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

  • In November, Chris Watts got three consecutive life sentences for the August slayings of his pregnant wife,Shanann Watts, and their daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3.
  • Over the summer, as Shanann Watts tried to save her marriage, Chris Watts went from a loving husband to a killer.
  • Combing through phone records, texts, photos, and police records, this is the full timeline of the Chris Watts murder case.

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

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

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

Just 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 Watts had secretly started seeing a coworker, telling her that he and his wife were in the process of separating.

While Shanann Watts spent most of the summer in North Carolina with relatives, he spent more and more time with his new girlfriend, and his wife noticed him growing distant. She desperately tried to salvage their relationship.

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

Despite Chris Watts’ waning affections, nothing seems to explain what possessed him to kill his family.

This is the full timeline of the grisly case, culled from police records.

June 11: Shanann Watts records videos of her surprising her husband with the news that she’s pregnant for a third time.

Chris Watts seems genuinely excited.

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

June 14: Shanann Watts records a video of 4-year-old Bella singing a song about how much she loves her dad.

Bella signs 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: Chris Watts enters coworker Nichol Kessinger’s contact information into his phone. Kessinger would later become his mistress.

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

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

June 17: Kessinger tells police that sometime before Father’s Day, Chris Watts tells her he is married and has kids but is in the process of separating. On Father’s Day, Shanann Watts writes a tribute to him 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: Shanann Watts shares a picture from her first ultrasound and writes that her husband is the “best dad us girls could ask for.”

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

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

July 4: Kessinger told police she went to Chris Watts’ house for the first time on the Fourth of July to “set up his diet and weight loss/exercise goals.” “He invited her to his home, he cooked lunch, they ate and she left,” according to police documents.

Denver 7The Watts’ house in Frederick, Colorado.

Watts told a different story to investigators in February 2019. He said he woke up at Kessinger’s home 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: The first phone call is logged between Chris Watts and Kessinger.

Weld County DAWatts and Kessinger in July.

July 10: 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: Chris Watts and Kessinger go on a date to a car museum. That afternoon, Shanann Watts makes four unanswered calls to her husband.

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

July 18: Kessinger sends Chris Watts 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: Chris Watts 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 Watts 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: Chris Watts flies to North Carolina for the final week of his family’s vacation. His and Shanann Watts’ reunion does not appear to be happy, according to a copy of a text Shanann Watts sent to her husband, which she later forwarded to a friend.

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August 4, 12:45 a.m.: Shanann Watts 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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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.”

August 4: Shanann Watts appears to have had a fight with her in-laws, which caused them to skip Celeste’s birthday party that summer. She also tells her husband that he hasn’t shown any signs of missing her in the weeks they have been apart.

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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: While Chris Watts 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 DAWatts and Kessinger in July.

August 7: Shanann Watts starts confiding in friends about her problems with her husband.

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

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

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

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

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

August 12: Shanann Watts 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.

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

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

Later that morning: Watts said he and his wife got into an argument when he woke up to get ready to work. He told investigators she accused him of cheating, he “snapped,” and then he strangled her.

Watts said the noise of the fight woke Bella up, who came into his bedroom and asked, “What’s wrong with Mummy?”

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

He said his daughter watched as he wrapped his wife’s body in a sheet and dragged her out to his truck. Watts told investigators that both girls sat on the bench seat of his truck as they drove out to an oil site where he worked to dump Shanann’s body.

August 13, 5:27 a.m.: Surveillance footage shows Watts loading up his work truck and leaving home.

August 13, 10:10 a.m.: After disposing of the bodies of his wife and daughters at an oil site where he works, Chris Watts looks up the lyrics to a Metallica song, “Battery.”

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, after he was sentenced, Watts 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, 12:27 p.m.: The Watts’ realtor reaches out to the couple, and Chris Watts chats with her about the current state of their home and what they’re looking for in a new house.

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August 13: At one point the realtor questions why Shanann Watts hasn’t weighed in on their conversation. “She hasn’t been around all day,” Chris Watts responds. “It’s very odd.”

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

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Nickole Atkinson went to the Watts’ home, saw Shanann Watts’ car in the garage, and found it suspicious when no one answered the door.

When Chris Watts arrived back home to talk to police, he said his wife told him she was taking the girls to a friend’s house, but didn’t specify which friend.

August 13: After looking through the house, a neighbour invites Chris Watts and a police officer over to his property to review his home-surveillance footage, which disproves Chris Watts’ story that his wife left with the girls while he was at work.

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

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

At one point, he said: “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, 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 PostAt the police station, Watts confessed to killing his wife to his father, left.

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

August 15, 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, afternoon: Shanann Watts’ body is found in a shallow grave near this oil site. The bodies of the girls were found in the two oil tanks.

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August 21: Shanann Watts’ family appears in court as Chris Watts is arraigned.

RJ Sangosti – Pool/Getty ImagesShanann Watts’ father, Frank Rzucek, cried during the court hearing. His son, Frankie Rzucek, comforted him.

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

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

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: Kessinger speaks out in an interview with The Denver Post.

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

February 2019: Chris Watts sits down with investigators 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.

On February 18, 2019, three investigators spoke to Watts at the federal prison where he is serving his three life sentences.

It marked the first time Watts detailed how he killed his two daughters.

He said he “snapped” the morning his wife returned home from a business trip and accused him, correctly, of cheating. Watts told investigators he wasn’t thinking when he carried out the murders.

After strangling his wife, he said he drove her body out to an oil field where he worked, with his two girls sitting in the back.

It was at the oil field that he said he smothered the girls with a blanket, before dropping their bodies into two separate oil tanks.

Read more: Chris Watts gives gruesome details about how he murdered his wife and 2 daughters in a newly released interview with investigators

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