Admittedly, Chris Watts already didn’t have a lot going for him.
He had pled guilty earlier this month to killing his pregnant 34-year-old wife Shan’ann Watts, and their daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, in August and he is all but expected to be sentenced to life in prison on Monday.
And since the story came out that the Colorado father who pleaded with cameras for the safe return of his family, calling it “a nightmare that I just can’t wake up from,” and lamenting “I have no inclination of where they’re at,” was actually the person responsible for their lifeless bodies ending up on a remote mine field belonging to his former employer, there’s been no shortage of people willing to speak out about his character and the problems he and Shan’ann had faced in their six-year marriage.
But none were more damaging than his former mistress, who finally broke her silence in an interview with The Denver Post published Thursday. “He’s a liar,” asserted Nichol Kessinger. “He lied about everything.”
Starting with the fact, it turns out, that he was not in the process of getting a divorce. When news crews descended on Chris’ Frederick, Colo. home the day after his wife and kids went missing Aug. 13, some viewers saw a man distraught over the sudden disappearance of his 15-weeks-pregnant wife (she was expecting a boy to be named Nico) and daughters. Others saw a person surprisingly restrained considering his current, heartbreaking situation. But what Kessinger saw was a guy who was, despite what he had claimed to her, very much still married.
Kessinger was working in the environmental department with an Anadarko Petroleum contractor when she first connected with the 33-year-old Anadarko employee this past June. When he walked into her office to introduce himself, she made notice of the fact that he didn’t wear a wedding ring and was, in her mind, not too bad to look at. “When he spoke to me, he was very softspoken,” she told the paper. “He appeared to be a good listener.”
He opened up about his girls and his marriage, revealing he was in the late stages of divorce proceedings. “I believed him,” she said. So, though she was insistent that they move slow, what with him needing to focus on the well being of his daughters, they began a physical relationship in July, seeing each other some four or five days a week.
During his visit with family in North Carolina later that month, he phoned her up to share that his divorce was finalized, asking for assistance in locating an apartment. Said Kessinger, “He made me believe that he was doing all of the things that a rational man and good father would do.”
Though she’s been labeled as the other woman, a potential motive for his senseless actions, she insisted that couldn’t be the case. “We just met,” she noted. “I barely knew him.”
That became painfully clear to her on Aug. 13 when Chris texted to share that his family was “gone,” Shan’ann purportedly taking the girls to a playdate and never returning. But since he remained calm and relatively emotionless about the whole situation, she did her best to put it out of her mind.
Then she noticed that camera crews had begun showing up at the 4,177-square-foot spread he shared with Shan’ann, just north of Denver. She was confused until she learned there was more to the story: Shan’ann’s wallet and purse were still in the house and she hadn’t responded to outreach from numerous friends.
“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?'”
Over a series of texts she peppered him with questions: Were there any signs of force entry? Were other key items there such as his daughters’ car seat and EpiPens? Sensing that his response was “off” as she put it, she continued to send inquiries the next day, demanding he share everything he knew. “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,” she said.
But she did have someone else she wanted to chat with. The very next day she called up the Weld County Sheriff’s Office and let them know she had been seeing Chris, unaware that he had lied about his marital status. She met with FBI investigators that same day. “I just wanted to help,” she explained. “With a pregnant woman and two children missing, I was going to do anything that I could.”
She watched on the news later that night as Chris was arrested for all three murders. “I don’t think there is a logical explanation for what he did,” she said. “It’s a senseless act, and it’s horrific.”
As was the charade that followed.
The very next day, Shan’ann was discovered in a shallow grave at the oil site (Chris was fired from his job the day of his arrest) while her daughters were located submerged in drums containing crude oil. Soon after, a jailed Chris finally agreed to tell investigators what he called “the truth” about what happened. Though he had previously claimed they had disappeared on their own after they had had a “civil” but “emotional” conversation about him wanting to separate mere hours after she returned from an Arizona work trip, he now had a different story to tell.
He claimed he’d strangled Shan’ann in a “rage” after watching her strangle Celeste following their break-up conversation and he saw Bella’s body, lifeless and blue, on her bed. With all three deceased, he continued, he put their bodies in his truck and drove the 40 miles to the oil field to bury them.
The explanation was shocking and literally unbelievable to authorities. “There is absolutely no evidence that she killed her children,” a source close to the investigation told People. “None at all. And there is physical evidence to tie him to their murders. Strangulation is a very personal way to kill someone, with a lot of physical contact. Just based on the preliminary evidence, everything is consistent with him killing them all.”
It’s an action he finally admitted to Nov. 6 in an effort to avoid a potential death penalty, pleading guilty to nine charges, according to prosecutors: five counts of first-degree murder, one count of unlawful termination of pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a dead body.
Still, his family remains insistent that he couldn’t have possibly done it.
“There’s not one person you can talk to that will say anything about this kid,” mom Cindy, who like his father Ronnie believes his original version that he only killed his wife after she murdered their kids, told ABC 11.
“It’s hard for me to believe that he would hurt them girls no matter what,” Ronnie agreed. “The story he told me that night, I believed it: The way he looked at me, the way he was crying, I believed it.”
Now, she said, she worries what will happen to her son who spends 23 hours a day in his cell under “Close Watch Protocol,” a technical name for suicide watch. While he has access to a communal newspaper during his once-a-day outing to the common room, in his cell he has just two personal effects: a bible and a photo of his slain wife and children.
“He was normal,” Cindy insisted, “he didn’t have a temper, he was just easy-going like his dad. He’s not a monster.”
That’s a term she seems to reserve for her former daughter-in-law. Claiming that Chris changed after meeting his future bride in high school, Cindy claimed she could be abusive, manipulative and worked to isolate him from his family. “It was a very hard relationship,” she said of her interactions with Shan’ann.
As such, she alleged, she felt Shan’ann was “more capable than Christopher” of killing their kids: “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? 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.” (Her parents Frank and Sandra Rzucek fired back, calling their claims “vicious, grotesque and utterly hurtful” but ultimately of little importance: “Their false statements, however hurtful and inaccurate, will never alter the truth about Shanann.”)
Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke may just provide the answers Cindy seeks. He told reporters earlier this month they believe they have a partial motive for his action that they will share after Monday’s sentencing.
Ultimately, though, while the why and even the how of the murders may provide some measure of closure and solace to the families, they won’t change the bottom line. “The tragedy that sits before us today is the loss of four beautiful lives,” Rourke continued in the interview granted after Chris’ guilty plea, “and no matter what happens today or at a sentencing hearing down the road, we cant get them back.”