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‘American Murder’ Documentary Details Left Out About Chris Watts’ Case
Netflix’s American Murder: The Family Next Door dropped on September 30, and viewers have been scouring the internet for more details on the horrific story ever since. The 82-minute long documentary is composed of previously unseen police footage and social media content detailing Chris Watts’ familicide of his pregnant wife Shanann and their young daughters Bella and Celeste in August of 2018, for which he is currently serving five concurrent life sentences. But Netflix didn’t quite get all the details of the tragic story into the film—here are a few interesting points that the documentary left out.
Netflix’s film doesn’t explore Chris’ psyche too much, but a pen pal named Cheryln Cadle compiled and published his letters to her from jail in the 2019 book Letters From Christopher: The Tragic Confessions of the Watts Family Murders. In one, he reveals the murders were premeditated, writing of Shannan’s death: “All the weeks of me thinking about killing her, and now I was faced with it,” and of tucking in his daughters the night before the murders: “I walked away and said, ‘That’s the last time I’m going to be tucking my babies.'” He confesses that he attempted to smother his daughters in their beds before he murdered their mother, but they “woke back up” bruised and disoriented, and he instead drove them alive to the site where he buried their mother, smothered them again, and shoved their lifeless bodies through a small opening into an oil tank.
Watts also appears to confirm that his motive was related to his affair in his letters, writing of strangling Shannan: “I knew if I took my hands off of her, she would still keep me from Nikki.” He also revealed that he had previously drugged his pregnant wife with Oxycodone in an attempt to cause a miscarriage. “I thought it would be easier to be with Nichol if Shanann wasn’t pregnant,” he wrote.
Chris Watts’ polygraph has also drawn much curiosity online. While the documentary shows footage of him taking the polygraph test, it leaves out the particulars—according to The Tab, Watts scored -18 on the test. This is a miserable fail, as a score of -4 is considered to signal a lie. He also referred to his family members in past tense throughout his police interviews, despite his wife and daughters just being missing persons at the time.
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Netflix’s documentary does not touch on the Watts family’s financial situation, but according to CNN, court records show that Chris and Shanann Watts had filed for bankruptcy in 2015, three years before Chris committed the atrocious crimes. At the time of the filing, Chris was the family’s main source of income, bringing in $63,000 of their joint $91,000 income. In 2015, the Watts family had just purchased a $400,000 home, and was in roughly $70,000 of debt. Though this may be considered a potential motive in this case as well, their situation appeared to have changed somewhat by 2018, as Shannan had started a new job with Le-Vel, a multi-level marketing Health supplement company, that came with a greater income and paid trips.
Shannan’s brother Frankie Rzucek posted on Facebook earlier in the month recommending Netflix’s American Murder. “This Documentary gives my sister a voice and she speaks throughout it. It also shows what her life was like before he came along and how happy she was with her beautiful family until he cheated and turned into a different person and became that monster.” Watts is currently serving his life sentences in a maximum-security Wisconsin prison.
Lauren Kranc is an editorial assistant at Esquire, where she covers pop culture and television, with entirely too narrow of an expertise on Netflix dating shows.
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