 2 a.m. and climbed into bed with Watts. He said he woke to his wife’s hands on him, and that they had sex, which Watts said felt like a “test.” They both fell asleep afterward, but before dozing off, Watts was silently questioning what he’d become.
Later that morning, Watts rustled Shanann awake and told her their relationship wasn’t going to work, telling her, “I don’t feel like I love you anymore.” During that conversation, he was straddling her on the bed. Shanann allegedly told Watts that she “knew there was somebody else” and warned that he was “never going to see the kids.”
Shanann told Watts to get off her, and he assumed she was concerned about their unborn baby, Nico. “Everything that happened that morning... I try to go back in my head… I didn’t want to do this but I did it,” Watts said. “I just felt like… there was already something in my mind that was implanted that I was going to do it and then I woke up that morning and it was going to happen and I had no control over it.”
Looking back on the murders now, after reading the Bible in prison, Watts believes “God gave me opportunities to get out.”
That night brought a “totally different type of fight” with his wife.
“It just felt, like, more anger than anything else. There was emotion to it at first and then it just felt like it was just anger, like there was no love there,” Watts said. He added, “What we were saying… It wasn’t ourselves.”
“I think it was more anger from me, and more like desperation from her.”
Watts claims Shanann didn’t fight back
“Why couldn’t I have just let go?” Watts asked himself, citing the prosecutor’s statement that it takes two to four minutes to choke someone to death. “I don’t even want to know what she saw when she looked back at me,” Watts said, adding that Shanann “wasn’t fighting.”
“Why do you think she wasn’t fighting?” one investigator asked.
“Maybe she was praying,” Watts said. “Maybe she was just… I read the Bible, the scripture that says… ‘Forgive these people for they do not know what they do.’... I don’t know what she was saying in her head, but when you guys told me, ‘Take off your shirt, check for defensive wounds.’ There wasn’t gonna be any.”
The girls saw Watts carrying Shanann’s body
Watts said Bella walked into the bedroom carrying her little pink blanket shortly after he wrapped Shanann in a sheet. “What’s wrong? What’s wrong with mommy?” Bella asked. Watts replied that her mother wasn’t feeling well. At this point, Shanann was facedown on the bed, with her face tilted to the side on the pillow. He said he carried her down the stairs but lost his grip. Bella watched him then pull Shanann’s body down the steps, creating a noise that woke CeCe. “They’re light sleepers,” Watts said of his children.
Watts loaded Shanann’s body into his truck, then told his girls to hop in the vehicle. The kids were quiet during the trip, both taking turns falling in out and out of sleep, Watts said. They were awake when he arrived at the oil field and unloaded Shanann.
“What are you doing to mommy?” Watts recalled the girls asking.
When Watts returned to the vehicle, he suffocated CeCe using a blanket in front of her sister. Bella asked, “What happened to CeCe?” and whether Watts would do the same to her. “I don’t even remember what I said. I don’t know if I said yes like a horrible person or if I just put that blanket over her too and did the same thing.”
“Every time I close my eyes, I just hear her saying “Daddy, no,” and that was it,” Watts said. “I hear that every day.”
Pent-up anger led to the killings
“I feel like it was just an anger with Shanann, with everything, that I was just taking it out on everybody that was in front of me that morning,” Watts said.
But when an investigator asked, “What were you so angry with Shanann about?” Watts didn’t have an exact answer. “Nothing that makes anybody want to do this,” he said. “You can be angry at your spouse your whole life, but you should never do anything like this.”
“I’d never been angry before, and this was like the epitome of being angry… the epitome of losing your mind.”
At different points in the interview, Watts described tension between his and Shanann’s families. His parents and sister didn’t attend the couple’s wedding in North Carolina. At one point in recent years, Shanann’s parents lived with them in Colorado for 16 months. Then there was a “knock-down drag-out” fight between Shanann and Watts’ mother last summer.
Watts told investigators that his mom never thought Shanann was good enough for him and that Shanann was hiding things from her past, in particular from her first marriage. His mother and his sister didn’t like Shanann. “They just thought that Shanann had taken me away from them and moved me out to Colorado,” he said.
The agents pressed Watts again on his apparently dormant anger, asking if it was stoked by the “family strife.” Watts answered, “That’s the only thing I can think of right now, because I mean there’s no other reason to be mad at her. We took care of each other our whole eight years. It was a good relationship.”
“It’s just like, if I never met Nikki, would I have thought our relationship was bad? Probably not,” Watts added.
The crime wasn’t premeditated
Watts told investigators he had no plans for what to do after dumping his wife and kids’ bodies at the Anadarko oil field. He referred to a true-crime TV drama: “This wasn’t some ‘Criminal Minds’ type” of thing, he said. “I had no idea what was going to happen.”
There was no reason, Watts continued, for putting the girls’ bodies in two separate oil tanks. “Just thinking about an oil tank makes me want to throw up,” he said.
“I didn’t want to separate anybody,” Watts told investigators. “It was like somebody else was in control of what I was doing and I was doing something I never thought I would do in my life.”
“Whatever my reasoning was in my head that day, it wasn’t sound,” he said.
‘They still love you’
The investigators told Watts that Shanann’s parents, Sandy and Frank, don’t hate him. “I don’t hold it against them, they can hate me—they have a right to hate me for the rest of their lives,” Watts told the officers.
One of the detectives replied, “They told me to tell you, understandably, they’re devastated but they actually said that they love you. They still love you. And, Sandy explained it, ‘He’s our son, son-in-law for eight years. I can’t just turn that off.’ So they don’t hate you.”
“That’s amazing to hear that,” replied Watts, baring a seemingly rare hint of emotion.
“I can tell you Sandy was the one that was most resistant to penalties in this case and she told me that from the very beginning,” the detective continued. “It’s not just a one-time thing she’s said it to me. It’s been through the whole course of the events.”
Tension with the mistress
“[Nikki] had her moments where I had to talk her off a ledge,” Watts said, adding, “She would get worked up about nothing.”
Shanann called Watts 10 times on the morning of July 4, while he was staying at Kessinger’s home. Shanann was angry because she couldn’t get ahold of her husband. So Watts rushed home to speak with his wife, and connected with Kessinger later. Kessinger said she “realized she’d always be second fiddle,” Watts said.
“She said she would go on websites and look up... ‘Will a mistress turn into a relationship?’” Watts added.
But Watts is adamant that Kessinger didn’t put him up to the murders. “This whole relationship contributed to it, but it never—she didn’t want me to do that,” Watts said.
Kessinger didn’t know Shanann was pregnant. According to Watts, his mistress once told him, “I’d like to give you a son.”
Days before cops arrested Watts, and just before he gave a bizarre TV interview asking for his family’s safe return, he communicated with Kessinger on the phone and via text. “She thought maybe Shanann took off with the kids, because I was telling her I didn't know where they were,” Watts said.
On Aug. 14, Kessinger seemed to suspect something was amiss. She began asking odd questions that only he knew the answers to—such as his dog’s name and the name of his yoga studio—so she could confirm it was really him on the phone. That day, she’d also met with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, unbeknownst to him.
“This is the last time you’ll probably hear from me,” Kessinger told him. “I’m going to stay at my friend’s place while this is going on.”
“She told me to delete everything. I didn’t delete everything. I’m not sure why I didn’t delete everything but it probably helped you guys out,” Watts told the investigators.
Watts told others of trouble with Shanann
Over the summer, Shanann and her in-laws got into an explosive fight over Watts’ mother keeping nuts around Celeste, who was allergic. Weeks later, while spending a day at the beach with his family, Watts told them he’d likely split from his wife.
“When I was in North Carolina on Aug. 6… I had told them something like, ‘I don’t think this is going to work, with what happened with the nuts and everything,” Watts said. “They’re not being able to see the kids.” His family lamented that they didn’t know if they could forgive Shanann.
Meanwhile, his parents asked if he was having an affair because he’d been texting someone constantly, but Watts says he denied there was another woman.
Yet in late June, during a trip to San Diego, Watts confided in his best friend about Kessinger. Watts told police that his friend was allegedly in a similar situation, having dated a girl who was already engaged. “I never told him the whole thing,” Watts said.
“I just told him there was this girl at work that I’d been talking to, but I’m distancing myself from her, but that wasn’t the case. I was just letting it exponentially get worse.”
Watts is not on meds, misses his wife’s cuisine
In prison, Watts sees a therapist once a month. He’s declined all psych meds, while most people on his unit take them. “You don’t take anything?” one investigator asked. “No,” Watts replied, adding that he’s on a special management unit away from the general population. “They just keep me in there until the security adviser says I can get moved to GP down the hall.”
Asked about what foods he misses, Watts said he misses Bojangles’ chicken and biscuits, and Georgia Boys BBQ, as well as Shanann’s cooking which includes her “spaghetti sauce and fried pizza.” Shanann would make the dough, and let Bella make her own small pizza, Watts said.
“It’s really good. I mean, It’s really thick,” Watts said of the crust.
An active imagination
“Have you thought about writing a book or anything like that?” one agent asked Watts. He said no, and mentioned his mom and dad suggested he journal about how he feels and how he’s been dealing with his new life in prison.
“I’ve always had a really crazy imagination,” Watts said. He said he once convinced an elementary school teacher that he’d gone to China one summer vacation. “She actually believed it. I was really convincing,” Watts added.
“Well, you’re a smart dude,” one officer remarked.
Now, Watts reads the Bible every day—a tome he’s never cracked open before but has now read cover to cover. “It stuck with me,” he said, adding that every day, he writes down different scriptures and mails them to his parents.
He said his aunt and uncle, who are missionaries, have reviewed these letters. “They’re amazed at how mature I’ve gotten with, like, the Bible and everything,” Watts said. “One gift I did get was a good memory, as far as being able to memorize stuff … I’ve been memorizing a lot of different scriptures.”
Even after certain inmates have departed his unit, they write him requesting different scriptures to get through tough times.
“I can help somebody that way,” he said.
Watts said that during his sentencing hearing, he felt most emotional when Shanann’s father called him a “heartless monster” who tossed his family away like garbage.
One investigator then shared a saying from his own childhood pastor: “It’s better to be one foot out of hell facing heaven, than one foot out of heaven facing hell.”
“So I think that’s you,” the officer said. “You’ve been to hell and now you’re facing the right direction.”
“I know there’s a purpose for everybody,” Watts replied, in part. “I just hope that I can find mine.”
Tough to read
During his original police interrogation in Colorado, Watts didn’t show very much emotion, even when detectives presented pictures of his little girls. “I hold in it as much as I can,” he said. Watts said he’s never seen his dad cry, and while growing up, even if he felt something was wrong, he’d never share his feelings with his family.
“You were a difficult guy to read, especially at the house that day. That makes total sense now,” one detective told Watts during the Wisconsin visit.
Watts said he was in shock or disbelief, that people thought he was a “heartless” person in his TV interview begging Shanann and the kids to come home. “I’m just glad I never saw it. I don’t even want to know what I looked like, sounded like,” Watts continued. “Nothing registered at all.”
But one night, in his jail cell, it hit home that “everybody was gone.”
“Does it seem real now?” an officer asked.
“It feels real every day,” Watts replied. “I just see pictures. I know where they were at, when I had some type of hearing over the phone, and I heard Frank and Sandy on the phone.”
“It’s just weird how emotions process differently for me than everyone else …. The process is different for me. I never knew why, never know why.”
Watts added, “I don’t want to think I’m a cold-hearted person. I just don’t show emotion as much as other people do.”
Police asked if the murders were a result of him bottling things up for so long.
“Definitely,” Watts replied.
A ‘Thrive’ problem?
Watts said he hated being in Shanann’s Facebook Live videos, which included a gender reveal event and Shanann announcing she was pregnant. The videos also showed off her all-expenses-paid work trips and promotions with the multi-level marketing company Thrive.
“Those videos are not me. I did it just to support her,” Watts said, adding that he didn’t complain because he didn’t want to anger her.
“She could sell everything you’re wearing back to you,” Watts said of his wife.
Watts used some of the Thrive products, including an energy patch. “Did you feel like a different person wearing those patches?” an investigator asked.
The “Duo” and “Burn” patches made his Apple watch indicate he was exercising all day, Watts said, claiming his heart rate was up.
“I felt different on those than any other patch. I just felt I could go longer and longer each day. That was probably a bad thing,” Watts told police, saying he slept only three hours a night.
Watts said he doesn’t regret making a deal with prosecutors, which included him pleading guilty to the killings in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table.
His parents, he said, received messages from people all over the world who said the Thrive patch wasn’t FDA-approved and can alter people’s minds.
“They’ve got letters from Australia, from England,” Watts said, adding, “Some of the stuff they’re saying about the Thrive patch.”
People also suggested CPTSD complex, or complex post-traumatic stress disorder, from being in an abusive relationship as a defense.
“On the phone, they still think there’s a chance I could get out,” Watts said.
— with additional reporting by Emily Shugerman, Brooke Howard, Audrey McNamara, Tessa Solomon