On August 13th, 2018, Shanann Watts and her two young children were reported missing, prompting a frantic search in the town of Frederick, Colorado. 34-year-old Shanann had returned from a business trip to Arizona in the early hours of that morning, shortly before 2 a.m. She had been driven home by a colleague, Nickole Utoft Atkinson.
Later that same day, Shanann, who was 15-weeks pregnant, missed an OB-GYN appointment. She had been completely unreachable by phone and text for most of the day. Atkinson returned to the Watts home around noon, after her friend and coworker was a no call, no show for a business meeting. It appeared that no one was home.
Growing worried, Atkinson contacted Shanann’s husband, Chris, and called the police. An officer arrived to check on the situation and Chris gave them permission to search the house. There was no sign of Shanann or the couple’s two young daughters, four-year-old Bella and three-year-old Celeste.
Shanann’s purse and car keys were found in the house and her car was parked in the garage. Perhaps more alarming, her wedding ring had been found on the master bed. Things were evidently amiss, and the FBI joined the investigation the following day. Chris maintained his innocence, claiming he didn’t know the whereabouts of his wife and daughters, and hadn’t seen his wife since 5:15 a.m. on the 13th of August, when he left for work.
On August 16th, the bodies of Shanann and both girls were discovered after Chris confessed to murdering all three of them and led authorities to their remains. They were located on the property of Chris’s employer, Anadarko Petroleum. Shanann had been buried in a shallow grave, and both daughters were found submerged in oil tanks. At the time of her death, Shanann had been pregnant with the couple’s third child, Nico Lee Watts.
With a seemingly kind and gentle family man at the center of the case, the triple homicide took mainstream media by storm. The case brought more awareness to a particularly sensitive and alarming type of crime called family annihilation. These sorts of crimes usually involve a parent murdering their entire family. Curiously, the Watts case differed from most family annihilation crimes because Chris didn’t take his own life afterwards, which is often the chosen way out for the perpetrator.
In the aftermath of the tragic revelation that Shanann Watts and her two daughters had been murdered by a trusted family member, more information came out about Chris; namely that he had been having an extramarital affair. Chris claimed that he strangled Shanann in their own bed; afterwards, he put his daughters and his wife’s body in his truck and drove them to his job site. There, he buried his wife and smothered the girls.
Unpacking these horrific murders hasn’t been easy. ABC aired a segment in which both of Shanann’s parents were interviewed. Lifetime adapted the murders into a feature film called Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer. Dr. Phil made Chris Watts the subject of an episode, inviting four crime experts to analyze his motives. And in September 2020, Netflix further popularized the fascination with the Watts case with a documentary called American Murder: The Family Next Door.
And that’s without looking to the written record to find books written about Chris Watts. With such a recent case, it can be difficult to carve through all the noise to get the best source of information surrounding this baffling act of family annihilation. Not to worry: The Lineup has dug up the best books for you. The following three titles are among the most complete renditions of the truth behind the crime.
The Perfect Father: The True Story of Chris Watts, His All-American Family, and a Shocking Murder
If you’re looking to unfold the horrific events surrounding Chris Watts’ complete transformation from dashing yet somewhat withdrawn husband to a murderer, all with a psychological edge reminiscent of the best of true crime writing, John Glatt’s book is the one to read. The book follows the events from the early morning hours of August 13th, when Shanann returned home from her business trip, all the way to when the FBI got involved and the case took a turn for the worse. Glatt takes all the media and investigative reportage and weaves together a cohesive narrative that runs straight through to the bitter core of why the Watts murders fascinate and horrify so many.
My Daddy is a Hero: How Chris Watts Went from Family Man to Family Killer
Maybe you want to understand the pathology of the murders. With this book, you can dig deep into the logic (or lack thereof) that ran through Chris’s mind as he committed the most taboo of crimes. Explore the psychology of what Chris was seeking to gain from this act, beyond the fit of rage and desire to start a new life with a different woman. Derhally profiles Chris Watts as she implements her understanding of attachment theory, Imago relationship theory, and psychopathology to create the perfect companion piece to Glatt’s masterful synthesis of the events.
In Cold Blood: Discovering Chris Watts: The Facts - Part One
Maybe you crave the sort of sleuthing that you’d get from googling hundreds of reports, essays, criminal analyses, and other content. There is a certain satisfaction that comes with reading the plainly stated facts and delving into the details on your own terms. The Discovering Chris Watts trilogy is an incredibly detailed, hard-hitting series that leaves no corner of the murder case unexamined. You’ll be able to flip through each volume like a textbook to explore more of what fascinates, scares, or confuses you. The trilogy works wonders for the independent reader that prefers to do their own investigative work.
Featured still from "American Murder: The Family Next Door" via Netflix