Colorado court records and documents filed on August 20, a week after the murders, showed Chris Watts loaded all three bodies onto the back seat of his work truck and took them to an oil site identified as CERVI 319 with GPS coordinates 40.21624374, -104.36667.
In the same way that the “grave sites” of Caylee Anthony and JonBenet Ramsey provide us with our best clues about their murderer’s long term motives and intentionality, the same is true here. Chris Watts chose this site because it was remote. No one was going to stumble onto or inside this site, and even if they did, it would require specialized tools to open those tanks.
As part of ongoing research for Two Face I contacted a friend [and former cop] who rotates regularly on oil and gas sites around the world, including in India, Asia and Africa. I’ll refer to him here as R. I showed R the oil tanks and described the essentials of the crime scene. R responded with a number of insights off the top of his head.
- Oil is corrosive. How long would it take the body of a 4-year-old child to dissolve in liquid oil? By way of example, R mentioned a 5 centimeter stainless steel bolt he’d retrieved once from a pipeline, after it had fallen into one. The thread inside the bolt had worn down. R also mentioned how toxic oil and its byproducts are. It stings the eyes and burns the lungs. [Notice the heavy duty gloves worn by the technician in the image below].So the chemical impact of petrochemicals on corroding mucous membranes around tissue is potent, and if the threads of a bolt can be worn away, imagine how quickly human tissue can be dissolved. It might not take days, but it wouldn’t take months either. A small body might be reduced to oil in a few weeks.
- Decomposition process is chemical, not bacterial. Although R couldn’t say and wouldn’t hazard a guess on how long human bones might take to dissolve, he acknowledged that sulphuric acid is one of the byproducts of sequestration. Sulphuric acid is one of the most effective destroyers of human tissue, after hydrochloric acid.* Unlike human decomposition in air by bacteria and/or organisms, decomposition in this case would be chemical. Anadarko’s tanks, in his opinion, were used to store crude oil but also to allow it time to settle, thus separating [sequestrating] various products from the liquid – natural gas to name one.
- Maintenance Schedule. Besides enjoying special access to the CERVI 319 site, R indicated that Chris Watts would also know the particular site’s maintenance schedule. If the tanks had recently been maintained, perhaps recently flushed out with hydrochloric acid, then the contents would be particularly conducive to dissolving a body. On the other hand, if Watts himself was responsible for maintenance and maintenance checks, then he could “maintain” the site by adding or removing chemicals in order to prevent anomalies from occurring. He could also potentially cover up alerts.
- Why were the bodies dumped into separate tanks? R dismissed the idea that throwing a body into the tank would set off a “volume alert”. In his opinion the volume would be in constantly flux. Placing the bodies in separate tanks would probably accelerate chemical decomposition.
- Sieves. The fuel tanks have an inlet pipe, which receives oil pumped into it. The oil remains in stasis for a long period, during which time it separates into natural gas [which is siphoned off by one outlet pipe], and also sequestrated into various other byproducts. Sieves at the exits prevent obstacles from being transmitted along these. R was unsure whether Chris Watts would have removed clothing, or wrapped the bodies in plastic, but felt it was somewhat likely that the children’s hair might present a problem, and could quickly and easily clog the sieves, and also float to the top of the oil tank and adhesive to it, leaving behind long term human traces. It’s recently been reported that hundreds of strands of hair were found in the toolbox area at the rear of Watts truck. This is important because Watts claims the bodies were transported in the back seat.
My personal view is that around the time Chris Watts discovered Shan’ann was pregnant, he may also have become aware of the 10 year anniversary of the Casey Anthony case. In other words, this was a case of Criminal Intertextuality.
Think that’s far fetched? May was the month People magazine covered the 10 year anniversary. In the same month, in fact on May 28 Casey Anthony’s Parents Speak debuted on US television. Early May was also when Shan’ann found out she was pregnant.
Now imagine Chris Watts was pissed about this, turned on the television, or walked past a magazine at the local supermarket, and found out about a mother struggling financially who “successfully” disposed of her child and got away with it. While the whole world watched! If he was aware of the Anthony case did he think:
I can do this better.
Taking it further: the Casey Anthony case involved the “disappearance” of a two-year-old child, and a partying mother in chronic financial difficulty who didn’t seem to want her baby girl. Casey Anthony was acquitted of all charges, except lying. In her defense, initially she claimed someone took Caylee, and that Caylee was with this person.
Chris Watts may have imagined he could easily do better on two counts.
- By not revealing the identity of the friend. [So no Zanny to debunk].
- Making sure the bodies were never found.
On the second point, Watts had a chance of success. Of course he had three bodies to get rid of, which precipitously raised the odds against him getting away with what he was trying to get away with.
The main difference between the Anthony case and the Watts case was that Anthony had a month of “lead-time” to work with, besides the 5 additional months it took to find the body.
The other aspect was that the police, despite suspecting Casey, thought she would eventually lead them to her daughter. They didn’t arrest her for murder but gave her limited immunity over an extended period, leaving the door open for her to tell the truth about where Caylee was, or what happened to do. They underestimated who they were dealing with, however.
A major asset the Colorado cops had going for them in the Watts case was the combination of cadaver dogs picking up something inside the house and the video surveillance footage showing no one besides Chris Watts leaving the house that morning.
Added to this Nickole Atkinson’s highly unusual and almost premature alerting of the authorities within hours of their disappearance, and Watts’ “perfect murder” quickly went pear shaped.
In Two Face I explore the real reason Atkinson called the police as soon as she did. [In the image below, notice how the bolts are already rusted despite the near mint condition of the tanks].
Watts may also have been “inspired” if that’s the word, by the unsolved murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Frederick is literally just down the road from Boulder, and the 20 year anniversary of that case occurred in 2016, shortly after they moved to Frederick.
The inspiring thing about the Ramsey case from Watts perspective was the protracted and spectacular failure of the local authorities to press charges – against anyone, ever. It’s possible Watts considers the Colorado justice system to be toothless.
The Anthony case and the Ramsey case may not have been at the center of Chris Watts’ mind when he committed this crime, but it may have played some role in his thinking.
The longer the period of preplanning and premeditation, the greater the likelihood that he researched what he was doing, just as Casey and the Ramseys – according to some theories – researched their respective crimes.
Have law enforcement seized Chris Watts’ home computer yet? Have they analysed the browser history? Have they checked the maintenance schedule for CERVI 319? All these may piece together the puzzle for premeditated triple [quadruple] murder. Then this case becomes a candidate for a death penalty trial.
What seems clear though, is between the birthday party on Sunday at Jeffrey Lindstrom’s home in Erie, the barbecue back home that same evening and Watts leaving supposedly on schedule first thing the next morning, the whole spiel was intended to have the appearance of plausible deniability. Chris Watts made sure he was being seen throughout Sunday, and thought he made sure he wasn’t seen when it mattered most.
*Hydrochloric acid plays a key role in recovering oil and natural gas from geologic formations. Oil and gas reserves are found in deep sea beds, tight sand formations, shales, and coalbed methane formations. Hydrochloric acid aids in the removal of obstacles that form in the wells during the drilling process.
The oil and gas industry relies on this strong and highly corrosive mineral acid to dissolve contaminants in the well to clear the way for the oil and gas to flow into the well. When mixed with water, the hydrochloric acid solution is successful at acidizing carbonate or limestone formations and removes contaminants such as scale, rust, and carbonite deposits.
Pumping a water/hydrochloric solution into a well is known as stimulation or well acidizing. In new wells it clears the way for the flow to begin. It is also used in existing wells to restore the natural permeability of the rock formation to encourage an increase in flow. Hydrochloric acid can also be combined with mud acid such as hydrofluoric acid to dissolve sand, quartz, and clay from the well. – Continental Chemical USA