It’s been a little over a week since Christopher Watts agreed to plead guilty to the August murders of his pregnant wife Shan’ann, 34, and their two daughters, Bella, four, and Celeste, three, in order to avoid a possible death sentence. The unexpected decision signaled a remarkably quick conclusion to a horrifically tragic capital murder case, avoiding a prolonged and lengthy trial and the likelihood that any guilty verdict would spend years in limbo while under appeal. Watts’s plea agreement won’t be official until November 19th, when he is scheduled to appear before a Weld County judge and is expected to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But while a legal resolution may be imminent, new interviews with Watts’ parents and his former mistress make clear that closure may never come.
In an exclusive interview with The Denver Post published on Thursday, Nichol Kessinger spoke publicly for the first time about her brief affair with Watts, who didn’t wear a wedding ring and presented himself as a nearly-divorced father of two. The two-month-long romance began in lateJune, after the two met while working at Anadarko Petroleum, an oil company, and ended on August 15th, when Kessinger disclosed their affair to police, as well as her suspicions that he was involved in his wife and kids’ disappearance, just days after they were reported missing.
“I just wanted to help,” Kessinger told The Denver Post. “With a pregnant woman and two children missing, I was going to do anything that I could.”
According to Kessinger, she and Watts were seeing each other four to five times per week up until late July, when he went to visit family in North Carolina. While he was away, Watts called Kessinger to tell her his divorce was finalized and he wanted her help finding an apartment for him and his two little girls. Kessinger says she and Watts never got to the point where they discussed their own future as a couple, aside from telling him she wanted to take it slow and he should focus on helping his daughters adjust to the split.
“He made me believe that he was doing all of the things that a rational man and good father would do,” she said, saying he was “soft spoken” and a “good listener.”
On the morning of August 13th, the day Shan’ann, Bella and Celeste were reported missing, Kessinger said Watts texted to her to say he had been “busy,” but appeared perfectly normal, and the two messaged back and forth throughout the day. At 3:45 pm, Watts texted to say his wife and kids were “gone,” explaining that Shan’ann had taken the girls to a playdate but hadn’t returned. He seemed casual and unemotional about it, Kessinger said, so she tried to temper her own concerns. Then local news reporters caught wind of the story and descended on the Watts home.
“I was very confused why the media was at his house,” Kessinger said. “When I read the news, I found out he was still married and his wife was 15 weeks pregnant,” Kessinger said. “I thought, ‘If he was able to lie to me and hide something that big, what else was he lying about?’”
She was also increasingly concerned about the well-being of his family — Shan’ann’s purse, keys and cellphone were found inside the Watts home, and friends had been unable to reach her all day. Kessinger inundated Watts with questions, but his responses were unemotional and at times avoidant.
“It seemed off,” Kessinger said.
The next day, when Shan’ann and the girls still hadn’t been found, she questioned him more directly, asking Watts what he had done. He insisted he would never hurt his family, but she no longer had any reason to trust him.
“It got to a point that he was telling me so many lies that I eventually told him that I did not want to speak to him again until his family was found,” Kessinger said.
The next morning, on August 15th, Kessinger called the Weld County Sheriff’s Office and told them everything; she also gave an interview to FBI investigators. A few hours later, Watts was brought into the station for questioning, and investigators confronted him with their knowledge of the affair and the lies he had told Kessinger.
After conferring with his father, Watts told police he would finally “tell the truth” about what happened to Shan’ann, Bella and Celeste. According to the arrest warrant, Watts confessed to murdering Shan’ann “in a rage” when he found out she had strangled their daughters to death, shortly after he proposed a separation. He disposed of the bodies on one of Anadarko Petroleum’s oil sites — Shan’ann’s remains were recovered from a shallow grave, while Celeste and Bella’s bodies were immersed in two nearby oil drums.
Investigators didn’t buy Watts’ story that Shan’ann killed the kids, and neither did Kessinger.
“He’s a liar,” she told The Denver Post. “He lied about everything.”
In accepting a plea agreement from prosecutors that holds him solely responsible for the murder of Shan’ann, Bella and Celeste, Watts’ is essentially admitting that his initial confusion was false. It remains to be seen whether the judge presiding over Watts’ sentencing hearing on November 19th will expect him to detail the murders, especially without knowing what other evidence has been collected and whether it would corroborate his account.
Two people who have balked at Watts’ plea deal are his parents, Ronnie and Cindy Watts, who gave several interviews this week claiming they believe his initial confusion was truthful.
“It’s hard for me to believe that he would hurt them girls no matter what,” Ronnie Watts said. “The story he told me that night, I believed it: The way he looked at me, the way he was crying, I believed it.”
“Christopher, I don’t see him capable at all, but if something happened that night and that did happen — God forbid if it did happen — what was the trigger? Why? What happened?” Cindy wondered. “I just want the truth because he’s not the sociopath next door. He’s not the kind of person that would do something like that. I have to know why.”
Cindy and Ronnie said they have not spoken to Watts since August 15th, the night he confessed, and told The Denver Post they believe he was “railroaded” into accepting a plea deal by his attorneys. (The public defender’s office in Weld County has a policy of not commenting about the cases of its defendants.)
“There’s a whole lot of unanswered questions about the case,” Ronnie said in a separate interview with ABC 11. “To me everything happened too quickly there, from a case status thing to a plea.”
“He’s going to die in prison and there’s no telling what will be done to him in prison and I just want him to fight,” Cindy said. “It has been so overwhelming and I feel like I have to do something not help my son, I just, I need to do something. If he’s not going to fight, I want to fight for him.”
According to the The Denver Post, Watts could withdraw his plea before his sentencing hearing, but for a judge to give it serious consideration, Watts would have to offer an explanation – like the fact that he was not given a psychological evaluation – beyond simply changing his mind.
In the interviews, Watts’ parents went beyond questioning their son’s plea deal or culpability in the murders – they repeatedly pointed fingers at Shan’ann as being “more capable” of the murders, saying she was “abusive” and isolated Watts from his family, so much so that they didn’t attend the couple’s 2012 wedding.
Their shock and disbelief are understandable given the horrific circumstances, but Cindy’s perception that her son is “normal,” “easy-going” and doesn’t “have a temper” doesn’t mean he, like many men who have abused or killed their romantic partners, didn’t have a side she never saw. While we may never know what went on in the Watts’ household behind closed doors, most abusers have demonstrably different public and private personas.
Following the Watts’ interview, Shanaan’s parents, Frank and Sandra Rzucek, released a statement defending their slain daughter as a “faithful wife and the most gentle and loving mother in the world.”
“Monday evening, the parents of Chris Watts gave an interview in which they attempted to defend their son. In doing so, they felt the need to make vicious, grotesque and utterly false statements about Shanann,” the statement said. “Their false statements, however hurtful and inaccurate, will never alter the truth about Shanann, and will never alter the truth about the crimes committed by their son, Chris Watts.”