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Strangled In Front Of The Kids: Shanann Watts' Murder

Shanann Watts enjoyed the ideal American life — a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and a baby boy on the way who was already christened Niko Lee. Her life seemed so perfect. That's why when a close friend couldn’t reach Shanann by text or by phone on the morning of  August 13, 2018, she immediately became alarmed. 

Her subsequent actions would prompt a missing person’s case that would continue to make headlines for years after it was solved, due to the heinous nature of the crimes committed and because of the surprising identity of the person responsible. 

Happy Beginnings

Shanann Rzucek met tall, handsome Christopher Watts online in 2010 and credited him as “the best thing that had ever happened” in her life. Just prior to her relationship with Chris, Shanann had received a diagnosis of lupus. It was a dark period for the young woman, but she emerged happier and better than ever, thanks, in part, to her relationship with Chris. 

The happy couple was married a mere two years later in Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, where Shanann was born and raised. By 2013, they moved into a beautiful, 5-bedroom home in scenic Frederick, Colorado, and began settling in. 

Chris and Shanann welcomed the birth of their first daughter, Bella, in December of that same year. Two years later, in July, Celeste was born. Both girls were healthy, happy babies who brought the couple boundless joy. In videos uploaded to social media by Shanann, the small family frolicked and played happily together. In photographs, the children smiled serenely back at the camera, hugged warmly by their mother. By all appearances, life in the Watts’ home was ideal, and there was little indication of troubles.

In 2015, when Bella was two and Celeste just an infant, the Watts family was forced to declare bankruptcy. The family struggled financially, prompting Shanann to take a job promoting Thrive, a popular weight-loss supplement. Shanann was a successful member of the pyramid marketing campaign, and friends estimated she was able to bring in an extra $65,000 to $70,000 annually through her work with Thrive. It was rumored that Shanann also earned valuable awards such as pricey vacations from the company. 

But despite Shanann’s success as a wife and as a marketing consultant with Thrive, Chris Watts still wasn't satisfied. In 2018, he met Nichol Kessinger. The two grew friendly and eventually began an affair that July. Chris told Nichol that he was waiting for his divorce to become final, and the two made plans for a future together. It wasn’t until months later that Nichol would question the honesty and integrity of Christopher Watts. 

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The Disappearance Of Shanann, Niko, Bella, And Celeste

On August 13, 2018, Shanann returned home from a business trip with friend and coworker, Nickole Atkinson. Atkinson dropped Shanann at her home around 2 am, expecting to see her again in just a few hours for an OB-GYN appointment, followed by a business meeting. But when Shanann missed both engagements, Atkinson grew worried. She drove back to the Watts’ home to investigate, and when she couldn’t reach her friend, she immediately called Chris Watts, who expressed concern and vowed to return home from work immediately. In the interim, Atkinson called the Frederick Police Department and reported Shanann missing. 

For two days, Christopher Watts played concerned father and husband, pleading on national television for the return of his pregnant wife and two young daughters. On the third day, he failed a polygraph test and subsequently confessed to the murder of not only his wife and unborn son, but of his two small daughters, as well. 

As a horrified nation followed, Christopher Watts divulged more information about what really happened to his family. According to Watts, he confronted Shanann upon her return on August 13th, telling her he was having an affair and wanted a divorce. Watts said Shanann became angry and threatened to take the children away. He then began to strangle his wife of six years. When Bella walked in on the horrific scene and questioned it, Watts told her Shanann had fallen ill and needed a doctor. 

At this point, Watts loaded his dead wife and their two confused children into the family car and drove them to the petroleum yard where he currently worked. Watts then suffocated his daughters, one by one, dumping their bodies into oil tanks, and buried his wife nearby in a shallow grave


By the time Watts confessed to the horrifying murder of his entire family, his mistress had stopped talking to him. In fact, Nichol Kessinger, suspicious of the strange circumstances surrounding the disappearances, was cooperating fully in the investigation. Watts’ employer, Anadarko Petroleum, had severed ties with him, as well.

On August 21st, after the recoveries of Shanann, Bella, Celeste, and their unborn son, Niko, Watts was charged with first-degree murder in their deaths. He also faced additional charges that included unlawful termination of a pregnancy and multiple charges for illegal disposal of deceased bodies. 

The Watts family was laid to rest on September 1, 2018, in Pinehurst, North Carolina, with hundreds of family, friends, and members of the community attending. Online, the 90-minute service streamed live to thousands of viewers. Shanann, her unborn son, and her two beautiful daughters had captured the attention of an entire nation, and America grieved alongside Shanann’s mother, father, brother, and friends. 

On November 6, 2018, Watts pled guilty to the annihilation of his entire family. To the surprise of many involved in the tragedy, his wife’s relatives did not seek the death penalty. Later that month, he was sentenced to multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole plus 48 years for the illegal termination of Niko Lee and an additional 36 years for tampering with deceased bodies. He is currently serving out his time in the Dodge Correctional Institution in Wisconsin, after being moved out of state for his own safety.

At long last, the sad story of what really happened to the Watts family drew to a tragic close. Today, Shanann's family and friends do their best to remember her as she once was -- a bright and happy young mother who would do anything for her children. Even so, the bizarre circumstances surrounding the Watts murders continue to intrigue people, and the sad tale draws media coverage to this day. 

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