3 NEW INSIGHTS: Chris Watts and Scott Peterson: liquidating their families in order to spin flesh into gold

“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.

a) Finances

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.*

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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.

*It’s not clear whether the truck remained at the residence the entire night, or when it backed in, it was there throughout, and simply just backed in. But since it’s not mentioned, it seems clear his truck only moved at 05:27 to back in and then pull out shortly after.

Lie Spotting: Test your true crime lie detector nous with the Chris Watts case

Is Chris Watts a convincing liar? Really?

Fullscreen capture 20180818 104436Have a look at the seven minute interview Chris Watts gave while his pregnant wife and two daughters were still missing. Make a mental note of any inappropriate behaviour, micro-expressions, mannerisms, phrases or words that raise red flags. Ready? Go!

It hasn’t taken long for the media and the public to draw comparisons between Chris Watts and Scott Peterson. These two assholes even look similar. People magazine’s so-called experts have called Chris Watts “very convincing” in front of the cameras. Here’s the full quote:

Investigative experts tell PEOPLE, Watts’ behavior comes as no surprise. “He has an incredibly large ego,” says Dale Yeager, a criminal analyst and forensic profiler who is unconnected with the case. “He was very convincing in front of the camera, which means he really comes off as sociopathic. That doesn’t mean he is mentally ill, just that he has a personality defect.”

Drawing a parallel between Watts’ case and that of Scott Peterson, who notoriously murdered his pregnant wife and then repeatedly gave interviews, Yeager says, “He’s Scott Peterson, just less charismatic.”

Australia’s News.com.au also fielded one of their true crime specialists to give their “expert” take on Watts.

To the untrained eye, Watts may have given the impression of a quietly anxious husband and father seemingly clueless about the whereabouts of Shanann, 34, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3. But to renowned body language specialist Judi James, the subtle quirks in his physical behaviour told a different story to the one coming out of his mouth.

Ms James has identified nine techniques that Mr Watts may have used to conceal his guilt as he was filmed on the front porch of the family’s home in Frederick, Colorado on Tuesday.

She says Mr Watts may have gone to extraordinary lengths to appear calm and unruffled in the belief that was how innocent people behaved.

What a crock of shit. You don’t need to be a forensic profiler or a body language specialist [whatever that is] to intuit decepion. You just need to pay attention, be alert, and some familiarity with other true crime cases and their patterns doesn’t hurt.

Now, without any further ado, what are Chris Watts’ tells?

  1. Lack of affect. The biggest clue that something is seriously wrong and seriously off here is the most obvious. Watts simply doesn’t look or sound upset. On many occasions in the interview he smiles.  A genuinely grieving father and husband to a 15-week pregnant wife would be anxious, distraught and overwhelmed. There’s none of that here.
  2. No urgency. When the reporter asks Watts what’s going on, Watts immediately leaks a smile of contempt while shaking his head. Why? Because he knows – or thinks he knows – k9 units or cadaver dogs aren’t going to find anything at his home. [Watts killed his wife and two daughters and later dumped his wife’s body near an oil rig where he worked, he stuffed the bodies of his two daughters, Bella [4] and Celeste [3] into a large gas drum to disguise the smell]. It’s noteworthy that the first thing Watts thinks about when asked what’s happening is the dogs [and the idea of scent and smells].
  3. When the reporter asks the very open-ended question about what’s going on, Watts’ tongue darts out of his mouth. This is at about 33 seconds into the clip, and happens so quickly, if you blinked just then, you’d miss it. In a scenario where a killer goes to a lot of effort to kill and cover up, when asked what happened, this is an opportunity not only to savour his efforts, but to verbally cover them over. The licking of the lips is the psychological equivalent of being about to dig into a meal. Often this poking of the tongue is also intended to hide or cover a microexpression. As Watts begins to answer, he seems to be holding back a smile. Fullscreen capture 20180818 110955
  4. When Watts actually answers the question, he starts off with a stutter. Well, he has a reason to be nervous. What happened? Watts’ story is the typical story you hear, everything is “perfectly normal”. But if it was perfectly normal, why are things fucked up? Something was far from right, something did happen – triple murder – but Watts is doing his best to pass it off as no big deal. The problem is, that’s completely inappropriate to the situation. It’s a big deal that his wife’s gone, that his children are gone, and by trying to seem unemotional about the circumstances prior to and around their disappearance [in effect his words are hiding what he did], Watts is revealing a mismatch.
  5. Watts’ words matter. He refers to texting his wife, and Shanann not texting him back. “If she doesn’t get back to me that’s fine,” he says, and shrugs. Shitballs it’s not fine. In an emergency situation when you want someone back, them not getting back isn’t fine. This narrative aspect is also a mismatch to what Watts says later in the interview, that he really hopes he gets his family back. Also, what really concerned “a lot of other people” [not him] wasn’t that Shanann didn’t get back to him [as if that was normal or reasonable], but because she didn’t get back to them.
  6. Once again, the microexpression as Watts describes Shanann “not getting back” to him is so quick at 52 seconds, it’s almost invisible. The screengrab below doesn’t quite capture the triangular curl of the lip, so it’s better to watch the clip in real time a few times to catch it. There’s a slight snarl, a slight lifting of his left upper lip. This is a key indicator of contempt. Contempt in true crime is a critical red flag. A genuine victim tends to feel the opposite – helpless, humble, agonised. Contempt is a kind of sadistic and scornful pleasure at the expense of a murder victim, after the fact.Fullscreen capture 20180818 111856
  7. When Watts describes walking into the house there’s another microexpression, another smile leaking through. He’s dismissive and flippant. Rather than sympathising with his own feelings of anguish, or reliving them, he’s smiling. All that comes from the first 75 seconds, and these are just the highlights.Fullscreen capture 20180818 112747
  8. When the reporter asks Watts to spell his wife’s name, the second tongue flick happens. Once again, Watts is either trying not to smile, or he’s enjoying the new context he’s in. There’s duping delight in spelling out something as basic as his wife’s name when he knows so much more, and he’s not going to tell them, when he’s done so much more, and they don’t know! Fullscreen capture 20180818 112959
  9. When Watts names his daughters at 1:24, there’s another slight smile. Fortunately the cameraman zooms in at this point, as if he’s also trying to catch the little nuances.One of the ways we try to hide a smile is by pinching our cheek muscles against our lips, causing the smile to be crushed or overpowered by the cheek muscle. Again, the screengrab doesn’t really do the mechanism of this microexpression justice, and since it’s so reflexive, it’s better to catch in real time and the context of what is said when it happens. When Watts has finished spelling out Celeste’s name, he briefly repeats the same “cheek-crush” microexpression.Fullscreen capture 20180818 113212
  10. When Watts provides the ages of his two dead daughters,  Watts gulps and immediately afterwards there’s another tongue poke. Once again, providing such basic information to the reporter may be amusing to Watts given what he’s done to them. Watts is relishing this, taking sadistic pleasure in being able to account for the complex details of the crime in such simple terms, information he knows is virtually useless in the scheme of things. But there’s also a degree of anxiety underlying the questions and his answers – the stakes are high, is he being convincing? Fullscreen capture 20180818 113735
  11. When the reporter asks how many times Watts called his wife, Watts tilts his head and says matter-of-factly that he called Shanann three times and texted her three times. Here Watts tries to turn on the charm, trying to convey himself as a caring spouse. He crinkles his forehead and continues to talk matter of factly. Again, what’s missing here is requisite emotion. There’s no concern, no anxiety, instead, there’s charm and swagger.
  12. The reporter has asked Watts a very simple question. How many times did Watts call his wife. He goes into verbal diarrhea, providing a lot of extraneous information, suggesting that he thought she was just busy, that’s why she didn’t answer, or that she was getting back to other friends and not him. Again, not only are the words themselves inappropriate [he seems resigned to the fact that she’s not communicating with him, but is communicating with others], but Watts only figures something is wrong when his wife’s friend showed up. Only then did it “register” that something was wrong. All the reporter asked was how many times he called his wife, and Watts has confessed here that it took a friend to “bring it home” that something was amiss with his wife, despite the fact that she wasn’t home, and the kids weren’t, and he was. [Shanann and the two girls were all murdered in the home, and then their bodies dumped at the oil refinery where Watts worked]. Throughout Watts’ overly long answer, he hardly blinks, he touches his face a few times and otherwise stands with his arms folded.

    He’s too controlled under the circumstances, and when emotions do leak through, they’re the wrong ones. Also, he keeps smiling or looking like he’s about to smile.Fullscreen capture 20180818 114706

  13.  Just after 2 minutes, the reporter asks: “Do you think she just took off?” There’s another tiny snarl of the upper lip. It’s another expression of contempt. Think about contempt in the context of that question. Do you think she just took off? Is there contempt for the reporter, or for the idea that she’d dump him, and not the other way round?
  14.  Have a look at Watts face as he says he doesn’t want to think about what happened to her [or talk about it – and for obvious reasons]. Then he says: “I hope she’s somewhere safe right now, and with the kids.” The duping delight is etched prominently on his face, and once again there’s a slight sneer of contemptuous and cruel satisfaction, and yes, he’s still smiling.
  15.  At 2:48 Watts describes his “traumatic night just trying to be here…” Why is being at home traumatic? What should be traumatic is wondering how is family are? This is evidence of Watts’ ego and sociopathy. He’s trying to convey emotion, but all he can convey is his own narcissism. And he’s still smiling.
  16.  As the reporter gears up for another question, Watts sways slightly from side to, purses his cheeks, and gulps again. On a few occasions in the interview he seems slightly out of breath. He’s nervous, but trying to look composed. It’s the wrong emotion for an innocent man. An innocent man doesn’t care how he looks, he cares about the victims and he’s emotionally compromised. There’s grief and anxiety – for them.
  17. When asked about his relationships with the kids, Watts nods and bites his lower lip, repeating an earlier expression. Clearly the family dynamics played a crucial role in why Watts felt justified in murdering his wife and children. But is he really going to say what the dynamics were really like? Is he really going to reveal his motive? Well, that’s why he’s biting his lip.Fullscreen capture 20180818 121154
  18. When Watts actually answers the question, he stutters and shakes his head while saying “the kids are my life”. Obviously the opposite was true. Watts felt his children were killing him in some way; perhaps financially, perhaps robbing him of his freedom, who knows.  When Watts tries to think of an example of how he loves and misses his kids, what he comes up with is the cliched example of a parent telling his kids to eat their vegetables. That’s his favorite memory of his children? This kind of vapid persona suggests extreme narcissism, someone incapable of feeling someone else’s feelings.
  19. 19. At 3:09 Watts cracks a joke: “You know, you’re not going to get your dessert…” Again, Watts takes sadistic pleasure in comparing this expression to the reality. The reality is both his daughters are dead and dumped in an oil drum. He knows they’re never going to get their dessert ever again, and this is a source of amusement, even delight to him.  This is a sick bastard, but then he had to be to commit quadruple homicide [his wife, his unborn child, and his two small children]. That makes Watts a mass murderer, given that the definition requires the killing of four people without a cooling off period.Fullscreen capture 20180818 121822
  20. As Watts describes his daughters’ patterns, he can’t remember what exactly they watch. Again, he’s flippant. His memories of his kids aren’t personal or intimate. It’s not a father playing with his kids or sharing a moment, it’s him seeing them watching television. It’s sterile. And Watts is callous and offhand about it, smiling and flapping his hand casually – these gestures from the head of the house tell a lot about the true family dynamic underlying this terrible tragedy.Fullscreen capture 20180818 122214

That’s an analysis of less than half the interview, but I think it’s enough. Why is it important to study a shithead like Watts and figure out his MO, and his patterns? Because the failure to figure out when someone is lying to you, especially someone close to you, could get you killed. You could be a child, or a spouse in a family, you could be pregnant or engaged, or trying to make it work, and you might be living day to day with someone who means to kill you, or if not kill, do harm to you. Perhaps financially. Perhaps in a host of ways.

It’s important that we as social creatures are awake and alert to the many little gestures that give away a spectrum of our inner feelings, from mostly harmless disassociation, to toxic and callous sadism, to seditious and insidious and potentially destructive narcissism.

It’s important that we’re wise to these expressions masking incredibly destructive impulses in those close to us, and those around us. If it doesn’t apply to us in our relationships or friendships, it may come in useful with someone out there and our ability to look into their relationships, where those in them maybe can’t see the wood for the trees.

True crime has always been about figuring out ourselves and each other through the struggles and motivations, the life and death stuff going on with other people. Failure to figure this out places us at risk, if not in danger in the real world. In a world where tabloids and their “experts” advise us on how convincing the likes of Watts is in an interview, we need to be sharper than that. And with a little practice and attention to detail, we can be.

The good news is, when you know what you’re looking for, and when you’ve seen it once, it’s easy to pick up the pattern. The trick is to look and listen carefully,  to pay attention not only to the words but to the context of the words, and to have the confidence to think for yourself, to make up your own mind, rather than accept someone else’s version of events as gospel.

In a marriage, especially a doomed marriage, this simple ability to discern the difference between a genuine person and deception, could save lives. In the real world, the ability to discern the difference between reality and fiction can mean the difference between success and failure. A society that can read itself right is self-correcting. The same applies to us as individuals.

When we develop the capacity to intuit lies, we’re forewarned. Because we have a handle on reality, we’re less easily to mislead or manipulate. We can act, we can change reality before it happens, rather than as we see so often in true crime, piecing it all together when it’s too late, after the fact.

Notice how different Watts presents himself in court. The glasses are meant to convey sensitivity and minimize the perception of masculine aggression, and malice.

Visit this link to watch Chris Watts’ reaction to his wife’s pregnancy test. Given that they’d bought an expensive house in 2013, and Watts’ had filed for bankruptcy in 2015, the news couldn’t have been received well in his heart of hearts.

According to the Daily Mail:

The couple declared bankruptcy in 2015, and despite Shanann’s frequent Facebook posts boasting of the Lexus and frequent paid trips she was awarded for selling health supplements, the couple [in 2018] was facing a $1,500 civil suit from their homeowners’ association. They purchased their five-bed, four-bath home for $400,000 in 2013, and their mortgage payment was about $3,000 a month, according to bankruptcy records.

Ironically Watts situation and Scott Peterson’s are almost a carbon copy – new house, new child on the way, and a job that’s not quite paying the bills. Divorce more messy than murder? Only if you’re a sociopath.


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