As Chris Watts, 33, appeared in court Monday to be sentenced in the killings of his pregnant wife and two young children, many questioned how he could be the same Colorado man recently lauded as a wonderful father and husband.
“He was the one for me,” Shan'ann Watts, 34, had said in a video posted to social media before her death. “And he is amazing and I can’t tell you how wonderful he is.”
Watts pleaded guilty to the charges he faced in the killings of wife Shan'ann, who was 15 weeks pregnant, and his daughters, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste, in exchange for being spared the death penalty.
Below is a timeline of the case:
Monday, Aug. 13
1:48 a.m. MDT: A security camera on a neighbor’s home captured Shan'ann returning from a business trip in Arizona. A friend dropped the expectant mother of two off back at her Frederick home.
Between 4 and 5 a.m.: Police said Watts told them he awoke around this time and had an “emotional” but “civil” discussion with Shan'ann about his wanting to separate.
5:27 a.m.: Watts was spotted backing up his truck to his garage. Police said he initially told them he had loaded tools into his vehicle and left for work at a job site near Hudson. He told officials Shan'ann and his daughters were in bed when he left, an arrest affidavit said. Watts said his wife told him she was bringing the children to her friend’s house that day, but he said he didn’t know the friend’s name.
1:40 p.m.: Frederick police were called to the Watts family home to check on Shan'ann after the friend who dropped her off said she hadn’t answered calls or texts and missed a 10 a.m. doctor appointment. Watts gave police permission to enter the home, where they found Shan'ann’s purse on a kitchen counter and cellphone lodged between two couch cushions, but no signs of foul play, according to the affidavit.
Tuesday, Aug. 14
7 a.m.: Frederick police requested the assistance of the FBI and Colorado Bureau of Investigation in the search for Shan'ann and the girls. The CBI issued a missing-endangered alert for the three that day.
Tuesday afternoon: Watts spoke with KUSA-TV, saying his family’s disappearance was “earth-shattering.”
“If somebody has her just please bring her back,” he said. “I need to see everybody, I need to see everybody again; this house is not complete without anybody here.”
Wednesday, Aug. 15
4:15 p.m.: Police used a drone to investigate an oil and gas site where they believed Shan'ann, Bella and Celeste’s bodies to be. There, they found a bed sheet matching the pattern of the pillowcases and top sheet at the Watts family home.The sheets found at the house had allegedly been thrown into a kitchen trash can. Police said they also spotted “fresh movement of dirt consistent with a clandestine grave near the oil tanks.”
Wednesday evening: Investigators discover that Watts was allegedly having an affair with a co-worker, which he had previously denied. In an interview with police, Watts allegedly “said he would tell the truth after speaking with his dad,” the affidavit said.
Police said Watts then told them that after telling Shan'ann he wanted a separation, he saw her on a baby monitor strangling Celeste in another room. He told police Bella was already blue and “sprawled” out on her bed, apparently dead, the affidavit said. Watts told police he “went into a rage and ultimately strangled Shan'ann to death.”
He said he loaded all three bodies onto the back seat of his work truck and took them to a work site, where he buried Shan'ann and dumped the children’s bodies into oil tanks, the affidavit said.
11:30 p.m.: Watts was arrested on suspicion of three first-degree murder charges and three charges of tampering with a deceased human body.
Thursday, Aug. 16
2:30 p.m.: Watts appeared in Weld County Court, where he was denied bond.
Thursday afternoon: Shan'ann’s body was found in a “shallow grave.”
Thursday evening: Celeste and Bella’s bodies were found inside oil tanks near the grave of their mother.
Friday, Aug. 17
All three victims were positively identified by the Weld County coroner Friday.
Autopsies were conducted for all three victims, but the results were not immediately released.
8:30 p.m.: Hundreds gathered to take part in a candlelight vigil for Shan'ann and her daughters. Flowers, stuffed animals, crosses and photos adorned a makeshift memorial that was created in front of their home.
Monday, Aug. 20
4 p.m.: Watts was officially charged with three counts of first-degree murder; two counts of first-degree murder for causing the death of a person under the age of 12 while being in a position of trust; one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a deceased body.
Shan'ann’s father, Frank Rzucek Sr., and brother, Frank Rzucek Jr., stood alongside prosecutors as they announced the charges.
Rzucek Sr. thanked law enforcement for their work on his daughter and granddaughters’ case, as well as supporters for their prayers.
“They are greatly appreciated,” said Rzucek Sr. “Keep the prayers coming for our family.”
Tuesday, Aug. 21
10 a.m.: Watts appeared in court to be formally advised of the charges against him.
Wednesday, Aug. 22
A friend of Watts shared how shocked he was by the soon-to-be father-of-three’s arrest.
“I believed until the other day that his entire life was those girls, and that he would die for them," Kris Landon told People magazine.
“I never saw this coming.”
Saturday, Aug. 25
An obituary posted for Shan’ann and her daughters revealed that the expectant mother was going to have a boy she planned to name Nico Lee.
“With the anticipation of her son to join them, she knew he would be loved by his sisters and family,” the obituary read.
The family asked that instead of flowers, memorial donations be made in memory of Shan’ann to the Lupus Foundation of America.
Wednesday, Aug. 29
A man called in to Ashleigh Banfield's “Crime & Justice” on HLN claiming he had a 10-month relationship with Watts.
“We can't independently verify the details that he describes, but we are going to continue speaking with him,” Banfield said on air.
"He told me that he was the victim of emotional and verbal abuse and he was trapped in a loveless marriage and he didn’t know of any way out because of his kids, because of the girls,” the man told Banfield.
A man identified as Trent Bolte later came forward on social media to say he had the affair with Watts.
“I'll always have to live with the fact that I had a relationship with a married man who is also a murderer,” he wrote on Facebook. He claimed their relationship lasted 10 months and ended in April.
Saturday, Sept. 1
Hundreds of mourners gathered to pay their respects toward the slain family at a memorial at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pinehurst. No one mentioned Watts during the 90-minute ceremony, which was livestreamed on Facebook.
“Shan’ann was a woman of love,” Father John Forbes said during the service. “She loved God, her family and her friends. She was a woman of determination. She had dreams to be fulfilled, and she worked toward to those dreams. She wanted to make a difference. She wanted to be an exceptional wife and mother.”
Tuesday, Sept. 4
Watts was denied bail and forced to remain behind bars until his trial opened. He was placed on suicide watch while in jail, where he spent 23 hours a day in his cell because he was in protective custody.
There, he had no access to the weights, reading material or television. One hour per day, Watts was allowed to leave his cell to shower, make phone calls to his family, or to his counsel.
Friday, Sept. 7
Shan’ann’s brother took to social media to thank his family’s supporters for all they had done after his sister’s and nieces’ deaths.
“I wanted to take a minute and thank everyone who has helped us in every way possible,” Rzucek Jr. wrote on Facebook. “From best friends and family to people all over THE WORLD. It’s truly an honor and a blessing to be part of this family.”
He alluded to the killings of his family, writing: “Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever dreamt such a horrific nightmare and just plain heartbreaking tragedy would ever happen to my regular ol happy family. We lost so much in a blink of an eye, but we also gained love and support from people all over and they became part of our FAMILY.”
Monday, Sept. 10
The Watts family's dog, Dieter, found a new home with Shan’ann’s brother.
Rzucek Jr., Shanann's younger brother, posted a sweet video to Facebook last week showing Dieter running around his backyard.
“He gets a little nervous here and there because he’s not used to … my Chihuahua and her attitude lol,” Rzucek Jr. wrote. “He’s starting to figure out she’s all bark and no bite. I couldn't be happier to have him be a part of our Dog family. He's also cool with my cat Caesar."
Wednesday, Sept. 26
Shan’ann’s family moved her personal items out of the Colorado home she shared with her husband, and two daughters, reports said.
A bed frame, mirror and other pieces of furniture were removed from the home. A deputy from the Weld County Sheriff's Office was present as Shan’ann's father, Rzucek Sr., put things the items into a moving truck. They will reportedly be kept in storage until further notice.
Wednesday, Oct. 1
The autopsy reports for Shan’ann, Bella and Celeste, were completed and given to prosecutors.
Weld County prosecutors, as well as the attorneys representing Watts, were given copies of the reports detailing how the pregnant mother and her two young children were killed, a notice filed Monday with the Weld County District Court said. The reports took almost two months to complete.
Tuesday, Nov. 6
Watts pleaded guilty to the charges he was facing to avoid the death penalty, a decision he was reportedly furious over.
“His story didn’t work. He got angry," a source told People magazine. "... It took a little bit of time for him to come around, but he did.”
Wednesday, Nov. 14
Watts’ parents spoke out, claiming their pregnant daughter-in-law would have been more capable of murdering the little girls, all of whom their son had pleaded guilty to killing.
The relationship between Shan’ann and Watts was “very hard,” Ronnie and Cindy Watts said in an interview with KMGH-TV. “You have to get to know her to be around her; put it that way,” Ronnie said. The couple claimed their son was in an abusive relationship. They also claimed that Shan’ann isolated Watts from his family.
“It was a very hard relationship with her as far as I’m concerned,” Cindy said. “I couldn’t do anything right.”
When asked if their son was capable of killing the children, Cindy instead pointed to Shan’ann.
“I would say she's more capable than Christopher,” she said. “Christopher, I don't see him capable at all, but if something happened that night and that did happen — God forbid if it did happen — what was the trigger? Why? What happened?
“I just want the truth because he's not the sociopath next door,” she continued. “He's not the kind of person that would do something like that. I have to know why. I have to know. It's important to me."
In a statement to the television station, the parents of Shan’ann said the comments made about their daughter were “vicious, grotesque and utterly false.”
“Their false statements, however hurtful and inaccurate, will never alter the truth about Shan'ann, and will never alter the truth about the crimes committed by their son, Chris Watts,” they said. “Shan'ann’s memory and reputation deserves to be protected. And her family is fully prepared to do so.”
Thursday, Nov. 15
Watts' mistress said she had no idea who he was and what he was capable of until it was too late.
Nichol Kessinger, 30, came forward after much speculation about her identity, after an arrest affidavit revealed Watts was having an affair with an unnamed woman around the time that his wife, who was 15 weeks pregnant, and two daughters went missing.
“He’s a liar,” Kessinger said told the Denver Post. “He lied about everything.”
The Colorado native explained she and Watts, whom she described as “soft-spoken” and “a good listener,” had met at work. They started talking in June and began a physical relationship a few weeks later when Kessinger noticed he hadn’t been wearing a ring and found him attractive.
Watts allegedly told Kessinger he had two daughters, but that he and his wife were going to be getting a divorce. Kessinger claimed they saw each other up to five times a week, and that Watts said in July his divorce was finalized. Then on Aug. 13, Watts allegedly texted her saying his family was “gone.” Shan’ann had taken their daughters on a play date and they hadn’t returned, she said he told her.
Kessinger said that something seemed "off" about Watts' story, and then she saw on the news that Shan'ann and the girls were missing. “I thought, ‘If he was able to lie to me and hide something that big, what else was he lying about?’” she said.
She said she confronted him about his family’s disappearance, and he showed little emotion during the exchange. When the bodies of Shan'ann and her daughters were found, Kessinger said she went to authorities.
Monday, Nov. 19
Watts was sentenced to five life sentences with no possibility of parole. His sentence included punishment for other crimes, including unlawful termination of an unborn child.
"I could objectively say this is perhaps the most inhumane and vicious crime that I have handled out of the thousands of cases I have seen,” Judge Marcelo Kopcow, who has served as a judge for 17 years, told Watts on Monday. “Nothing less than a maximum sentence would be appropriate."
Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke described how Watts killed his wife and children at the sentencing hearing.
Watts strangled Shan'ann and smothered his young children, Rourke said. The medical examiner's report noted Bella struggled before she died.
"The man seated to my right smothered his daughter," Rourke said, CNN reported. "Imagine the horror in Bella's mind as her father snuffed out her life. ... She fought back for her life as her father smothered her."
Shan'ann's family also spoke at the sentencing, providing emotional statements as Watts kept his head down and avoided eye contact.