Side-View of the CERVI 319 Crime Scene + An Analogy

Most of the glimpses we’ve gotten thus far of the CERVI 319 site have been aerial shots from news helicopters. Google Earth also provides global geographical context to the site. And it seems, with everybody watching and looking at these images, these maps, we know exactly what we’re dealing with. But while I was researching TWO FACE an elementary question arose. When Chris Watts drove to the site before dawn on August 13th, was he visible through line of sight?

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Given the remote location of the site, the answer seemed to be obvious.

I wanted to make sure, however, because of something that had recently played in my mind.

An Analogy for the Importance of Line of Site

During a recent trip to the coast, I was told by some folks I was staying with about a murder that happened down the road. As it happened, I’d stayed in the house of the murdered woman months earlier when I’d gone down to attend a wedding. Because so many people were visiting that weekend, various neighbors opened their homes and I happened to stay in this ladies’ home…and then she was murdered a few months later.

So when I arrived and her murder was still unsolved, I made an effort to speak to the woman’s best friend, and visit the crime scene. Initially, I asked for directions and wandered down to the nearest beach and tried to orient myself. She had been stabbed on a staircase leading to the beach. Her blood was all over the stairs. But standing there, it didn’t make any sense. Although there were some trees blocking the view, the area was clearly visible from across the river, and especially from houses perched on a small hillside nearby. It was also right next to a roadside parking lot, a terrible place to commit murder.

It turned out I was at the wrong beach. When I went to another beach just further up the coast everything was completely different. The moment one entered the staircase, one was effectively in a downward slanting tunnel. In every direction there was no sign of human habitation. When I was there I didn’t see anyone. Not on the beach, not in the distance, not at the parking lot, not even further down the beach.

Walking along the rocky area towards the first beach where I’d mistakenly imputed the crime scene, I passed a length of jungle and rock and nothing else. And still no people. Those houses on the hillside were tucked behind the fringe of trees, so no line of site even of the beach here. And since this section of beach clipped inwards from the coast, as well as at the other end, clipped inward again, there was no line of sight from either side of the beach either.

It turned out the lady came here to walk her dog for exactly that reason – the pristine, deserted nature of the beach. She was in the habit of getting out of her car, peeking downstairs to see if anyone was there, and if the coast was clear, returning to pick up her dog, lock her car and go for her walk.

On the day of her murder [or perhaps before] the murderer picked up on this, and killed her to steal the car [which was unlocked, and still had the keys in the ignition]. Unfortunately for him, he was unable to get the car into reverse, eventually gave up, and cut and ran.

The motive seems to be straightforward. She was someone he didn’t know, and he killed her to steal her car. The difficulty in reversing theory seems far-fetched, except the best friend of the murdered lady told me she had the same car, a Suzuki SUV, and the vehicles were well-known to have reverse gear shift issues. My car sometimes does too.  And getting into a strange car in a hurry, reverse sometimes simply does not engage. The nature of the parking lot was such that reverse was only way out.

What the above anecdote illustrates is the importance of characters, context and anecdotal evidence.  It also shows how important it is to go to the crime scene yourself, if you can, and step into the shoes [into the psychology] of your murderer. [Incidentally, that case remains unsolved, although the woman’s phone was tracked to a shanty in a nearby informal settlement].

Line of Sight at CERVI 319

Although we feel like we know all there is to know about CERVI 319, I wanted to clarify the line of sight issue, at least in my own mind. Google Earth takes us right there, but we’re still not there on-the-ground, as it were.

From the air the CERVI site is a roughly Y-shape of cleared Earth, with the tail of the Y blowing to its left. The upper part of the Y-shaped site rests at a slight angle inside a rectangular corridor.

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On either side of this cleared area are brown rocks, and speckles of green bushes peppering the landscape. This was my best guess that the contours of the area dipped down, and that CERVI 319 is situated in a depression within a shallow valley amongst low hills.  But the question remained: how shallow was this valley?

The service road nearby would be Chris Watts’ biggest concern. Could random strangers peek into or over the site while he was rushing about barefoot trying to get rid of three bodies?5b7c03833cccd121008b45d6-960-555

The Denver Post provides this unusual in situ shot of the site. Notice the power line to the right appears to correspond with to the Google Earth screengrab.

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And according to the caption, the oil site is near Roggen. That puts us in the ballpark too.

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The Denver Post doesn’t identify the image as the actual work site, but what it does do is locate the local topography from an on-the-ground perspective.

It’s clear that there are undulating hills in the area and a small amount of brush. These hills are higher and steeper than I’d perceived them to be from the satellite images. This confirms the CERVI 319 site must have been secluded in line of sight terms by the surrounding hills.

Watts bodies found at oil site

ROGGEN, CO – AUGUST 21: According to Christopher Watts’ arrest affidavit, Shanann Watts’ body was found in a shallow grave near this oil work site, seen here on August 21, 2018 near Roggen, Colorado. Both of her daughter’s bodies, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste, were submerged for days in the same oil tanks in rural eastern Colorado, prosecutors said. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

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Further Developments at the Chris Watts Crime Scene

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has “developed possible bare foot impressions” from “items of evidence.” The items of evidence are not described in the motion, but Rourke does say they were collected at the scene where police found the bodies of 34-year-old Shanann Watts and her children, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste. – Times-Call, September 19, 2018

The scene described here is CERVI 319, the oil site where all three bodies were dumped. The details of the motion suggest that Chris Watts dumped the bodies without wearing protective footwear. This may mean he didn’t want to get incriminating substances on his clothing, or conversely, it was an endeavor not to leave incriminating boot or shoe prints behind.

The items of evidence [plural] could include:

– Access ladders

-Access Hatches

-Access tools

-Fence posts or perimeter metal posts

-Sections of the storage tank

-Pipe sections

According to the Times-Call newspaper:

An agent from CBI used a normal latent print process for nonporous items to develop the impressions, according to court documents. Latent prints are impressions created by rigid skin, found on fingers, palms and the soles of the feet. Nonporous surfaces would be those that do not absorb sweat, such as glass or metal, and thus can hold the prints for a long time. The prosecution also has filed a motion requesting prints of Watts’ palms and his fingerprints, as well as digital photographs of his hands.

Watts’ defense attorneys have objected to the request, saying that government requests for the defendant to provide evidence are “subject to constitutional limitations.”

What the latest evidence conjures is the impression of Chris Watts, just before dawn on Monday August 13th, energetically clambering over and scampering between Anadarko oil infrastructure –  bare foot – as he worked to dispose of his wife and children’s corpses.

Chris Watts: His plan to turn blood and tissue to oil and dust

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. NINTCHDBPICT000428067650

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.

  1. 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].Fullscreen capture 20180911 144503So 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.copter-tuesday-am2-1052am-anadorko-oil-tanks_frame_51134
  2. 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.copter-tuesday-am2-1052am-anadorko-oil-tanks_frame_48344
  3. 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.
  4. 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.Fullscreen capture 20180911 144601
  5. 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.Fullscreen capture 20180914 211456

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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.

  1. By not revealing the identity of the friend. [So no Zanny to debunk].
  2. Making sure the bodies were never found.

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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].

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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