The latest Netflix sensation is the true crime documentary American Murder: The Family Next Door, which tells the story of Chris Watts' murder of his wife and two daughters. The case is unique in its savagery, even in the increasingly crowded true crime genre. Even after watching it, many fans are digging deeper into the nitty-gritty of the case.
Chris Watts ultimately confessed to killing his wife, Shanann Cathryn Watts, and their two daughters, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste, on the morning of Aug. 13, 2018. The documentary was made of compiled archival footage, including Shanann's prolific social media posts, police interrogation tapes and body-cam recordings. This made American Murder: The Family Next Door unique for its focus on the victims, rather than the killer, since Shanann was so often recording her children and herself. Still, there is a lot to know about Chris Watts to understand his crimes.
The Family Next Door remains in Netflix's "Top 10 Movies in the U.S." list at the time of this writing, three weeks after its release. The success of the documentary is due in part to a resurgence in the popularity of true crime, and to the unthinkable nature of these crimes. Many viewers discussing the movie on social media are preoccupied with Chris Watts' ability to lie about an act so horrendous it's hard to comprehend.
Even so, it is hard for viewers to look away. Here is what you need to know about Chris and his murder case.
Chris Watts was born and raised in North Carolina, according to public records obtained by Heavy. He was born in 1985, so was about 25 years old when he first met Shanann. Shanann was born in Passaic, New Jersey, but had family in North Carolina, and spent much of her life there. The two were married in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina in November of 2012, and they moved to Frederick, Colorado the following year. Shanann often gushed about their meet-cute in her social media posts.
"7 years ago I️ fell in love with you, 5 years ago I️ married my best friend, my soul mate, I️ married you!! Chris these have been the best years of my life! Our love just grows strong everyday! We have two beautiful little girls that call us mommy and daddy!" she wrote on Facebook in 2017. "We sold a house, moved to Colorado 5 years ago and built a home for our family! You make me a better person, you believe in me, we have dreams and goals together, you understand me, you put up with me! love you more than words can say and God placed you in my life at the right time! I️ couldn't imagine life without you!"prevnext
Neighbors in both Colorado and South Carolina told reporters that Chris was an exemplary father, making it all the more shocking when he confessed to murdering his family. Neighbor Mike Hendrickson told 9News: "She [Shanann] would take the kids to the pool and [Chris] would always take them in a little wagon. We were always impressed by his doting over them and how much he appeared to love them."
"It just doesn't smell right to me," he went on. "That's just my opinion... something doesn't add up and that's concerning to me. My goodness, I want to see this family put back together... [for] it to be resolved and it's just a bad dream for this poor family."
"If anything, she just gave off vibes of being happy, successful – she's beautiful – nothing looked wrong," added another neighbor, Ann Watt.prevnext
Still, not everything was perfect behind the scenes for the Watts family. According to a report by CBS News, Chris and Shanann jointly filed for bankruptcy in June of 2015. They were nearly half a million dollars in debt, and they settled the case quickly, by October of 2015. Not long after that, Shanann became completely dedicated to her work with a multi-level marketing company, leaving behind more conventional work at a children's hospital.
Through all that time, it appears, Chris worked for Anadarko Petroleum. He left the company eventually, though it was not clear if he quit or if he was fired, and whether or not his departure had to do with the murder case. Anadarko issued a public statement when the case went public.
"We are heart-broken by this, and our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones and friends of the Watts family. We will continue to support law enforcement in its investigation," it read.prevnext
Shanann used social media for an inseparable blend of personal and professional updates, promoting her work with Le-Vel and its Thrive brand wellness products with personal anecdote. In these, she often described Chris as a seemingly perfect husband and father. She frequently posted pictures of herself and Chris sitting close together, smiling and using Thrive products together.
In May of 2018, Shanann was featured in Strive, a corporate magazine for Thrive brand promoters like her. There, she said that her previous job at a children's hospital made her a "caretaker for everyone else," implying that this also extended to her home-life with two daughters. However, she praised Chris here as well, remarking on how supportive he was of her shift to Thrive.
"By day 5 my husband noticed I was in a better mood," Shanann said of her new job. "I rarely got any sleep, but my passion for wanting more for my kids was stronger than anything else... 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."prevnext
Still, it was suspicious how much time Shanann and Chris were spending apart before her disappearance. According to her Facebook page, she and her daughters spent six weeks away from Frederick, visiting with family without Chris. They returned home on Aug. 7, then Shanann left again for a work trip on Aug. 10. She returned home late on the night of Aug. 12, and on Aug. 13 she disappeared.
At the same time, Watts acknowledged that he was having an affair, and that his wife was furious about it. This was initially part of his alibi, although it only increased suspicion towards him.prevnext
One thing that shocked American Murder: The Family Next Door viewers was Chris' many emotional appeals in TV and news interviews before he confessed to his family's murders. In one appearance on The TODAY Show, he said: "I don't feel like this is even real right now. It's like a nightmare I can't wake up from. Knowing they could be in trouble, it's earth-shattering."
"When I came home and then walked in the house, nothing. Vanished," he claimed in another interview with KMGH-TV. "Nothing was here. My kids are my life. I mean, those smiles light up my life."
Chris told Fox News: "It's not something I could ever, ever fathom would happen in my lifetime, and I have no inclination of where she is. She said she was going to a friend's house with the kids and that's the last thing I heard, and that was it. It was very vague."
"I'm just hoping right now that she's somewhere safe," he said of Shanann in an interview with 9News. "Like, this house is not the same. Last night was traumatic. Last night was – I can't really stay in this house again with nobody here."prevnext
Plea Deal and Sentencing
Despite the surprising show he put on for the media, it did not take long for Chris to be arrested. After his wife's disappearance on Aug. 13, Chris was arrested on Aug. 15. Police said that Chris failed a polygraph test and then confessed to murdering Shanann. Chris claimed that it was Shanann who killed their daughters, but he was charged with their deaths. He was also charged with unlawful termination of a pregnancy since Shanann was 15 weeks pregnant with their son, Nico.prevnext
The Watts case is brutal and shocking on so many levels, but there is no denying that it is engaging, as the Netflix data shows. The movie spent a full week at the top of Netflix's Daily Top 10 list, according to a report by Forbes. It beat not just other documentaries, but blockbuster movies for popularity in the month of October, proving that the true crime fixation is here to stay. American Murder: The Family Next Door is streaming now on Netflix.prev