Here's How Investigators Got Chris Watts to Confess to Murdering His Family

Oxygen's Criminal Confessions takes an in-depth look into the arrest, confession and conviction of Chris Watts

By Alyssa Ray Dec 08, 2019 12:30 AMTags
Chris WattsRJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

It took several perfectly-timed strategies and a bit of luck for investigators to lock in Chris Watts' murder confession.

On Saturday's season three premiere of Oxygen's Criminal Confessions, the lead investigators at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation spoke out for the first time about the shocking case.

As E! readers surely recall, in November 2018, Watts received five life in prison sentences for murdering his pregnant wife, Shanann, and their two young daughters, Bella (4) and Celeste (3).

Shanann and the young girls were first reported missing from their Colorado home on Aug. 13, 2018. While Watts initially pled for his wife and daughters safe return on the local news, he later confessed to murder, a mere 24 hours later.

So, how did this confession come about? In the Dick Wolf-produced 90-minute episode, CBI agent Tammy Lee and others shared the specifics strategies they utilized to apprehend a confession from Watts.

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5. Past Tense Red Flags

After Watts' eerily calm news interview, the investigators handling Shanann, Bella and Celeste's disappearance decided it was time to bring Chris in for an interview. In order to keep Chris cooperative and communicative, FBI agent Graham Coder spent hours with the then Fredrick, CO resident to get an official statement.

However, as there was a seeming lack of emotion coming from Chris, it became essential for Coder to "turn up the heat."

"Special Agent Coder has a very soft, soothing almost, type of voice when he was talking to Chris," Lee recalled. "But, at the same time, he was asking very, very tough questions."

In an attempt to illicit more information about the missing mom and girls, Coder had Chris look at photos of the trio. Almost immediately, investigators spotted a red flag.

Specifically, Watts kept referring to his wife and daughters in the past tense. Not only did Watts say Celeste "loved" a certain pair of shoes, but he said his now deceased four-year-old "was a girly girl."

"If he is hoping and believing that they're still alive, so why would you start talking about them in past tense?" Lee reflected to the Criminal Confessions camera.

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4. Lie Detector Pressure

Following this slip up, in order to get a fully "fresh" Chris, investigators decided to conduct a lie detector test the next day. Not to mention, this window of time allowed for investigators to comb through Watts' technology for any additional red flags.

And, of course, they found something. Namely, Chris was having an affair with a co-worker, something he previously denied to Coder.

This new information changed the line of questioning Lee had in store for Watts.

"With this new information about the affair, she has to be careful," Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke stated. "Because, there's a fine line to walk there, between employing investigative techniques to get the information that you need, while not going so far as to completely cause the suspect to shut down."

Through knowing that Chris was lying about being faithful, Agent Lee was able to place subtle pressure on the suspect.

"I hope that, you know, if you did have something to do with their disappearance…it would be really stupid for you to come in and take a polygraph today," Lee said to Watts before the polygraph.

After a line of questions, it was ruled that Watts had failed the polygraph test.

RJ Sangosti - Pool/Getty Images

3. Vilifying Shanann

As a way to explain away his failing result, Watts admitted to an affair. The investigators let Chris know that they already knew about the infidelity, which indirectly suggested that they knew more than they were letting on.

In order to make Chris feel like he could open up to them, Coder and Lee began painting Shanann as the villain.

"Vilifying Shanann, it's a technique that we can use to eventually get the actual truth," Lee explained. "We just needed to find Shanann and the girls."

The more Lee and Coder pushed for answers, the more deflated Watts became. So, when Watts asked to speak with his father Ronnie Watts, they chose to take a risk and let the conversation take place.

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2. A Partial Confession

Once Ronnie entered the interrogation room, Chris gave a partial murder confession. As was suggested by the investigators earlier in their discussion, the younger Watts claimed he murder his wife after the latter choked their two daughters to death.

"It was pretty much gut-wrenching to hear Chris talk about the fact that he murdered his wife to his own father," Lee relayed in a confessional. "It was the theme of Shanann doing something to the girls, that I had just given him prior to leaving the room. But to actually hear that come out of his mouth, was shocking."

Upon hearing Chris' confession, investigators reentered the room and pressed for details about the missing Watts' whereabouts. Eventually, Chris admitted to burying his wife in a shallow grave and to placing his daughters' bodies in the nearby oil and water tanks.

The specifics of Chris' confession were brought into question after evidence suggested that Celeste and Bella were still alive after Shanann's death.

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1. One Last Conversation With Chris

Yet, as Chris went on to plead guilty to all the murders, investigators were left without answers as to why Watts killed his entire family. Thus, six months after the murders, the investigators chose to speak with Chris in prison.

"I needed to hear him say that Shanann did not murder her children," Lee relayed. "I needed to have that come out of his mouth."

And, as heard through audio recordings, Watts admitted to killing his wife after telling her he didn't love her anymore. To make matters worse, Watts said his daughters were alive and in the car with him as he drove Shanann's body to the burial site.

"Nobody had ever contemplated, that I recall in any discussion, that the girls were alive when he drove them out to the oil site," Chief Deputy Weld County DA Steve Wrenn said.

As Watts told Lee and the other investigators, after burying Shanann, he smothered Celeste and deposited her body in a tank, all while Bella was watching. He then did the same thing to the oldest Watts child.

"Chris told us that, every night when he closes his eyes, he hears Bella yell, 'Daddy no!'" Lee concluded. "I feel like it's kind of what he deserves. I hope he hears that every night."

What moment from Saturday's all-new Criminal Confessions stood out most to you? Be sure to let us know.

Criminal Confessions airs Saturdays at 6 p.m. ET/PT on Oxygen.

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