From a happy pregnancy announcement to a shallow grave: The full timeline of the Chris Watts murder case

AP/APA composite image of Chris Watts in court, and a photo of his family: wife Shanann and daughters Bella and Celeste.
  • In November 19, 2018, Chris Watts received three consecutive life sentences for the August 2018 deaths of his pregnant wife,Shanann Watts, and their daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3.
  • That summer, Chris had gone from a loving husband to a cheater to a killer.
  • This is the full timeline of his murder case, complete with phone records, texts, photos, and police records.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Editor’s Note: Some readers may find details in this story disturbing.

On August 13, 2018, missing-person posters were showing the faces of pregnant Shanann Watts and her two daughters, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste, after they suddenly disappeared from their home in Frederick, Colorado.

At first, Watts’ husband, Chris Watts, agreed to TV interviews, where he appeared torn up over their disappearance and begged for their safe return.

Two days later, he was arrested in connection with their deaths.

On social media, the couple seemed like they had a perfect marriage. But Chris had been secretly seeing a coworker, telling her that he and his wife were in the process of separating.

Over the summer, Shanann noticed that Chris was growing increasingly distant, and desperately tried to save their relationship.

When she returned from a business trip on the morning of August 13, 2018, she and Chris got into a fight, which ended with Shanann — who was 15 weeks pregnant — being strangled, and their two daughters smothered, to death.

Despite Chris’s waning affections, nothing seems to explain why he killed his family. This is the full timeline of the grisly case.

June 11, 2018: Shanann records videos of her surprising her husband with the news that she’s pregnant with their third child.


Chris seems genuinely excited in the video.

“That’s awesome,” he tells his wife before kissing her. “I guess when you want to, it happens.”

June 14, 2018: Shanann records a video of Bella, 4, singing a song about how much she loves her dad.

YouTube/News Leak Replacement

Bella sings in the video: “My daddy is a hero/ He helps me grow up strong/ He helps me snuggle too/ He reads me books/ He ties my shoes/ You’re a hero through and through/ Daddy, Daddy, I love you.”

June 14, 2018: Chris enters coworker Nichol Kessinger’s contact information into his phone. Kessinger would later become his mistress.

Weld County DAA picture of Nichol Kessinger and Chris Watts found on Watts’ phone.

Kessinger said she started dating Watts seriously at the end of June 2018.

June 17, 2018: Some time around this date Chris tells Kessinger he is married and has kids, but is in the process of separating, Kessinger later told police. On Father’s Day, Shanann writes a tribute to her husband on Facebook.

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“Chris, we are so incredibly blessed to have you!” she wrote, according to HuffPost. “You do so much everyday for us and take such great care of us. You are the reason I was brave enough to agree to number 3!”

June 19, 2018: Shanann shares a picture from her first ultrasound on Facebook, adding that her husband is the “best dad us girls could ask for.”

Weld County DAAn ultrasound image of the Watts’ unborn son.

June 27, 2018: Shanann takes Bella and Celeste to North Carolina for a five-week vacation, while her husband stays at home and works.

Shanann Watts/FacebookFrom left to right: Celeste, Shanann, and Bella Watts.

July 4, 2018: Kessinger goes to Chris’ house for the first time to “set up his diet and weight loss/exercise goals,” as she later told police.

Denver 7The Watts’ house in Frederick, Colorado.

According to police documents, “he invited her to his home, he cooked lunch, they ate and she left.”

But Watts told a different story to investigators in February 2019. He said he woke up at Kessinger’s home on the morning of July 4 to several missed calls from his wife.

He said he told Kessinger he needed to go home in case his wife called back and that Kessinger got mad, realising that she would always be the “other person” and that he would put his wife first.

He told investigators she told him it would be best if they didn’t see each other for the rest of the day, but later invited him back to her house.

July 7, 2018: A first phone call is logged between Chris and Kessinger.

Weld County DAWatts and Kessinger in July.

July 10, 2018: Signs of tension begin to show in the Watts’ marriage, according to their text messages:

Weld County DAA transcription of the Watts’ text-message exchanges on July 10, according the official review of their phone data.

July 14, 2018: Chris and Kessinger go on a date to a car museum. That afternoon, Shanann makes four calls to her husband, which all went unanswered.

Shelby American Collection/FacebookThe Shelby American Collection in Boulder, Colarado, which Watts and Kessinger visited.

July 18, 2018: Kessinger sends Chris seminude photos of herself, which he stores on a secret calculator app on his phone.

Weld County DAOne of the pictures of Kessinger found on Watts’ phone.

Watts told investigators that part of what drew him to Kessinger was the feeling that she was pursuing him, instead of the other way around.

July 28, 2018: Chris and Kessinger visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park and spend the night at a nearby campground.

Weld County DAThe two went sandboarding during their two-day trip.

July 30: Chris gives Kessinger a love letter before leaving town to join his family on their summer vacation.

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The inside of the letter contains lyrics to the song “Down to Earth” by the band Through the Roots.

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July 31, 2018: Chris flies to North Carolina for the final week of his family’s vacation. His and Shanann’s reunion does not appear to be happy, according to a copy of a text Shanann sent to Chris, which she later forwarded to a friend.

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August 4, 2018, 12:45 a.m.: Shanann sends her husband a long text message accusing him of failing to stand up for her after his parents exposed their daughter Celeste to nuts, which she was allergic to.

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In the text, Shanann also tells Chris that he hasn’t shown any signs of missing her in the weeks they have been apart.

Watts later told investigators that he should have ended things with Kessinger and focused on his family after learning about the peanut fracas, which he referred to as “nutgate.”

Later that day, Shanann appears to have had a fight with her in-laws, which prompted them to skip Celeste’s birthday party that summer. Here are texts she exchanged with a friend at the time:

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Watts later told investigators that he believes he may have killed his wife and kids due to pent-up anger he harbored toward Shanann for what he described as driving a wedge between him and his family – feelings he said dated back to the beginning of their relationship.

August 4, 2018: While Chris is away, Kessinger searches for wedding dresses on the internet for over two hours, according to a review of her mobile phone data.

Weld County DAChris Watts and Kessinger in July.

August 7, 2018: Shanann confides in friends about her problems with her husband.

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“He has changed. I don’t know who he is,” Shanann can be seen texting. “He hasn’t touched me all week, kissed me, talked to me except for when I’m trying to figure out what is wrong.”

“Addy, I have no idea what happened?” she later added.

August 9, 2018: Shanann tells a friend that Chris Watts went to her ultrasound but was cold to her, so she decided to cancel the baby’s gender-reveal party.

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August 9, 2018: Shanann leaves for a business trip to Arizona. On the way there, she tells a friend that she had her “best talk yet” with Chris the night before.

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August 9, 2018: Shanann texts a friend a handwritten letter she drafted to give to her husband, in which she says she doesn’t know how they “fell out of compatibility,” quoting him.

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August 11, 2018: Chris hires a babysitter, saying he’s going to a Colorado Rockies game with his coworkers. In fact, he is taking Kessinger on a date to a sports bar in Erie, Colorado.

Google StreetviewThe Lazy Dog Sports Bar and Grill in Erie, Colorado.

August 12, 2018: Shanann sends a friend a draft of a speech she plans to give to her husband when she returns to Colorado the next day.

Weld County DAFrom the official review of Shanann Watts’ mobile phone data.

“I try to fix things and make them better and this is making me crazy,” she plans to say.

August 13, 2018, 1:48 a.m.: A neighbour’s surveillance camera captures Shanann returning home from her business trip.

CBS Denver

Chris told investigators he was sleeping when his wife came home. He said she initiated sex and then they went to bed.

Later that morning, Chris and Shanann get into an argument when he wakes up for work, according to his testimony. He told investigators his wife accused him of cheating, he “snapped,” and then he strangled her to death.

Facebook/Shanann WattsChris and Shanann.

According to Chris, the noise of the fight wakes Bella up, and she enters the bedroom and asks: “What’s wrong with Mummy?”

YouTube/The SunAn investigator holds up the bed sheet that Shanann was wrapped in when she was buried.

According to Chris, Bella watches as he wraps his wife’s body in a sheet and drags it out to his truck.

August 13, 2018, 5:27 a.m.: Surveillance footage shows Watts loading up his work truck and leaving home. Chris later tells investigators both girls sat on the bench seat of his truck as he drove out to an oil site where he works to dump Shanann’s body.

YouTube/CBS DenverThe red circle shows Chris Watts by his work truck.

At the oil fields, Chris smothers his daughters with a blanket, before dropping their bodies into two separate oil tanks.

9 NewsInvestigators seen near the oil wells where Bella and Celeste’s bodies were hidden.

It should be noted that until his November 2018 trial, Chris had maintained that his wife killed their daughters.

Only after his conviction, also in November, did Chris detail to investigators how he also killed Bella and Celeste.

August 13, 2018, 10:10 a.m.: After disposing of the bodies of his wife and daughters, Chris looks up the lyrics to a Metallica song, “Battery,” which has a line: “Cannot kill the family.”

YouTube/MetallicaTVMetallica performing the song in Pasadena, California, in 2017.

The song contains the lyrics: “Smashing through the boundaries/ Lunacy has found me/ Cannot stop the battery/ Pounding out aggression/ Turns into obsession/ Cannot kill the battery/ Cannot kill the family.”

In an interview with investigators in February 2019, after he was sentenced, Chris said he was looking up the lyrics to the song because Kessinger liked it and asked him what it meant.

He denied looking up the lyrics on the way to or from the oil site after the murders.

August 13, 2018, 12:27 p.m.: The Watts’ realtor texts the couple, and Chris chats with her about the current state of their home and what they’re looking for in a new house.

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At one point the realtor questions why Shanann hasn’t weighed in on their conversation. “She hasn’t been around all day,” Chris responds. “It’s very odd.”

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August 13, 2018, 1:40 p.m.: Shanann’s friend Nickole Atkinson, left, reports her missing when she can’t get ahold of her.

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Atkinson told the police at the time she went to the Watts’ home, saw Shanann’s car in the garage, and found it suspicious when no one answered the door.

When Chris spoke to the police that day, he said his wife told him she was taking the girls to a friend’s house, but didn’t specify which friend.

After looking through the house, a neighbour invites Chris and a police officer to his property to review his home-surveillance footage, which disproves Chris’ story that his wife left with the girls while he was at work.

Weld County DAAn officer’s body camera captures Chris Watts’ reaction as his alibi falls apart.

August 14, 2018, in the afternoon: Chris appears on Denver 7 to talk about his wife and daughters’ disappearance.


At one point, he says: “Shanann, Bella, Celeste, if you’re out there, just come back. If somebody has her, just please bring her back. I need to see everybody, I need to see everybody again. This house is not complete without anybody here.”

August 15, 2018, in the evening: After police discover Chris Watts has a mistress and he fails a lie detector test, he admits to strangling his wife and burying her in a shallow grave at an oil site.

The Denver PostAn image of Chris Watts (right) confessing to killing his wife to his father (left)..

At the time, he refused to take responsibility for the deaths of his daughters, saying Shanann smothered them.

August 15, 2018, 11:30 p.m.: Chris Watts is arrested on suspicion of three first-degree-murder charges and three charges of tampering with a deceased human body.

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August 16, 2018, in the afternoon: Shanann Watts’ body is discovered in a shallow grave near this oil site. The bodies of the girls are found in the two oil tanks.

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August 21, 2018: Shanann’s family appears in court as Chris is arraigned.

RJ Sangosti – Pool/Getty ImagesShanann Watts’ father, Frank Rzucek, cries during the court hearing as his son, Frankie, comforts him.

November 6, 2018: Chris Watts pleads guilty to all nine counts against him.

Weld County DAA Polaroid picture of Chris Watts in jail in October 2018.

In pleading guilty to five counts of first-degree murder, Chris Watts negated his initial story that his wife killed their daughters, and assumed responsibility to killing all three himself.

Two additional murder charges were added because the children were under the ages of 12.

He also pleaded guilty to three counts of tampering with a deceased human body and one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy.

November 15, 2018: Kessinger speaks out in an interview with The Denver Post.

RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesKessinger.

In the interview, Kessinger said Chris Watts told her he was separating from his wife and that she never knew that Shanann Watts was pregnant.

“He lied about everything,” she said.

November 19, 2018: Chris is sentenced to three consecutive life sentences, without the possibility of parole.

RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

February 18, 2019: Chris speaks to three investigators at the federal prison where he is serving his sentence, and finally tells them the whole story of how he killed his wife and kids.

Colorado Bureau of InvestigationThis photo was taken of Watts on the day he was interviewed in February 2019.

September 30, 2020: Netflix releases a documentary on the case called “American Murder: The Family Next Door.”

YouTube/NetflixThe documentary includes family videos, including from the couple’s wedding.

Watch the full trailer below:

October 6, 2020: People magazine reports that Watts has received an influx of letters from women since the Netflix documentary came out.

TMJ4The Dodge Correctional Facility, where Watts is currently serving out his sentence, is seen in 2018.

“He got a lot of letters at first,” a source who has spoken with Watts in jail told People.

“Many of them are from women who thought he was handsome and felt compassion for him. He had nothing better to do, so he wrote them back. And he started having penpals. A couple of them stood out, and they have kept in contact.”

October 8, 2020: Meanwhile, Chris Watts’ parents, Ronnie and Cindy Watts, tells The Sun that they still love their son despite what he did.

YouTube/Denver 7Ronnie and Cindy Watts are seen in a 2018 interview with Denver 7.

Ronnie told The Sun that they regularly speak with their son, who is “heartbroken” and has become religious.

Cindy said there’s “not one day that goes by” that she doesn’t think about what her son did to her daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

“I go to sleep with them on my mind, I will never, ever get over this. It’s something that stays with you,” Cindy said.

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