“We were talking about general things, about how her two girls were doing and how life was out in Colorado. She didn’t give me an indication that there was anything wrong. She seemed pretty happy.” – Joe Beach, former neighbor in Aberdeen, North Carolina
If Shanann gave her neighbor the impression that everything was fine, and that she and the kids were pretty happy, and they all ended up dead, was the neighbor right, or was the impression he got, wrong?
We know in the Scott Peterson case, Laci also gave an impression of sunny fortitude to many who encountered her. Many but not all. A few close friends did notice the odd gripe or complaint.
In the Watts case, clearly there are friends who were closer to her who knew some of Shanann’s private concerns – but kept them private. If we are to find insights, they’re not going to be in obvious places, they’re going to be subtle. Let’s probe three areas, and look at some of the latest information that’s been exposed by the mainstream media.
Scott and Laci opened up a burger joint, the business failed and they limped back to Modesto to start from scratch again. Recovering from bankruptcy is arduous. It’s especially hard when you’re not recovering, and your family’s demands are growing. Scott Peterson’s family was growing at the time he murdered his pregnant wife.
After the murder, Scott sold his wife’s car and bought himself a new vehicle, and wanted to sell their home all within two months of her disappearance while she was still missing. He couldn’t put the sale of the house through, and when it was sold, he was denied the money. We know they were pawning jewelry Laci had inherited, including on eBay. Scott appeared to pawn a very expensive watch and diamond ring around the time Laci disappeared. What we see here is an effort to convert a human being into cash, flesh into gold.
In the Watts case, we see a similar pattern. In July 2015, just three years before the murder, the couple sought Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. Their liabilities were close to half a million dollars [$448,820].
The key insight we get from this is that it would take years to recover from a debt of this magnitude. After three years it was obvious that they weren’t recovering. And with a third child on the way, Chris Watts had probably done the math. They could never recover. Part of the reason for that was Chris Watts. According to People:
Chris, 33 reported earning a monthly salary of around $5,400 from Anadarko Petroleum…When the couple filed for bankruptcy, Shanann worked at Children’s Hospital Colorado, earning a monthly salary of $2,977. But for reasons not made clear in the filing, the couple’s reported combined income was tumbling — from $147,256 in fiscal year 2013, down to $90,789 in fiscal 2014, and then to $40,491 at the time of their 2015 filing.
The reason is actually obvious, and it’s the same reason that plagued Laci Peterson. As soon as Shanann fell pregnant, she could no longer earn as consistently as she had been, and three consecutive pregnancies can hemorrhage an already cratering bank account to a critical level in no time. Chris Watts was unable to raise his game, and if anything, lowered it, just as Scott Peterson was failing as a salesman, and yet continuing to be a spendthrift.
Medical and credit card debt had combined with mortgage payments on their $400,000 home in Frederick, Colo., to undermine their financial stability, the record shows. Christopher Watts had gotten a job six months earlier as an operator for Anadarko, and paystubs indicate his annual salary was about $61,500. Shanann Watts was working in a call center at a children’s hospital at the time, earning about $18 an hour — more for evenings, weekends or extra shifts she sometimes worked. The couple had a combined income of $90,000 in 2014. But they also had tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt, along with some student loans and medical bills — for a total of $70,000 in unsecured claims on top of a sizable mortgage.
They said in the filing that their nearly $3,000 mortgage and $600 in monthly car payments formed the bulk of their $4,900 in monthly expenses.
Do the math: Chris Watts was earning $5,400 a month when their expenses were $4,900. Soon, Shanann would take another break from work, and then there’d be a fifth mouth to feed and maintain. There just wasn’t going to be enough credit for that, let alone money.
So what we see here is an effort to convert a human being into cash, flesh into gold.
b) Faking the Fairy Tale
We’ve already seen how busy Shanann was on social media. Not all of it was a show just for the sake of showing off. Shanann was promoting herself and selling her products through Instagram, for example, and so part of that was putting up perfect pictures.
In the image below, it’s not just a happy snap of the couple in a car pasted to Facebook, it’s Chris sporting a patch under his blue shirt sleeve. Even in their leisure family time, they’re selling. And though both are showing their teeth, look closer at the eyes in the picture – neither of them are smiling.
By selling this happy family vibe, what Shanaan was doing was selling herself. But I also think it was part of Shanann’s personality to be showy, to put a positive face on things [just as Laci did], and this is part of what got the family into the difficulties they got into – at least financially. Sometimes you’ve got to admit the fairy tale flag you’re waving isn’t true, and that’s humbling. It’s also difficult if your job requires you to sell sell sell.
Since there’s less information about the murderer, that’s really where we need to look to move the narrative along. How was he faking it? What was his fairy tale – for himself? For Scott Peterson it was golf. Scott saw himself as a pro golfer who missed the train and missed the glory that would have – that should have followed.
According to Patch.com, Chris Watts had similar delusions of grandeur. But like all delusions, they start off with a little bit of reality supporting them:
“[Watts] was one of the best students I ever had. Oh, my God. This is a shock,’ retired teacher Joe Duty told the Fayetteville Observer. Watts graduated from Pine Forest High School in 2003 and…won a $1,000 scholarship to technical institutes in his home state.
So Watts was a promising starter, and so there was a lot of hope and expectation that he was carrying with him, for himself. In the Peterson case there’s the lie that Peterson won a golf scholarship.
But here’s the crucial insight:
“The guy had a photographic memory,” Duty remembered. “I said, ‘Chris, if I ever had a student who was going to be tremendously successful, it’s you.'”According to Duty’s recollection, Watts in high school aspired to be a NASCAR crew chief technician. But instead, Watts worked, until Wednesday, at Anadarko Oil and Gas, earning around $60,000, according to bankruptcy records filed in 2015.
Reading between the lines, even his teacher through Watts was a kind of Golden Boy destined for greatness. But fifteen years after leaving high school, there was no gold, no greatness, and very little of that spirit of hope left. The aspiration to be a NASCAR chief technician shows us in colorful descriptive imagery how Chris Watts idealised himself. Big, glamorous, where the action and the crowds were.
Reality turned out to be very different from that very tale – and even humiliating. There were no crowds, no excitement, no glamour, just the daily grind toiling with grease and oil, and scrubbing to get the muck off his skin each day. Scott Peterson sold fertilizer solvents for a living. It was a long fall from the dizzy heights of the golfing great he always dreamed of becoming.
It’s difficult to say what the implications are of the house in Belmont, west of Charlotte, except to say that it belonged to Shanann. She’d bought it in 2009. The couple were married three years after that – in 2012. According to the Denver Post, the new owner, Byron Falls said the Watts’s were in a hurry to sell and left all the furniture behind.
What does that mean? It might mean they were trying to outrun their debts. If so, this mendacity would have set a precedent for breaking the law, for lying, and getting away with it. For having a debt and not paying it if you felt you couldn’t.
c) Time of Death
Shanaan was last seen on Monday, August 13, by a friend who dropped her off at her home at about 1:45 a.m. According to heavy.com:
Her husband had told reporters he left for work at 5:15 a.m., and then did not hear from her again. Friends also grew worried after she didn’t respond calls and messages and didn’t show up for a doctor’s appointment and a planned outing. Shanann Watts was reported missing that afternoon by her friend, not by her husband.
But the affidavit sketches a different picture.
The affidavit suggests Chris Watts murdered Shanann moments after she stepped inside the door. Between 02:00 and 05:27, when he [like Scott Peterson] backed his truck into the driveway “to load up some tools”, Watts likely killed Shanaan, cleaned up the crime scene and himself, loaded the bodies into the truck, and then left home at the usual time “for work”.
We know the bed linen was stripped, which suggests this had been washed or disposed of during the cover-up. Chris Watts probably took a shower too, before going to work.
Watts likely had to kill Shanann shortly after her arrival, because the children were already dead. But it’s also possible Shanaan was killed first, silently as she slept [at around 03:00] and then the children. This still gave Watts two hours to get done what he needed to do, and drive to where he needed to get, all under cover of darkness.
Sunrise on August 13th was just after 06:00 in Frederick, Colorado.
By bundling them into the truck and transporting them before dawn to a remote work site, he expected not to be seen, and all things being equal, he wouldn’t have been.
By going to work as per usual [just like Scott Peterson did, when he went fishing], Watts could claim plausible deniability in their disappearance. He’d simply gone to work – how should he know where they were? Maybe she’d gone to a friend? Maybe she’d run away with him?
The most vital insight, the gamechanger, is this, from the affidavit:
Neighbor, Nathaniel Trinastich’s home video surveillance system recorded Nicole’s vehicle leaving [the residence] at 01:48. At 05:27 Chris’ truck is observed backing into the driveway and leaving a short time later.*
This suggests the moment the bodies were transferred from the home to the truck, for disposal elsewhere. When Chris Watts left, he had to leave the home looking like there was no struggle. What he forgot though was if Shanaan had run away, she’d have taken her personal effects. Laci Peterson’s phone was also found in her car, an unlikelihood given Scott’s claim that she’d gone with the dog for a walk.