The mirage of a happy family life was shattered when a pregnant Shanann Watts and her two daughters, Bella and Celeste, were murdered by her husband, Chris Watts. Who was Shanann Watts? What led to the family annihilator murders? Read our Shanann Watts wiki for all the details.
Shanann Watts Wiki: Early Life
Shanann Cathryn Rzucek was born on January 10, 1984 in Passaic County, New Jersey. The original spelling of her first name is Shan’ann.
|About Shanann Watts|
|Known As||Shan'ann Watts, Shanann Rzucek|
|Spouse||Chris Watts 6 years|
|Children||Bella Marie Watts, Celeste Cathryn "CeCe" Watts|
|Parents||Frank Rzucek, Sandra "Sandi" Rzucek (Oronati),|
Shanann’s parents’ names are Frank Rzucek and Sandra “Sandi” Rzucek (nee Oronati). She has a brother named Frankie William Rzucek. Shanann is described as having a very close relationship with her brother Frankie.
When Shanann was a little girl, her family moved to Aberdeen, North Carolina, which is where she grew up. She attended Pinecrest High School in Southern Pines Township.
Shanann was very socially oriented and charismatic, with a “compelling personality.”
Hard-working Shanann has held a variety of jobs: cell phone sales; store manager for a tire shop called Dirty South; sales at a Ford dealership; call center and human resources at a children’s hospital; “Travelbags” sales; and “Thrive” brand promoter for a nutrition supplement company called Le-Vel.
Shanann Rzucek became Shanann King when she was married to a North Carolina attorney named Leonard King for the period of 2002-2008. The couple had no children.
According to King, Shanann spent too much time at work and they just drifted apart, even though they tried marriage counselling.
In 2009, now single again, Shanann Rzucek had her own home built in Charlotte, North Carolina. But she wasn’t there for too long before her life changed…when she met Chris Watts.
Shanann Meets Chris Watts
Christopher Lee Watts was born May 16, 1985 in Spring Lake, North Carolina. He was 25 when he met Shanann Rzucek, who was almost a year his senior.
In an interview on the Dr. Phil Show following Shanann Watt’s death, Sandi Rzucek mentioned that, in 2010, her daughter wasn’t really looking for a relationship, because she was dealing with health complications. She had lupus and diabetes.
One of Shanann Rzucek’s friends, who also got her started as a Le-Vel brand associate selling Thrive health products online, kept trying to set her up with Chris Watts through Facebook. But for the longest time, Rzucek ignored and deleted the requests, because she wasn’t in the right place to start dating someone.
Then, one day, Watts sent her a friend request…she accepted, and the two hit it off. In Rzucek’s own words, “I got a friend request from Chris on Facebook and one thing led to another and he’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
Rzucek wasn’t expecting anything to come of it at first. In fact, according to Chris Watts, she’d said he wasn’t her type. But she gave it a shot. Why not? Chris was a nice guy, an introvert who liked to go with the flow; a good foil to Shanann’s outgoing, more dominant personality.
Lo and behold, after two years of dating, the couple was married on November 3, 2012 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina—much to the chagrin of both of their parents, it seems.
Shortly after the wedding, Shanann and Chris Watts moved to Frederick, Colorado. With Shanann coming from a family of contractors, they built their new Colorado home from scratch. The couple lived with a friend for a year while this was being done.
Chris was a mechanic by trade. When they first moved to Colorado, the couple worked together at a Ford dealership, with Shanann selling cars and Chris being the head mechanic. Later on, Chris worked in the field for Anadarko Petroleum, an oil exploration and production company, later being promoted to a field coordinator.
The young couple was eager to start a family. Their first daughter, Bella Marie Watts, was born in Colorado on December 17, 2013. Their second, Celeste Cathryn “CeCe” Watts, came into the world born July 17, 2015, also in Colorado.
Her second pregnancy was a particularly difficult one, worsened by her Lupus, so Shanann’s parents lived with her and Chris for 15 months to help out.
The two little girls had some health issues in their young lives. Both had asthma and serious allergies. Little CeCe was born with an underdeveloped esophagus, so had to have several procedures. Their medical care added to their parents’ growing debt.
Speaking of debt: in June 2015, the Watts’ ended up filing for bankruptcy, with apparently less than $10.00 in their account and a whopping $448,000 in debt, including what was owed on their mortgage and unsecured debt, much of it from their wedding and medical bills for Shanann and the girls.
And their financial situation didn’t get much better over time; in July 2018, the couple’s homeowners’ association filed a lawsuit against them for $1,533. Apparently, Shanann had been sending their HOA payment checks to the incorrect address. Their court date was set for August 24, 2018…11 days after Shanann and the girls went missing.
Could their financial woes have played a part in the eventual unraveling of their seemingly happy marriage? Possibly. But there may have been even greater factors.
Long-Standing Friction with Chris Watts’ Parents
Apparently, Chris Watts’ parents, Cindy Watts and Ronald “Ronnie” Watts, didn’t want their son to marry Shanann Rzucek, because Cindy said she and Shanann “just didn’t get along.”
According to a statement by Sandi Rzucek, Chris’ mother Cindy didn’t like the idea that Shanann had been married previously. Cindy also confided to her that she felt that Shanann was truly love Chris. She also complained that her daughter-in-law was controlling. So Cindy and Chris’ sister Jamie Watts were both distant in their dealings with Shanann.
Also according to Sandi, Cindy and Jamie sabotaged Shanann and Chris’ engagement party by not sending out invites to much of Shanann’s guest list. This apparently caused some bad feelings between the new couple and the Watts family in the time leading up to the wedding.
After that, the Watts family, with the exception of Chris’ grandmother and uncle, showed their disapproval of Shanann by refusing to attend the wedding.
In an interview following her son’s trial and arrest, Cindy Watts claimed that her daughter-in-law was too much of a perfectionist, constantly belittling Chris.
“I didn’t like the way she treated him,” Cindy stated.
Chris himself later told investigators that, while Shanann did take a lead role in their household, he didn’t feel belittled.
Cindy also claimed that her son always seemed “anxious” around Shanann. Cindy alleged that Chris was always “at her beck and call,” because he was afraid to disappoint his wife. And some of Chris’ statements do support this view.
However, it seems apparent that Cindy Watts herself was the leader in her family, so perhaps she also resented having another dominant woman enter her son’s life. She certainly didn’t like the fact that his marriage led to him moving to Colorado.
There was a more recent incident that triggered a further rift in the relationship between Shanann Watts and her in-laws, causing stress between Chris and Shanann.
In early summer 2018, Shanann and her daughters spent six weeks visiting with both sets of grandparents in North Carolina, going back and forth between the two homes. Chris stayed behind in Colorado, except for one week when he joined them.
On the second weekend at Cindy and Ronnie Watts’ home, Shanann and Cindy apparently had a falling out over Cindy’s lack of concern in giving ice cream that contained peanuts to Bella and CeCe, who were both deathly allergic. Apparently, Cindy even put out a bowl full of peanuts right after Shanann talked to her about the ice cream and explained how serious the girls’ allergy was.
Shanann was so upset over this that she wouldn’t go back to see her in-laws the rest of their time in North Carolina. Cindy, Ronnie, and Jamie were supposed to attend CeCe’s birthday party at the Rzucek’s home, but they skipped it.
Sandi Rzucek said that when Chris joined them for his week of vacation in North Carolina, he was very distant towards his wife.
According to a 2019 interview with Chris, Shanann had told him at this time that she would never let his parents see Bella and Celeste again.
Shanann Was a Social Media Maven
Over the course of her marriage to Chris Watts, Shanann Watts became increasingly active and popular on social media. She was regularly posting multiple personal and promotional videos, livestreams, and other updates like this one:
After Shanann Watt’s murder, her Instagram was deactivated and deleted. Her Facebook account remained active until January 24, 2020.
For the most part, it seems she dedicated her social media accounts to promoting her work with Le-Vel and Thrive products. Bella, CeCe, Chris, and their dog, Dieter, were frequently featured in her posts and videos as well.
In her videos, Shanann and Chris were often seen wearing Thrive-branded vitamin-releasing skin patches, which allegedly helped Chris lose a lot of weight.
Chris, being an introvert, was actually quite uncomfortable with all the videos and social media exposure, but he went along with his wife’s desires.
From what social media showed, they seemed to have a very happy life together. They had the ideal family unit, along with a stunning five-bedroom home in Colorado. They went on Le-Vel “lifestyle getaways” to Mexico, Las Vegas, San Diego, and other destinations.
Chris Watts seemed like a happy, loving, and well-adjusted family man who just wanted to provide for his wife and kids. Of course, looks can be extremely deceiving…and that certainly ended up being true in this case.
An Unwanted Pregnancy & Infidelity
Upon first viewing the seemingly fun and lighthearted yet blatantly self-promoting videos Shanann Watts posted to her social media accounts, it seems like she had the perfect life and the perfect family.
Watching them now, however, is like seeing them through a completely different lens. There are moments when her smiles and interactions with her husband and even her children seem almost strained, particularly toward the end.
Weeks before Shanann and her daughters were murdered, she began to sense that something was wrong in her marriage. She even confronted Chris via text about it.
On August 8, 2018, she wrote: “If you are done, don’t love me, don’t want to work this out, not happy anymore and only staying because of kids, I NEED you to tell me.”
He replied back: “I’m not staying because of the kids. They are my light and that will not change…I’m not sure what’s in my head…”
Shanann confided in her best friend, Nickole Atkinson, about her troubled marriage. She also texted another friend: “Chris told me last night he’s scared to death about this third baby and he’s happy with just Bella and Celeste and doesn’t want another baby,” followed by a series of crying emojis. She later wrote to that same friend: “He has changed. I don’t know who he is.”
Some say Chris’ lack of excitement about Shanann’s third pregnancy is apparent in the video she posted when she surprised him with the news.
Although he claims to be happy, some say his tone of voice is very telling. There’s a total lack of emotion behind Chris’ words and he seems very distant. And when he asks if Shanann knows the sex of the baby, she almost sounds irritated with him when she responds by saying, “I don’t know.”
Many people believe that at this point in their relationship Shanann suspected that Chris was cheating on her. If this were true, she certainly wasn’t wrong.
At the beginning of June 2018, Chris Watts met a female coworker from Anadarko named Nichol Kessinger. They started flirting at the office, then texting casually, but the texts soon took on a more-than-friendly tone. Their relationship turned physically intimate at the end of June/beginning of July.
While his wife and children were in North Carolina during the month of July, Chris stayed at Kessinger’s place. They had long talks, went to a drag race, and went camping. Things he felt he couldn’t do with Shanann. Their affair was also very passionate.
Chris confessed to police later that his feelings may have gone beyond a simple fling. He said he felt like himself around Kessinger and like he was more in control. Living with Shanann, she was the one who made most of the decisions in their relationship.
Allegedly, Chris had told Kessinger that he and his wife were already separated, in the final stages of getting a divorce. He even asked Kessinger to help him find a new apartment for himself and his daughters.
Shanann Watts may have started suspecting her husband’s infidelity after receiving an alert on her credit card statement about an expensive dinner at a local sports bar.
How Did Shanann Watts Die?
On the morning of August 13, 2018, Shanann Watts and her two young daughters, Bella Watts, 4, and Celeste Watts, 3, were brutally murdered by Chris Watts. Shanann was 15 weeks pregnant at the time with the couple’s unborn son, whom they were planning on naming Niko Lee Watts. Shanann was just 34 years old.
The year 2018 was supposed to be a very big year for Shanann Watts.
She seemed to be thriving at work and was busy raising her daughters with Chris. Even with their financial difficulties, things seemed to be moving along.
That summer, Chris and Shanann went on a business trip to San Diego. Then, Shanann and the two kids spent six weeks visiting their families in North Carolina, with Chris joining them for a week. Shortly thereafter, Shanann went on a business trip to Arizona with a few of her colleagues from Le-Vel, including her best friend, Nickole Atkinson.
At approximately 1:48 a.m. on the morning of August 13, 2018, Atkinson dropped Shanann off at her house from the airport. Atkinson waited to make sure her friend got into the house before driving away.
Shanann had an OBGYN appointment later that morning around 9 a.m., then she was supposed to attend a business meeting in the afternoon.
Atkinson called and texted Shanann repeatedly to see if she needed a ride to her doctor’s appointment, but her friend failed to answer the phone or her texts. This was very much out of character for Shanann Watts.
When Shanann missed the business meeting, Atkinson decided to check up on her friend to make sure everything was alright. So she showed up with her boyfriend and daughter at the Watts residence around 12:10 p.m. that day. Atkinson repeatedly knocked on the door. She called and texted Shanann…all to no avail. Only the family dog Dieter appeared to be home.
Atkinson peeked in the garage and noticed that Shanann’s SUV was still there, which was odd.
When she called Chris, he told her that Shanann had taken the girls to a play date. But that didn’t make any sense, because they were both too young to ride in a vehicle without their car seats, which were in the back of Shanann’s SUV.
When it was obvious that no one was home, Atkinson decided to contact the Frederick Police Department to report Shanann and the kids missing.
Around 1:40 p.m., an officer showed up at the home to conduct a welfare check. Brief outtakes from the officer’s 2.5-hour-long body cam footage can be viewed here:
Upon the officer’s request, Atkinson called Chris Watts again, asking him to come and give permission to enter the home.
Once Chris arrived and they got inside, the police, Atkinson, and Chris searched the entire home. Right away, they noticed a few very strange things.
Shanann’s phone, purse, wedding rings, and keys were all found inside the house.
For the most part, everything else seemed to be in its proper place. The house was clean except for the fact that the kids’ beds weren’t made and sheets were missing from the couple’s bed.
According to Atkinson, Shanann always made the beds and she would never leave them in such disarray, so this was all out of the ordinary. (The police found one missing sheet later on in a garbage can in the garage and one at the body dump site.)
Atkinson really began to worry about her pregnant friend and her two girls when she discovered Shanann’s medications and CeCe’s epi-pen in the kitchen.
In an interview, Shanann’s father stated, “My daughter would never leave the house without her phone or the epi-pens.”
Chris Watts’ Bizarre Behavior
Throughout the initial search, Chris Watts continued to act strangely, like he didn’t know what was going on. He didn’t seem concerned in the least that his wife and kids were missing.
As Atkinson was frantically making phone calls back and forth with Shanann’s family and friends to update them on the situation, Chris came off like he didn’t have a care in the world.
Chris kept maintaining that his wife had told him she was taking the kids to a play date. He wasn’t concerned that she wasn’t answering her phone, because he assumed she was just busy.
But to anyone who knew Shanann Watts, this didn’t make any sense; she always responded to texts and was normally very active on social media.
The Watts’ next door neighbor, Nathaniel Trinastich, had security surveillance from the front of his home. His camera had caught Chris Watts backing his pickup truck into the couple’s garage on the night of the murder.
The officer’s bodycam captures the moments when the neighbor shows the police and Chris the footage. Chris is visibly nervous and shaken the whole time. According to the neighbor, Chris “looked very frantic” and was “swaying back and forth.” He kept placing his hands behind his head while watching the footage almost as if that was the moment he realized he wasn’t getting away with it.
After viewing the tape, Chris walked out of the room and Trinastich can be heard commenting to the officer, “He’s not acting right at all.” The officer seemed to agree.
On August 14, 2018, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and FBI joined the investigation into the disappearance of Shanann Watts and her two children.
Chris Watts gave interviews with local TV news stations, pleading for his family to come home or be safely returned if they were kidnapped.
One interview shows a stoic Chris saying that he just wanted his family back, as investigators with search dogs are heard in the background.
The whole interview is eerie to watch. Chris almost seems like he’s trying to hold back a smirk. He comes off as oddly composed the entire time, not at all like someone who’s worried about his wife and kids going missing.
Chris Watts’ Confession
On August 15, 2018, Chris Watts went into the Frederick Police Department to take a polygraph. When he failed it, he initially confessed to murdering Shanann only (and her unborn child), not Bella and Celeste.
Chris claimed that he’d asked his wife for a separation…and then she’d killed their two daughters in retaliation. In grief-fueled rage, he said, he strangled Shanann. Then he moved all three bodies to an oil storage site called CERVI 319, owned by his employer, Anadarko.
Chris told the investigators where they could find the bodies. The remains of Shanann, Bella, and CeCe were recovered at the CERVI 319 property, where he said they’d be.
Two weeks later, Chris met with his lawyers and told them the truth about what happened. Because of this, his lawyers brokered him a plea deal.
On November 6, 2018, Chris Watts pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree murder (one count for Shanann, two for each of the little girls), one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy, and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body.
Watts was originally sentenced to death on November 19, but the death penalty was later removed from the sentencing as per the Rzucek family’s request.
Instead, Chris was given five consecutive life sentences with no possibility of parole for the murder charges; three were to be served consecutively and two concurrently. He got an additional 48 years and 36 years for the other charges.
Chris Watts is currently at Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin.
The Truth about the Murder of Shanann Watts’ & Her Daughters
So, what did he finally confess to? What really happened? How did Shanann Watts die? And what happened to Bella and Celeste?
In a February 2019 interview with Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent Tammy Lee, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Grahm Coder, and Frederick Police Department Detective Dave Baumhover, Chris Watts finally gave the full details on what happened in the early hours of August 13, 2018.
Chris said that he’d been asleep in bed when Shanann returned home from her business trip. They had sex around 2:30 a.m., then both fell asleep.
He woke up in the morning and got ready for work. But his guilt over his affair with Nichol Kessinger and his fear that Shanann knew about it were eating at him.
Chris claims that he wanted to talk to her about everything….so he woke her up. When she rolled onto her back in bed, he straddled her. And so they apparently had a discussion for about 15 to 20 minutes with him straddling her prone body in bed.
He alleges that Shanann told him she knew he was being unfaithful. And in response he told his wife that they weren’t compatible anymore; he said he didn’t love Shanann and that their marriage wasn’t going to work.
According to Chris, Shanann then said, “You’re never gonna see the kids again…you’re never gonna see them again…get off me…don’t hurt the baby.”
And that’s when he strangled her to death.
Chris says he was in a rage and couldn’t stop. Oddly, his wife didn’t struggle or cry out.
At that point, their older daughter Bella walked into the bedroom, asking what was wrong with her mom. Chris told her, “Mommy don’t feel good.”
He wrapped Shanann in a sheet and dragged her down the stairs and outside to his truck. He placed her body on the floor in the backseat. He covered her head and feet with garbage bags.
When he returned to the house, he found Celeste had also been awakened by the noise.
Chris says he grabbed his lunch box and put his daughters in the back seat of the truck. They each had a blanket; CeCe had her stuffed dog.
He also brought a can of gas, presumably with the thought of killing himself as well, though he didn’t follow through.
Chris drove to the CERVI 319 oil property, claiming to be in an unthinking daze. At one point, Bella, in the back of the truck with her mother’s dead body, said, “Daddy, it smells.”
When they arrived at CERVI 319, Chris placed Shanann’s body on the ground. Then get got back into the truck. The girls asked, “What are you doing to mommy?”
Chris Watts proceeded to murder his two young daughters. He suffocated and strangled them both; first CeCe, in front of her uncomprehending sister, then Bella. Bella tried to fight, crying “Daddy, no!” But she was too little.
He placed their bodies in separate oil tanks.
Chris then buried Shanann’s pregnant body in the ground.
He changed into some extra work clothes he had in the truck…and then apparently went to work at the same site that day.
Shanann Watt’s family held a funeral mass for her, Bella, and Celeste at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Pinehurst, on September 1, 2018. Shanann is buried under her maiden name, with her two young daughters, in Bethesda Cemetery, in Aberdeen, North Carolina.
Why Did Chris Watts Do It?
Based on Chris Watts’ 2019 interview with investigators, it seems like the most likely motive is a combination of anger, guilt, and fear. According to his account (if it’s to be believed), he felt out of control, like he couldn’t think straight and couldn’t stop himself.
“Like, the whole—everything that happened that morning I just don’t—I don’t know, like…like, I try to go back in my head…I’m just like, I didn’t want to do this, but I did it…everything just kinda like…it just felt like it was… I don’t even want to say it felt like I had to, it just felt like there was already something in my mind that was implanted that I was gonna do it and when I woke up that morning it was gonna happen and I had no control over it.”
Before Shanann got home early that morning, Chris was convinced she knew about his affair. He was already wracked with guilt over it.
He was also already afraid; he knew Shanann was no pushover. She would leave him and take the kids if she found out about his infidelity.
Chris was also already angry with his wife over her conflict with his parents and sister, and the fact that she’d said Cindy and Ronnie would never see their grandchildren again. He felt like she may have coached him into “cussing” at them and cutting them off for a few weeks after the peanut argument in July. And the problems between his mother and Shanann went all the way back to their engagement, so Chris still had resentment over that.
He also admitted to being scared about the new baby.
Moreover, the couple was still dealing with financial stress in the wake of their bankruptcy. Shanann was even considering selling their house; whether or not she was looking at doing this in anticipation of a separation from Chris, we’ll probably never know for sure.
If you add all of these factors up, it seems we have a pretty strong motive for murder. Given the right state of mind on Watts’ part, of course, because the average person wouldn’t strangle and suffocate their loved ones.
Nothing’s been proven about Chris Watts’ psych profile, though many armchair sleuths believe that he must have been a sociopath or psychopath to have been able to murder his wife and young children so brutally in what’s called a “family annihilator” crime.
Chris Watts’ parents put forth an alternative theory to why their son may have lost control in such a violent way: they believe that the Thrive “Duo Burn” patch Chris was using could have caused some kind of temporary psychosis.
They claimed to have accounts from other people confirming that the transdermal patch can alter one’s mind.
Chris confirmed to the investigators that he suffered serious insomnia and altered energy levels while on the Duo Burn patch. There’s been no confirmation of the Duo Burn claim though.
Some armchair sleuths claim that the “other woman,” Nichol Kessinger, had a hand in the violent demise of Shanann, Bella, CeCe, and Nico Watts.
However, Kessinger maintains that she was under the impression that Chris and Shanann were already separated and they were close to finalizing divorce proceedings when she started seeing him.
Chris’ former mistress also claims that she had no clue Shanann was even pregnant. She says she only found out that the couple were expecting and that she and the kids had gone missing when she heard about it on the local news.
However, Shanann Watts was very public about her whole life on social media, with the fact of her pregnancy being visible to anyone who looked at her Facebook profile. So it seems odd that Kessinger didn’t know that the couple was still together or that they were expecting.
Nevertheless, there’s no proof that Kessinger was involved in the murders.
Nichol Kessinger is apparently now in witness protection, due to threats against her.
“Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer” Lifetime Movie
On January 25, 2020, just over two years after the horrific Watts family murders that shook the nation, the Lifetime network aired a dramatization of the events surrounding the crime, called Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer.
Many people, including Shanann Watts’ family, are condemning the movie and the network, saying that it’s in extremely poor taste.
The network released a teaser and trailer for the movie last year. In the brief video, Chris Watts seems to be portrayed as an all-around great guy and family man until the moment he’s being interrogated by police.
On behalf of the Rzucek family, their lawyer Steven Lambert commented that the trailer for the movie perpetuates “a false narrative that does not accurately depict who Shanann was in life, who Bella was in life, who CeCe was in life.”
Shanann’s family also states that the parts of the film they’ve seen are “disturbing” and they were never contacted by the network or asked for permission to portray the story of Shanann and her children.
“This is their tragedy,” Lambert stated in an interview. “And it’s being taken away from them. So when people go out and make things without their input and do not get the facts straight from essentially the horse’s mouth, it does pain them, it does hurt them.”
There’s certainly a lot of controversy and heartbreak surrounding this case. And there’s no telling what liberties Lifetime took with this story.
Of course, the network is no stranger to depicting horrific crimes from the past, but this one just seems too soon after the fact.
The Rzucek family faced a lot of backlash and threats for conducting TV interviews following the deaths—despite the fact that they weren’t compensated—and their main concern is that all of that will start up again following the airing of this movie.