“Chris Watts Just Snapped”

On an almost daily basis, those commenting on true crime use the phrase that the criminal [any criminal in a high-profile case] “just snapped”. It’s a doozy. And in just two words the case is solved from bottom to top, left to right and everywhere in-between. There’s no need to have an investigation or a trial or write a single word in a book about the case because the case has been solved. He “just snapped”.

The term is so permissive it was actually used as the title of a true crime documentary about Scott Peterson – SNAPPPED.

One of the reasons the “just snapped” idea is so popular is because so many criminals in court, or in their versions of events like to use it, their families like to use it and dumb journalists unthinkingly recycle it.

In the Oscar Pistorius trial he doesn’t use the word “snapped” but describes shooting his girlfriend to death [four times behind a locked door] as “an accident”, something that happened “before I knew it.”

Many people, including the Judge hearing the case, and many trial pundits and media folk, believed this story and as a result Oscar initially beat the murder charge against him. Fortunately, saner minds prevailed and the culpable homicide charge was eventually overturned to murder.

Jodi Arias also used the idea of herself drawing a blank when the crime happened. She wasn’t thinking when the murder happened, she went into a fog. And then, at a particular time when it was all over, the fog lifted. So something in Jodi, according to her, snapped too.

So with so many buying into the “snapped” scenario in the mainstream media, it’s not surprising that social media regurgitates the same thing.

Below are a few more handy examples:

  1. OJ Simpson

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2. Chris Watts

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3. Henri van Breda

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4. Adam Lanza

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5. Stephen Paddock

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But isn’t “just snapped” the lazy man’s way of addressing a simple but difficult question? When there are no low hanging easy answers to why, then “just snapped” answers why, except “just snapped” is about as useful as “just because”.

It was while I was researching a book on mass murderers that this default non-explanation really came to the fore, and the more it did the more I made it my personal mission to figure it out and give it the proper true crime treatment.

As such I consider SLAUGHTER one of my best achievements in true crime to date.

What I discovered researching SLAUGHTER was that the more heinous the crime the more inexplicable it is. Apparently. So the more people someone kills, the less reason they have for killing – they’re monsters, and mad, end of story.

And so the poster child for a confounding motive is Stephen Paddock. His crime is so sadistic that no one – not the FBI, not the cops, not his family – no one was able to figure out why he did what he did. Even today that remains the case! Apparently he had no motive. And because we can’t figure out his motive, maybe he didn’t have one…And because he didn’t write a suicide note explaining his actions, apparently what we’re left with is an unsolvable riddle. Ergo “He snapped”.

Initially, Paddock was a tough nut to crack. But as I did more and more research on 7 other mass shooters, I was surprised by how clear the motive and the sadistic patterns were in each case. Just as serial killers can be profiled, so can mass shooters and school shooters.

The dirty little secret about school shootings is it’s very easy to see who the most likely candidate is going to be, but counter-intuitively, knowing that can actually precipitate the shooting.  How is that for a mind bender to the “just snapped” theory, that specifically in the high school setting one can actually set off a crime ahead of time by profiling your most likely shooter.

An incredible case study to understand why the “just snapped” notion is such ridiculous heresy is Adam Lanza. Thanks to the FBI there is a treasure trove of data which I dug into in detail in SLAUGHTER which reveals how chronically dysfunctional Lanza was as a person.

Since we’re dealing with Chris Watts here, I won’t go into detail to say how and why we know Lanza didn’t just snap, just that he’s a classic case where neighbors and the public  assumed that’s what happened, while a careful study of who he was, his habits, the dynamics with his mother and his digital breadcrumbs clearly showed months of meticulous planning.

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And that’s really the essence of it. A clue to what we need to do to find out what really happened is in this screengrab just below the highlighted text. Paddock’s brother claimed Stephen paddock “was just a guy” and “just snapped”.

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But the real insight here is what he says afterwards:

We know absolutely nothing about his motivations or situation before the shooting…

And so, if we are to move beyond kindergarten catch-alls in true crime, we have to know more than absolutely nothing about the criminals we’re talking about. We have to know more than absolutely nothing about their motivations about other things in their lives. We have to know more about their situation before they commit crimes. When we do, what we invariably find is that these crimes were accidents waiting to happen. These people didn’t just snap, the terror is that the way they were heading, a holocaust was inevitable.

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And so I’d like to encourage the regular readers of this blog: Please try to refrain from using those words, it plays into the hands of the criminals without exception. They prosper thanks to our ignorance.

We begin on the path to authentic knowledge by admitting the most difficult thing, which is that we know absolutely nothing about these people, let alone their motives. Until we know more, we can’t begin to guess their motives.

In the Watts case we have two choices. Either he just snapped and Watts will be an enigma forever and ever, or he planned, plotted, calculated and even fantasized about murdering his family. If it’s the latter then by spending time finding out who he was, and who the Watts family were, who they were as people, what their personalities were like, their back stories and circumstances, only then we will find our way to the key that unlocks the reason for why what happened happened.

TWO FACE BENEATH THE OIL is available now on Amazon.com

The #1 Clue That Proves Premeditation?

Since the trial is still pending, it requires the title to have a question mark rather than an exclamation mark.  There appears to be plenty of debate springing up now around whether Shan’ann could have committed a crime, but no matter who committed what, it seems the general consensus is that the crime happened spontaneously.

They had an argument – that night or early morning – because Chris Watts said they did.

There are many, many obvious reasons why this isn’t a signature case for a crime of passion  which is an act committed impulsively during an explosive venting of rage.  It happens when the perpetrator feels themselves pushed over an emotional cliff. Chris Watts classifies this crime as precisely that – that he killed Shan’ann in a rage as a reaction to her despicable crimes. That’s his excuse.

But is it true?

Well, this is what that passion looks, sounds and feels like.

So what’s the #1 clue that appears to show premeditation?

It’s Chris Watts’ stoicism on the morning of August 14. We now know that Shan’ann, Bella and Celeste were dead by then, but also that Chris Watts knew that then too. He didn’t look particularly bothered, in fact showed no signs of distress, grief or remorse. Part of his act was that he was innocently unmoved, even chuckling at times.

The defense will argue that all people process their grief differently. But actually that’s not true. When grief is genuine it can’t be held back. It creeps on you in its raw, unfiltered form and overwhelms you. When grief is absent, well, it’s difficult to fake and decent lie detectors and true crime buffs pick up on that immediately.

That’s why Chris Watts’ interview scorched the internet, and why this case remains so top of mind. People are still asking themselves:

Where’s the grief? Where’s the humanity? How can someone lie like that, to the whole world [and perhaps to themselves?]

Crimes of passion happen on impulse. The wave comes and just as quickly goes. When the perpetrator recovers himself, he’s quickly remorseful, regretful, reproachful and even apologetic.

When there’s premeditation there’s a much deeper sense of “plans have gone awry”. When there’s premeditation much more is happening in the head than in the heart, but that’s not to say the heart didn’t play a huge role in getting the ball rolling. And after the crime, the heart of a premeditator is still pulling the strings in his head, but from a distance and behind the scenes. Something in his heart is why he’s still continuing to kick the can down the road even though the game is up.

In his television interview is there a sense, perhaps, of disappointment following a momentary sense of triumphant, excitement and freedom?

What we fail to see in premeditated cases is that the murderer is turned on by the fantasy of getting rid of someone who they see as milestones around their necks. Casey Anthony’s partying during the first four weeks of Caylee’s death/disappearance is a classic example in true crime of the unadulterated joy in breaking free of one’s lot in life.

When it’s been a long, long time coming and he’s finally doing it,  strangling the life out of someone he despises, there’s satisfaction and relief in the deed. It’s not a question that he’s reluctant to commit murder, but irresistibly drawn to the idea, like a moth to flame.

The more interesting, sinister and terrifying question is the same one that haunts the Scott Peterson case:

When did he start day-dreaming about murdering his family, and what moment, what snide remark triggered the first impulsive homicidal thought? 

Based on Botha’s Arguments, will Judge Desai Grant Convicted Triple Axe Murderer an Appeal? Should he? ANALYSIS

When I first heard Advocate Botha’s arguments in his bid to win leave to appeal I was very underwhelmed. I didn’t get a sense that Botha was volunteering anything new on behalf of his notorious client. There were no game-changers. There was nothing that stopped one in one’s tracks and went, wow, I never thought of that, this could change everything.

After further analysis Botha’s arguments do have a little merit. He starts off challenging the state and the court a quo on the “premeditation” findings.  In the first three minutes of the hearing Botha emphasised precisely this aspect.

Let’s review the transcript.

BOTHA: Even if the court confirms the guilty finding, on counts 1 to 3, there’s a reasonable prospect the court of appeal may find that the state failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the applicant planned the murders, or that the murders were premeditated. Of course in that premise [clears throat], in that event, the charges – if a court of appeal agrees with us on that aspect – the mandatory life sentences fall away. And the court will then consider [correcting himself] will then be free to consider afresh, a sentence without the uh-uh…provisions of section 51 B…the Criminal Law Amendment Act being applicable

In theory this is a reasonable argument. It worked in the Oscar Pistorius case. Premeditation is often very difficult to prove, especially in circumstantial evidence cases.

In the Oscar Pistorius case, had Oscar shot Reeva with his prosthetic limbs on, the court would have had a strong case for premeditated murder. Why? How? Because in Oscar’s own version he was asleep with his legs off. If he had the presence of mind to put on his prosthetic limbs and arm himself [an activity that took time, perhaps half a minute] and rather than flee the scene, approach the danger and shoot, well that creates a mosaic of premeditated action doesn’t it? When Oscar was putting his limbs on, had he formed an intention in his mind?

As it turned out, Oscar wasn’t on this prosthetic limbs when he fired the shots, which was a huge early miscalculation and embarrassment to the state and the state’s case.

Personally I believe Oscar was guilty of premeditated murder, because he heard Reeva screaming [I believe], because he approached the screaming cubicle, because he fired four shots into it, and because each shot’s trajectory differed markedly from the other, which means he was tracking his target who was unsighted,  using sound. Using her screams to see her.

3 of the 4 shots were on target, despite the fact that Reeva was moving behind the door, and the last shot was a head shot. The sound she made when she received this wound, was falling on the wooden magazine rack. This sound would have told the shooter exactly where Reeva was.

I covered a lot of this in my book Justice Eventualis, cross-referencing expert testimony with ballistics angles and measurements. I even reconstructed a to-scale scene in my garage with a real door.

Ultimately though, despite a fairly good palette of evidence, the state failed to prove premeditated murder, and ultimately failed to prove that Oscar murdered Reeva.

In the end Oscar was only found guilty [Dolus Eventualis] of indirect intent, in the sense that he murdered an unarmed intruder, not Reeva. Indirect intent, such as throwing a hand grenade into a crowd may be an indirect way of killing specific people, but it’s intent nevertheless. You might not know who you’re killing, but you clearly intend to kill nonetheless. I cover this intention in detail in Slaughter, my book on mass murderers.

It’s difficult to see more premeditation and a clearer motive in mass murderers, and yet the media and even the FBI often are unable to say why these mass murders happen. They can’t say why the Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock killed a record number of Americans. Ditto Newtown’s Adam Lanza, Virginia Tech’s Seung Hui Cho or the JThe Dark Knight cinema shooting in Aurora by James Holmes.

Because of the state’s failure to prove premeditation and direct intent, technically and legally, Oscar is only guilty of murdering someone, not of murdering Reeva. Wherever Reeva is right now, I’m sure she’s not happy with that. If you were murdered, would you be?

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In any event, not all cases are born equal, and the Van Breda case – in terms of intent –  is a lot simpler than the Pistorius case. Obviously where there are four victims, three of whom are bludgeoned to death, and the fourth also bludgeoned but miraculously survived, you have clear premeditation. Just in the act of successively murdering one, then another, then another, and then attempting to murder a fourth, you have an assailant who has a very clear intention. In an axe murder death isn’t instantaneous. It requires several blows to the head and neck, and in this case, all four received blows to the head and neck. Henri is the only family member who didn’t.

One sees this intent reinforced by the fact that Henri also didn’t come to the aid of any of his family members after they were attacked.

Even though he knew his brother and sister were alive, struggling to stay alive for at least two hours, he didn’t come to the aid of either of his siblings, or even comfort them. In fact, there’s some reason to believe Henri laughed while he massacred his family. In his own version he described the axe murderer laughing while hacking his father to death. This isn’t premeditation, but it suggests if he wanted his family dead, after killing two family members, he was prepared to still let nature take its course.


In my books on Van Breda I’ve gone into some detail why the second axe murder – of his father – is clearly premeditated. Galloway skillfully avoids getting her hands dirty in these arguments by simply stating that if the family members were all upstairs, and the axe was downstairs, it required Henri [who claimed he was also upstairs], to go downstairs in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep, collect the axe and then head upstairs and carry out the slaughter he had in mind.

I agree that this implies premeditation, just as the fact that the crime occurred when it did, at about 03:00, about three hours after a neighbour heard the sounds of raised male voices arguing.

I also feel this ought to be sufficient, except we see a mirror image of this scenario in the Oscar case. It’s not a 100% reflection, but it is similar. In Oscar’s story he got out of bed, went to the balcony door to close the curtains, heard a sound, went to retrieve his gun from under the bed [right where Reeva was supposed to be sleeping, but blanketed in impenetrable darkness].

Oscar claimed he either spoke to Reeva in a low tone, or whispered to her. In this schema he spoke to her too softly for her to hear, that’s why she didn’t answer, but in the reality of the story, Reeva wasn’t there to begin with, she was already in the toilet, and had locked the door.

The point is, like Van Breda, Oscar also had to retrieve his weapon from somewhere else, and then approach his target. Instead of a stairway, he went along a hallway, was presented with an empty bathroom, and someone inside a locked room. Oscar’s story that he’d communicated with Reeva throughout waves the flag that he’d warned her he was armed, and this was in a sense a warning shot. In Oscar’ version, Reeva’s failure to acknowledge herself cost her her life. Oscar was justified in being afraid and trigger happy, and Reeva died because she failed to raise her voice and identify herself. That’s his explanation.

I don’t wish to conflate the two cases more than that, other than to point out Henri’s girlfriend invoked Oscar’s testimony and how Oscar was blamed when he showed emotion, and blamed when he didn’t. Danielle said in her exclusive interview with 60 Minutes that Henri was trying very hard not to fall into the same trap. But what she seems to have missed is that Oscar was found guilty of murder. It’s not as if he was innocent and his emotions were wrongly found to be inappropriate by the media. He was guilty and thus his inappropriate emotions made sense. The same applies to Henri, doesn’t it?

At face value then, Botha’s argument that the premeditation narrative is a little shaky holds some water. But for anyone familiar with this case, and applying the logic that premeditation is implicit in multiple serial killings, then Botha’s arguments are very shaky indeed. The Van Breda axe murders are almost at the scale to meet the classification for mass murder. If Marli had died, Henri would officially be regarded as a mass murderer. Even worse, a mass murderer exclusively of his own family members.

In terms of Judge Desai, he was combative and interrupting throughout Botha’s arguments. He was also scornful straight off the bat when Botha said this was merely a “circumstantial evidence” case.

The Judge is correct that most criminal cases are circumstantial evidence cases. In criminal cases, direct evidence tends to be lacking, often because the perpetrators conduct their crimes in secret, and tend to remove the direct evidence implicating them.

Examples of direct evidence are eye witnesses. A fingerprint isn’t direct evidence. In a circumstantial evidence case, a court must draw inferences based on the mosaic of information provided.

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My favorite moment during the 28-minute hearing was when Galloway accused Botha of nit-picking the circumstantial evidence, causing him to miss the wood for the trees. That’s exactly what he’s done.

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If I had to bet, I’d say the Judge won’t grant an appeal, because this would be little more than giving further opportunity for further fruitless nit-picking. If that happens, Botha can apply to the Supreme Court of Appeal [SCA] directly, just as Gerrie Nel did when Judge Masipa denied him leave to appeal her “shockingly light” sentence.

If the SCA refuse to grant an appeal, and they tend to be very strict in the cases they do grant leave to, Botha can apply to the Constitutional Court. Oscar did this when the SCA ruled against him. The Constitutional Court rarely rule on criminal matters, and it’s virtually inconceivable that they’d want to hear this case.

We have seen that Judge Desai has been somewhat sympathetic towards Henri. That said, he has been exceedingly patient hearing Botha’s case, even when it’s been hours and hours of much ado about nothing. Prior to sentencing, Desai repeatedly offered Botha the chance to provide evidence in mitigation of sentence. Botha and his client spurned this offer, a decision both may rue for the foreseeable future.

If Desai refuses leave, it’s also possible that in future another application may be lodged, fielding a new set of evidence. The Drugs Narrative, in my opinion, may yet be out there, but I wouldn’t count on those chickens before they hatch.