One good thing about Bill’s business trips is that they frequently allow me to get a lot of reading done. Instead of hanging out with Bill at our kitchen table, listening to music and enjoying libations, I tend to work on my big virtual pile of books to be read. Bill is coming home today, so it’s fitting that I would finish reading my latest book in time for his arrival. This morning, I finished British-American true crime author John Glatt’s 2020 book, The Perfect Father: The True Story of Chris Watts, His All-American Family, and a Shocking Murder. I’ve had this book in my virtual “to be read” pile for well over a year, having downloaded it in 2021. I have other books waiting that have been queued up for even longer than that!
The Perfect Father is the shocking and tragic story of Chris Watts and his devastating choice to murder his pregnant wife, Shannan, and their two daughters, Bella and Celeste (CeCe), on August 13, 2018. Like so many people, I was absolutely shocked by the callousness of this brutal crime, which left two families shattered and a man’s life ruined. As it is with these kinds of horrific events, evidence shows that the Watts family was headed for disaster for years. It did not have to end in murder. But, unfortunately, this was a case of two incompatible people who desperately needed to admit that their marriage wasn’t working and avail themselves of divorce court. Instead, Chris Watts lost control of himself. Now, his wife, two daughters, and unborn son are gone forever, and he will never again see the light of day as a free man.
I want to make it perfectly clear. I do not, in ANY way, condone what Chris Watts did. He definitely belongs in prison for the rest of his life. However… I do want to state that based on Glatt’s book, I can’t conclude that Watts is a complete monster. His actions absolutely were monstrous. But I like to think that the vast majority of people are better than their worst actions. That’s how I feel about this case, at least with the information I have at this point in time. I can see that I’m not the only person who feels this way.
Chris Watts and his family…
Chris Watts was born to his parents, Ronnie and Cindy Watts, in Spring Lake, North Carolina on May 16, 1985. He was a quiet young man who enjoyed cars and mechanics. From a young age, he showed an aptitude for fixing things, and he grew up loving race cars. When he was still quite young, he got a job working for the local Ford dealership, where he developed a reputation for doing great work on cars. He had aspired to work as an elite auto mechanic, but that wasn’t in the cards. For years, Chris settled for working at Ford dealerships in North Carolina and Colorado, and then later for Andarko Petroleum in Frederick, Colorado.
Shannan Rzucek Watts, named after the doo wop group, Sha Na Na, was born to her parents, Frank and Sandi Rzucek in Passaic County, New Jersey on January 10, 1984. She grew up in Moore County, North Carolina, and was known for being a real go getter who liked nice things and the sweet life. By the time she was 25 years old, she owned what some might call a “McMansion”, which she built and decorated herself. Shannan was well known for being very friendly and sales motivated. Besides her human resources job at Anschutz Children’s Hospital in Colorado, Shannan was also a very successful independent sales representative for a multi-level marketing company that sold a product called Thrive.
Chris and Shannan met in North Carolina in 2010. They married on November 3, 2012 in Mecklenberg County, North Carolina. Not long after their wedding, the two decided to move to Frederick, Colorado. Their oldest child, Bella Marie, was born on December 17, 2013, and their second child, Celeste Cathryn (known as CeCe), was born on July 17, 2015. At the time of her death, Shannan was 15 weeks with the couple’s unborn son, whom they had planned to call Nico Lee.
The build up…
By most accounts, Chris and Shannan Watts appeared to be a very solid family. Chris was described as a very nice, hard working, decent man. Shannan was known as extremely successful, goal oriented, and a devoted mother. The couple had a lot of friends, and appeared to be living the sweet life, as they drove expensive cars and lived in a beautiful, spacious, five bedroom home. Most people who knew the Wattses believed they were happy and highly functional. But, underneath the beautiful facade of their family life, the couple’s marriage was crumbling.
According to Glatt, who admittedly wrote his book without assistance from the Rzucek family, Shannan was obsessed with promoting a very successful image. In her opinion, that image must be formed by the trappings of success– a beautiful home, expensive cars, beautiful clothes, and glowing health. Chris Watts, by contrast, was much more introverted and low key. He took pleasure in simpler things, like camping out, long drives, and living more within his means.
From the beginning, it didn’t appear that this couple was particularly well matched to each other. Still, they put forth an image of success and financial wealth, as Shannan developed her business with Thrive. She convinced family and friends to use the health and wellness company’s products, which included transdermal patches. Shannan had a very active social media presence. Although Chris was less comfortable with the spotlight than Shannan was, she would use him to promote Thrive. Indeed, Chris became a success story, transforming his “dad bod” to a much buffer version. Shannan constantly posted videos of Chris on Facebook, even though he wasn’t particularly comfortable with the exposure.
Again, based solely on appearances, the couple appeared to be extremely well off and happy. But there were many problems. Shannan didn’t get along with Chris’s parents, especially his mother, to whom Chris was very close. They both had huge credit card debts. Shannan suffered from lupus, and their two daughters both had health problems that ran up huge medical bills. Yes, they looked like they were on top of the world, but the reality was that they were barely keeping afloat.
Chris and Shannan were drifting apart, never really stopping to be honest with each other to determine what would make the other happy. Shannan seemed to want Chris to take her side in all matters, including those involving his parents– and especially his mom, whom Shannan reportedly didn’t like at all. Chris’s response to his wife was to withdraw from her, rather than have a discussion about their failing marriage. Shannan responded by becoming angry, and involving a lot of unrelated and uninvolved people in their personal issues. Throughout the book, Glatt includes actual text messages, many of which Shannan sent to her friends, as if she was circling the wagons.
In the midst of all of this alienation, Chris met another woman. Nichol Kessinger also worked for Andarko Petroleum, and Chris was instantly attracted to her. He told her he and Shannan were separated, and the two commenced a torrid affair. Meanwhile, Shannan was obsessed with her business with Thrive and her third pregnancy, this time with a son. The couple was drowning in debt and had no love for each other. Chris Watts had moved on, but Shannan wanted to stay together… if only until their son was born.
Shannan had handled all of the finances in the Watts marriage, so Chris would usually use a work credit card to pay for dates with Nichol Kessinger. One time, he used his joint card, and Shannan noticed the unusually high charge at a restaurant. Chris had been reticent about his unhappiness for a long time. In the early hours of August 13, 2018, the day Chris strangled his wife, the two had sex. Then she confronted him, and he told her he wanted a divorce.
Shannan’s angry response was the Chris would never see her or their daughters again. Then, Chris strangled her with his bare hands. As her mother lay lifeless, four year old Bella asked what was wrong with her mommy. It must have been then that Chris decided he would kill his daughters, too. Coldly and methodically, he loaded Shannan into his truck, as well as his daughters. It took 45 minutes for him to drive to his family’s final destination in a remote mine field. He buried Shannan in a shallow grave. Then, he smothered CeCe and Bella and dumped both of their bodies into separate oil tanks, where he hoped they’d never be found.
I might explain Chris’s decision to murder Shannan as motivated by rage. But he still had 45 minutes to calm down before he decided to kill his innocent daughters. I read in another source that Chris thought he might commit suicide, but ultimately changed his mind because– crazily enough– he was concerned about workers being hurt in the aftermath.
John Glatt usually does a pretty good job on his books. I think The Perfect Father is a good example of his typical work. This book is well written and researched, for the most part. Of course, it would have been better if he had gotten statements from Shannan’s family, who would have probably balanced out what some readers might think is a fairly sympathetic treatment of Chris Watts. Because the Rzuceks did not participate, this book may seem somewhat one-sided, and possibly unfair to Shannan. She is, quite frankly, portrayed as an abrasive, difficult, money and status hungry person who drove her husband to snap.
Now… God knows I know that such people exist in the world. I write about them all the time in this blog. However, as I mentioned up post, I don’t believe that most people are as bad as their worst actions. Surely, Shannan Watts had a lot going for her that may have been more appealing to a different man. She was legitimately successful as a Thrive representative, even though the couple’s finances were a disaster. And she was a conscientious mother, even if she was portrayed as a potential alienator.
I suspect that if Shannan and Chris had divorced, Shannan might have made things very difficult for him… but I don’t know that for sure. I can only go by Glatt’s description of her behaviors. By Glatt’s account, Shannan Watts comes off as very materialistic, controlling, and potentially narcissistic. If his account is accurate, I can understand how Chris Watts came to be enraged by her behavior. He probably felt despondent, like there was no hope for the future.
None of this means that Chris Watts had ANY right to murder his wife and children. The way he killed them and disposed of their remains was particularly cold hearted and cruel. But, up until he committed his crimes, he hadn’t seemed like a terrible person, at least not by Glatt’s account. Chris Watts apparently didn’t have a history of operating outside of the law. To me, it really does look like he was desperately unhappy, feeling trapped, and simply snapped. He had gone from being a supposedly solid, dependable guy to a cold-hearted, lying, psychopath, completely lacking in empathy and overcome with impulsiveness. I’m sure using Thrive– of which he was using two patches instead of the recommended one– wasn’t helpful, either. He was living an artificial life, that wasn’t the one he’d envisioned for himself. It seemed like there was a perfect storm of many horrific elements from both sides that came together at the worst time.
This is a heartbreaking story on many levels. I see some parallels to the Scott and Laci Peterson case, although unlike Scott Peterson, Chris Watts seems to have some remorse for what he did. And, I’m sorry to say, Shannan Watts did not seem to be as sympathetic a victim as Laci Peterson was. However, many components are similar… murder of a pregnant woman, infidelity, and an outwardly successful and happy appearance before tragedy struck.
It seems to me that the pursuit of the elusive “American Dream” has led to great sorrow for many who never quite get there. Those who are lucky only lose out financially. In this case, there was devastation on every level, affecting so many people. Chris Watts absolutely belongs in prison for the rest of his life for what he did. But I can’t help but wish that he had simply realized that there’s life after divorce and gotten one of those– long before Shannan got pregnant a third time. Or, better yet, held out for marriage to a woman with whom he was truly compatible. I’m sure he wishes that, too.
Amazingly enough, Glatt reports that there’s no shortage of fan mail to Chris Watts from admiring women… He also became friends with Jake Patterson, who kidnapped Jayme Closs after killing her parents, and help her captive for 88 days. Jake Patterson has since been transferred, but they used to be “neighbors” in prison and struck up a companionship. The mind boggles.
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