American Murder: The Family Next Door is Netflix’s latest documentary about the murders of pregnant mum Shanann Watts and her two daughters, Bella, four, and Celeste, three.
In 2018, the heartbreaking crimes shocked the community of Frederick, Colorado – and the rest of the world – and the horror was then heightened when Chris Watts (Shanann’s husband and the girls’ father) confessed to committing them.
The 1hr 30min Netflix doc takes a look at the chilling murders, using “raw, firsthand footage” to explore the disappearance of Shanann and her daughters, and the traumatic events that followed.
Here’s everything you need to know about American Murder, including where Chris Watts is now.
Timeline: What did Chris Watts do?
On August 13, 2018, Shanann Watts’s friend Nickole Atkinson dropped her off at her Frederick, Colorado home following a business trip they had taken together.
However, when Nickole tried to get in touch with Shanann later that day, she couldn’t reach her. After Shanann missed a hospital appointment, she grew worried and decided to call Chris and the police.
That afternoon, the police conducted an investigation of the Watts’ home, and although they found no signs of foul play, they did find Shanann’s car and all of her personal belongings.
The next day, Shanann and the girls were officially declared missing, and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) released Endangered Missing Person alerts for them.
Initially, Chris denied he knew what had happened, and appeared on camera to beg for the safe return of his pregnant wife and their two young daughters.
However, when the bodies of his family were found, Chris suddenly changed his story.He said it was Shanann who killed the girls and when he found her doing this, he panicked out and killed her.
But then he failed a lie detector test and confessed to brutally killing his entire family.
Later in 2018, Chris Watts was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences without chance of parole. He plead guilty to the murder of his 34-year-old pregnant wife Shanann and their daughters.
Timeline of events:
- June 11- Shanann Watts records videos of her surprising her husband with the news that she’s pregnant for a third time.
- June 14 – Chris Watts starts talking to his co-worker Nichol Kessinger. Kessinger said she started dating Chris seriously at the end of June.
- June 27 – Shanann takes Bella and Celeste to North Carolina for a five-week vacation, while Chris stays at home and works.
- July 10 – Signs of tension begin to show in the Watts’ marriage, according to their text messages.
- July 14 – Chris and Kessinger go on a date to a car museum. That afternoon, Shanann Watts makes four unanswered calls to her husband.
- July 30 – Chris gives Kessinger a love letter before leaving town to join his family on their summer vacation.
- July 31 – Chris flies to North Carolina for the final week of his family’s vacation. According to copy of a text Shanann sent to her husband, which she later forwarded to a friend, their reunion doesn’t appear happy.
- August 4 – Kessinger shops for wedding dresses online according to phone records. Shanann sends her husband a long text message accusing him of failing to stand up for her after his parents exposed their daughter Celeste to nuts, which she was allergic to.
- August 9 – Shanann cancels her gender-reveal party after telling a friend Chris was cold at their ultrasound. She then leaves for a quick business trip to Arizona.
- August 11 – Chris hires a babysitter, so he can go on a date with Kessinger.
- August 13, 1:48am – A neighbour’s surveillance camera captures Shanann returning home from her business trip to Arizona.
- August 13, 1:40 p.m –Atkinson grows concerned and contacts local police.
- August 14 – Chris pleads for his family’s return on the local news.
- August 15 – Chris fails a polygraph test and admits to killing wife, falsely blaming her for smothering daughters.
- August 16 – Shanann, Bella and Celeste’s bodies are found on Chris’ worksite.
- August 21 – Chris is charged with first-degree murder.
- September 1 – A funeral is held for Shanann and her daughters in North Carolina.
- November 6 – Chris pleads guilty to all nine counts. Shanann’s family requests that the death penalty not be sought.
- November 19 – Chris is sentenced to life imprisonment.
- December 3 – Chris is transferred to a Wisconsin correctional facility due to safety concerns.
- February 18 – Chris confesses to killing his daughters and offers a detailed explanation.
- November 18 – Chris is ordered to pay Shanann’s parents $6 million. While they’ll unlikely get any of the money, it prevents Chris from profiting from the murders in any way.
Is there a trailer for American Murder?
There is and viewers must be warned, it contains scenes some may find upsetting.
What was in Chris’ confession?
Although Chris had pleaded guilty to all three murders, he hadn’t yet told the whole story of what happened on the morning of August 13, 2018.
However, in a five-hour follow-up interview with investigators from prison, which took place in February 2019, Chris revealed the truth.
After fighting with Shanann that morning about his wish to separate, Chris strangled her to death.
While he was trying to bring his wife’s body downstairs, he said, Bella and Celeste woke up and came to ask him what was going on.
He then loaded the girls and their mother’s body into his truck, drove to the oil site, and killed them one by one before disposing of the three bodies.
Chris also shared the chilling details with author Cheryln Cadle, which she published as letters in her book Letters from Christopher: The Tragic Confessions of the Watts Family Murders.
Where is Chris Watts now?
Chris is incarcerated at Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin, where he’s been for nearly two years. He was moved there due to security reasons.
He is serving multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole.
After giving Chris Watts three life sentences, the presiding judge said that this was the most “vicious and inhumane” crime he had ever dealt with.
What has happened since American Murder?
Text messages revealed in American Murder has shed some light on Shanann And Chris Watts’ deteriorating relationship.
They detail how their relationship fell apart during the six weeks leading up to Shanann’s death as she became increasingly worried he was cheating and got into a heated fight with Chris’s family.
According to authorities, Chris displayed concerning behaviour after the murders. He’s said to have called the girls’ school to un-enroll them. He also apparently texted a realtor to sell the house, and texted his girlfriend.
In January 2020, Chris Watts’ crimes were explored in a Lifetime film titled, Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer.
Written by Barbara Marshall, the film starred actress Ashley Williams as Shanann Watts and Sean Kleier as Chris Watts.
At the time, Shanann’s family lawyer, Chris Lambert, said the family feared the movie would reignite conspiracy theories and lead to more online bullying.
Speaking to the Denver Channel, Lambert said: “Armchair detectives going out there trying to find scraps of evidence, saying, ‘Chris really wasn’t the killer, it was X’ or, ‘his original confession was the true confession and Shanann did have a hand in this’ or ‘there is some sort of conspiracy going to it,’ that kind of stuff bothers them a lot.
American Murder: The Family Next Door is available to stream on Netflix. You can read Letters from Christopher: The Tragic Confessions of the Watts Family Murders by buying the book on Amazon. Check out our lists of the best series on Netflix and the best movies on Netflix, or see what else is on with our TV Guide.