Shanann Watts’ little girls were giggling, pattering around the dining room of their Colorado home. It was a Sunday evening, and the Watts family was playing a peewee version of the strongman carnival game. If the children struck the hammer hard enough, a blue plastic hand would send a pie flying at their dad.
Chris Watts peered through a face cutout and waited. “Hit it,” their grandma, whom they called Nonna, ordered 4-year-old Bella. The girl slugged the toy and launched whipped cream into her daddy’s eyes, and everyone laughed. “Nice, nice,” Chris smiled, raising his hand for Bella’s high-five. “Who’s next? CeCe you next?”
Celeste, 3, wanted to be in the hot seat herself. When the dessert on her face dropped to the floor, Dieter, the family’s dachshund, scurried over to lap it up. CeCe dipped her finger in the mess and ate it, flashing a mischievous grin.
Shanann, who was broadcasting the hijinks on Facebook Live, turned to the camera before signing off. “Love you guys,” she said. “See you later.”
In their home videos, Shanann and Chris seemed to have it all. The North Carolina natives moved to Colorado and bought a big house with Rocky Mountain views. They had two adorable daughters and a third baby on the way, and a marriage that Shanann thought would last a lifetime. In January, the expectant mother declared 2018 would be her year. “I’m super, super, super pumped about 2018. 2018 is my year. I’m claiming it. It is my year. Everything I want for my family is happening in 2018 or at least it’s gonna be in process,” she said in a Facebook video.
“I have a lot of goals and dreams for my family and one of them’s to give my kids the best they can get,” Shanann continued. “As far as living life, enjoying one another, creating memories as a family. I want to travel the world with my kids.”
But eight months later, Shanann and her daughters were dead, and the man accused of killing them was Chris. The doting father and husband—charged with murdering his family and dumping their bodies in an Anadarko company oil field where he worked—appears to have been leading a double life.
Unbeknownst to friends, something was lurking beneath the surface of Chris and Shanann’s picture-perfect world—a world seemingly made for media consumption as news outlets air Shanann’s Facebook videos, and armchair detectives look for clues.
A source close to the investigation told People magazine that Chris had affairs with both men and women. It’s unclear if Shanann knew about the alleged liaisons, but a colleague of Shanann’s mother, Sandi Onorati, told WRAL that the couple “was having problems” and that Onorati told her that Shanann and Chris were planning to separate.
Two of Shanann’s friends said she suspected Chris was cheating on her. Amanda Thayer told Denver7 that Shanann thought infidelity was “a possibility” but had said Chris wasn’t a player. “At the same time, she was like, ‘He has no game.’ He didn’t have it with her when they first met... She did everything,” Thayer said.
Nickole Atkinson—the last person besides Chris to see Shanann alive—told ABC News that Shanann “entertained the idea” that he was unfaithful. “He wasn’t being the loving Chris that he normally was. He wasn’t touching or hugging or doing stuff like that. He wasn’t being as attentive to the girls as he normally is,” Atkinson said.
Another bombshell arrived this week, when a man claiming to be Chris’ secret gay lover spoke to HLN, claiming the two had a 10-month relationship.
Chris indicated that he was “trapped in a loveless marriage,” the alleged paramour said. The story of the unnamed caller, who also appears to have sounded off on social media, has yet to be corroborated. The man said he met Chris on an app called MeetMe, and that Chris identified himself online as heterosexual. (The Weld County DA’s office declined to comment for this story, and Chris’ public defender couldn’t be reached.)
The alleged lover told The Daily Beast on Thursday that he believes he was the first man Chris ever slept with—and that their affair was Chris’ first during his marriage to Shanann. The men would see each other before or after work, or sometimes after 10 p.m., he claimed. He added that they’d usually meet at the man’s place and never at Chris’ home. The man believes Shanann was unaware of their rendezvous, which he claimed ended in spring of this year.
The man said he’d been out of touch with Chris for months. The next time he saw his face was on national television, after Chris’s arrest.
The heinous crime has seized national attention, fueling speculation as to what drove a family man to allegedly snuff out his own children and his wife, who was 15 weeks pregnant with a boy she’d named Niko.
Investigators in Frederick, Colorado determined Chris was “actively involved in an affair” with a coworker, according to an arrest affidavit. The coworker hasn’t been identified, and the alleged gay lover says it’s not him.
Shanann and Chris also grappled with financial strain: a bankruptcy filing reveals the couple was more than $400,000 in debt.
Police cuffed Chris one day after a bizarre local TV interview, where he claimed he and Shanann had “an emotional conversation,” but not an argument, before she vanished. He pleaded for his missing family to return home. “It was tearing me apart last night,” he told Denver7, in a conversation that raised red flags for authorities. “I want everybody to just come home. Wherever they’re at, just come home. That’s what I want.”Today, Shanann and the girls will be laid to rest in Pinehurst, North Carolina in a funeral mass that will be livestreamed, at the family’s request, on the Boles Funeral Homes & Crematory Facebook page. “We respectfully ask for any and all media to be respectful of our wishes to keep their distance,” Shanann’s brother, Frankie Rzucek, said on Facebook. A private candlelight vigil was planned for Friday night in Shanann’s hometown of Aberdeen.
As Shanann’s loved ones reel from their heartbreaking loss, the murder charges have flummoxed Chris’ friends, who tell The Daily Beast he was reserved, smart and gentle, and a man known to get along with anyone.
One high-school friend, Brandi Smith, told The Daily Beast that girls always had crushes on Chris. “Most of our conversations that I recall were about music and things like that,” Smith said. “I was a bit of an outcast and he kinda just seemed to understand me.”
“Everyone liked him,” Smith added. “It’s actually amazing how many people that knew him have completely turned on him and think he’s this monster when he hasn’t even been convicted.”
She struggles to believe Chris made up a story for cops. “Chris found himself as a father. Those girls brought him to life and out of his shell,” Smith said. “He’s not a crazy person. He’s not a violent, abusive or mean person.”
“I’ll be broken if he’s convicted and it was a lie but there’s a chance... and it’s not fair that he’s being crucified.”
Joe Duty, a retired automotive teacher in North Carolina, told the Fayetteville Observer that Chris was a standout student who’d received a $1,000 scholarship to the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville.
“In fact, I told him before he graduated, I said, ’Chris, if I ever had a student who was going to be tremendously successful, it’s you,’” Duty recalled.
“This was one of the smartest students I ever had,” Duty said. “The guy had a photographic memory.” Chris had a passion for NASCAR and “knew chapter and verse, everything you could ask about NASCAR. Anything,” Duty added.
Yet Chris was introverted and hardly spoke in class. “Often, I wondered why he was so withdrawn. He was very clean-cut, very respectful, very smart,” Duty said.
Lance Alfonso, who played recreational football with Chris when they were growing up in North Carolina, said the accused murderer “was someone who wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
“I’ve never seen him ever get angry at anybody, even on the football field,” Alfonso added.
Over the years, Alfonso followed Chris and his budding family on Facebook. While Chris’ profile is deactivated, Alfonso says it was similar to Shanann’s page, which is filled with glowing updates of her husband and children, as well as promotions with Thrive, a multi-level marketing venture. “Everything he usually posted on Facebook or social media was always about his family,” Alfonso said.
“What would make someone like the guy I knew do something like that?”
The Watts family appeared blissful in the months leading up to the murders.
Shanann recorded videos on Facebook that included a buff Chris doing push-ups one night at 9:40 p.m.; CeCe and Bella playing with Chris’ hair and attaching pink barrettes to his head; and the family dancing around the kitchen to “Footloose” while making dinner.
Throughout 2018, Shanann shared tributes to her husband, calling him her rock. They posed in photos together, wearing her company’s weight-loss patches, and Shanann boasted of Chris’ fitness progress—he went from a pants size of 38 to 32.
“Today I celebrate you! Chris, you are absolutely the BEST thing that ever happened to me in 2010!” Shanann wrote on Chris’ birthday this past May. “That year you were placed in my life when I was at my worst! I was just diagnosed with Lupus and Fibro and I felt like my world was crumbling around me! Then I met you!
“You work your ass off, you’re an amazing husband and an even better dad!” she added. “You are the blessing I’ve been looking for my whole life!”
The couple was beginning to travel on Thrive’s dime, to Las Vegas and San Diego for company get-togethers. In April, Shanann was in New Orleans for Thrive Palooza, where she received a plaque of an article about her in the company’s new magazine. The feature highlighted her successes as a stay-at-home mother and Thrive promoter.
“Time for a Reset,” the headline read above the words, “After being a caretaker for everyone else, Shanann Watts started taking care of herself. And she's never been happier.”
Before working for the multi-level marketing brand, Shanann was exhausted from her two jobs, including one overnight at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora. She said Thrive allowed her to quit and stay home with her daughters, whom she’d sent to private school.
“It’s amazing that my husband and I have created more memories in the last two years than we did in the previous eight,” Shanann said in the article. “My mood is so much better and we’re having fun.”
“I wake up happy, and for me to function on a level to where I can get two kids ready without a fight is huge,” she continued. “I just enjoy the pure happiness of being with my family. I have the patience to be that cheerful, stay-at-home mom my kids deserve.”
Before they died, Shanann and the kids visited their grandparents in North Carolina for six weeks this summer. In a June Facebook post, Shanann discussed grocery shopping for Chris, who would be a “bachelor” for five weeks while the family was gone. He joined them for the last week of the vacation.
Shanann and Chris were photographed at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Aug. 2, by a fellow mom who was vacationing with her kids. Michele Greer, of Fayetteville, chatted up Shanann while their families waited in line for a bungee trampoline, WCNC reported. Shanann told Greer that she was expecting a baby. “She was very sweet and very loveable with the girls; it was all about the girls,” Greer told the TV station.
Greer remembers Chris appearing standoffish. “He didn’t seem engaged at all,” Greer said. “There wasn’t any affection. She (Shanann) was very engaged with the girls, and he was just kind of standing there.” Photos Greer snapped of her family showed Shanann in the background, taking pictures of little Bella. Shanann’s father, Frank Rzucek, appears to be next to her, while Chris is looking down behind them.
The Watts clan returned home on Aug. 7. Three days later, Shanann was off to Scottsdale, Arizona, for a weekend work trip. While Shanann was gone, Chris brought the girls to the birthday celebration of a family friend’s child. Jeremy Lindstrom, who hosted the party for his son, told Denver7 nothing seemed abnormal about the visit.
Shanann was scheduled to return Sunday night. Her friend Nickole Atkinson said she gave Shanann a lift to her Frederick home around 2 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 13. The mom waved goodbye before walking inside. Atkinson grew concerned later that morning when Shanann missed a doctor’s appointment. No one answered when Atkinson visited the house around noon, so she called Chris, who seemed unconcerned.
“He just kept saying that he didn’t know where she was and that she was on a playdate,” Atkinson told ABC News. “But he couldn’t give us the name of the friend. I knew he had something to do with it the day I was at his house with him, but I didn’t want to think that.”
Chris would tell police that he woke for work at 5 a.m. and asked Shanann for a separation. It was a “civil conversation,” Chris said, and they were “emotional” but not arguing, according to an arrest affidavit. The accused killer claimed he backed his truck to the garage door to load up his work tools and that Shanann was in bed when he left.
He later allegedly confessed to the crime, telling detectives that he returned upstairs to his bedroom to speak with Shanann, who wasn’t there. He claimed he saw her on a baby monitor resting on a nightstand, and that she was strangling his 3-year-old daughter, Celeste, in the girls’ bedroom. Bella, 4, was “sprawled out on her bed and blue,” Chris claimed, according to the arrest affidavit.
Chris said he rushed into the room in a rage and choked Shanann to death—because she had strangled their children. Afterward, he dumped all three of their bodies on an Anadarko work site. Authorities found Shanann’s body in a grave near two oil tanks. The little girls were discovered inside the tanks.
A motive for the vicious crime isn’t crystal clear. In the arrest affidavit, police said a two-day probe revealed that Chris “was actively involved in an affair with a co-worker which he denied in previous interviews.” The work colleague hasn’t been named.
On Tuesday, the man claiming to be Chris’ secret gay lover came forward to HLN’s Crime & Justice with Ashleigh Banfield. The unidentified man, in a phone call, said he met Chris on the MeetMe app in June of 2017 and that Chris wasn’t “out” or “comfortable being out.” He claimed they ended their off-and-on relationship in March or April.
“He told me he had children but he portrayed that he was single and when there was some point in late January or February that I met up with him and I got in his Ford pickup and he had his daughters with him and the oldest pretty much spilled the beans that he was still married,” the the supposed lover continued.
The interview saw a backlash from viewers skeptical of the uncorroborated story. “They don’t even know if this is true. This shouldn’t even be allowed to be aired,” one Facebook commenter said. Another fumed, “This man could barely put a sentence together! I don’t believe him! It [was] like torture sitting through it! Oh and did you hear the toilet flush? Good grief.”
When reached by The Daily Beast, the man’s brother said the story was true. “I know my brother saw a different side of ‘loving’ Chris Watts,” the sibling said, adding that Chris “gave my brother his first lip botox injection.”
The alleged lover told HLN that Chris “portrayed himself as this victim” who “would be shunned and he wouldn’t be allowed to see his girls” if he came out as non-heterosexual.
“He told me that he was the victim of emotional and verbal abuse, and he was trapped in a loveless marriage,” the man said. “And he didn’t know any way out because of the kids.”
Old friends say that Shanann was the more dominant force in their relationship.
“He was very passive,” said Greg Alore, who hired Shanann at a Ford dealership when the couple first moved to Colorado. “She was very aggressive with him. Bossy. Do this. Do that. Telling him what to do. Dominating the relationship. That I do know.”
Still, the couple didn’t have any outward appearance of any marital strife. “They were just an everyday American couple,” Alore said. Shanann, he said, was “sweet as can be.”
Alore said the Wattses moved to Colorado after Chris accepted a job as a mechanic at the dealership in 2012. Shanann was hired by the company’s internet sales department and, according to online reviews, was a talented salesperson.
“Shannan went out of her way to find the vehicle I wanted, as well as tirelessly went back and forth to get me the payments that I needed to get me into a new car. She never pushy, and while I know she really wanted to sell a car, she never tried to sell me something that I didn’t want,” one customer wrote in April 2013.
In a Facebook video, Shanann discussed “working [her] tail off” to buy her first house in Belmont, North Carolina, when she was 25 years old.
Shanann said she met Chris in 2010, during one of the darkest periods of her life because of her health challenges, which relatives say included her diagnosis with the autoimmune disease lupus. They connected on Facebook.
“I was like, ‘Oh, what the heck, I’m never going to meet him. Accept.’ Well, one thing led to another and eight years later, we have two kids, we live in Colorado and he’s the best thing that that has ever happened to me,” Shanann said in her clip, published in May.
“Because of my health challenges, because I got so sick, I let him in,” she continues, adding, “He knew me at my worst, and he accepted me.”
She added, “When I met Chris, I pushed him away. I gave every excuse for him to run. I gave him an out every single day …. And he stuck around because he was the one for me.”
Then named Shanann King, she hurried to sell her residence and left furniture behind as part of the sale, the buyer told the Associated Press. A deed for the house was signed in August 2012 while Shanann was living in Colorado, property records show.
In the May Facebook video, Shanann said she was choosing happiness and a “drama-free life.”
“Colorado makes me feel like it’s drama-free life because Colorado is just amazing. Absolutely amazing. That’s how I feel. I feel at peace here in Colorado,” she said.
Linda Biggers, a realtor who listed Shanann’s home, told The Daily Beast she believes the couple moved because Chris got a job out West. “I think she wanted to get married and move to Colorado with him,” Biggers recalled. “The house was hers; it wasn’t his…. She just had a really beautiful home, it was beautifully furnished.”
According to the couple’s bankruptcy petition, Chris started working for Anadarko Petroleum Corporation around January 2015. “A lot of mechanics and techs left [the auto industry] and went into the oil business, and he was one of them,” Alore said of Chris. “He quit turning wrenches and went to the oil field.”
Shannan King became Shanann Watts on Nov. 3, 2012. She and Chris married at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina.
According to social media posts, Bella Marie was born in December 2013, and Celeste Cathryn was born in July 2015. (A month before the birth of Celeste, affectionately called CeCe in home videos and social media, the couple filed for bankruptcy.)
In April 2017, Shanann announced was leaving her job at the children’s hospital to become a full-time stay-at-home mom working for the Le-Vel supplement company, which makes Thrive dietary patches. “I’m really excited and looking forward to working from where ever my girls are!” Shanann wrote on Facebook, adding the hashtags #Myfamilydeservesme and #Wontmissanythinganymore.
On her one-year anniversary with the brand, she told Facebook friends she was “broke” when she started Le-Vel. “Now I get to change lives and Le-Vel changes mine!” Shanann gushed in an April 2018 post. “I love what I do and I’m blessed to make a huge impact on my friends and family’s lives!”
Indeed, Shanann’s passion for Thrive seemed to rub off on Chris, who from late 2017 through 2018 lost weight and got in shape.
Shanann charted Chris’ progress in her promotional Facebook posts.
On May 7, Shanann shared a photo of Chris mowing the lawn. “Someone’s thrivin’...Up for work at 4am. Just got home and now mowing the grass. #likeaboss#helovesme,” she wrote.
A month later, she posted a screenshot of a text with her husband, who had just started a weight-loss patch. Chris sent her a photo of himself smiling with the sticker on his arm. “I cannot stay still. I vacuumed the kitchen, entry ways and mopped them. Vacuumed downstairs and now moving upstairs,” Chris wrote, adding a shrug emoji.
“I am really feeling the need to ‘gift’ this to my hubby for Father’s day!” one of Shanann’s friends commented. In response, Shanann joked, “Gift it then leave for the day.”
On June 15, Shanann wrote, “Chris, just said he’s been more talkative since he started #Burn! Talking to random strangers. #Hesaintrovert.”
The next day, she shared a photo of a shirtless Chris mowing the lawn. “I love my sexy man! He keeps asking for things to do since he started #Burn,” Shanann wrote. “He’s getting his tan on for San Diego he said.”
Images of a bulkier, less stylish Chris have also become media fodder.
In 2012, he posted a YouTube video of himself giving a speech on “Relationship Deterioration and Repair” for a communications class at Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina. He apparently recorded his assignment and handed it in remotely, as he begins the presentation by saying, “Welcome to Broomfield, Colorado.”
“You have to ask yourself three questions when you’re in a relationship,” Chris said in the footage that now seems foreboding. “Do I have a desire to keep this relationship going? Do I have a moral obligation to stay in this relationship? Or is it a necessity for me to stay in this relationship?
“According to my research, sometimes a necessity could be children,” Chris continued. “Sometimes when you have children and your relationship starts to deteriorate a child could help repair it.”
“Sometimes people when the relationship starts to dissolve,” he added, “repair is not an option, and they want to get away and start anew.”