On September 15th, 2018, one month after the remains of his wife and children were recovered from CERVI 319, I posted a blog analyzing a question that members of the public were repeatedly asking:
One aspect of the answer [and admittedly the simpler one of the two] was – I thought – easy to answer. The children were dumped into the respective tanks because they were small enough [barely] to fit through the thief hatch. Shan’ann was not.
I “proved” this theory by intuitively [visually] measuring up the size of the hatch against an adult operator standing beside it.
My assessment, without any more factual or scientific data to go on, was that the children would barely fit through these small openings. They had to, how else could he have gotten them in there short of chopping up their bodies or chemically reducing them beforehand?
About two weeks later, on September 28th, HLN covered the same issue.
They had an expert on board, and the expert’s was unequivocal on the size of the opening. 8 inches.
The screengrab above doesn’t make it very obvious just how small 8 inches is. It’s 20 centimeters, roughly the width of this paragraph or the length of the average dinner fork when viewed on a desktop monitor.
Needless to say a 4-year-old child’s head and hips can’t fit through such a small opening. This was devastating to my theory, hence I posted a follow-up blog the same day HLN challenged the notion.
The problem was, although HLN had provided more information, they’d actually shot their own theory in the foot. They speculated that Watts had used the clean out manway at the bottom of the tanks to access the tanks. It made sense from a size perspective – yeah, it’s big enough to put a child inside, hell, an adult could step inside as well.
The problem with the manway access point is the fact that the oil tanks were almost full when the cops arrived on the scene. They were so full, they took several hours to drain.
HLN seemed to miss the fact that in order to open up the manway cover, the tank had to be completely empty. So what, one might argue, maybe it was empty to begin with. The problem is if it was empty the tank would have to fill to almost full within hours. These are huge tanks, and they aren’t filled up rapidly. They take months to fill to capacity. The sequestration of gas and liquids also happens over an extended period.
Besides this, any sudden change in the conditions inside the tank would set off monitoring alarms. This would likely attract attention to the CERVI 319 site by Chris Watts’ colleagues, perhaps even his boss – something he’d want to avoid.
I struggled with this impasse over the next few days. I decided, ultimately, that the thief hatch HAD to have been used, but the only way to dump the remains of both children through those small 8-inch orifices was if the bodies had been dismembered or “processed” in some way.
The extensive “processing” theory doesn’t sit well with me for 2 reasons:
1. Chris Watts had very little time to process one cadaver, let alone three.
2. There appears to be no obvious evidence of tissue fragments, blood or body fluids at #2825 Saratoga Trail [the bodies could have been processed at CERVI 319, but doing so outdoors with three bodies seems very likely].
It’s taken six weeks for this enigma stewing in the subconscious to resolve itself, but I believe it has. The solution appears to be that an operator might be able to remove the entire thief hatch with the right tools. That’s the housing and the contoured core section.
This doesn’t get us back to where we started with the manway housing. The thief hatch has about half a dozen bolts to loosen and tighten again whereas the manway housing appears to have hundreds.
I believe the thief hatch was used to dump the bodies into mostly full oil tanks from the top of the tanks. I do believe there was some processing or preparing of the bodies irrespective of whether they fit into the hatches or not. If they didn’t fit, this would involve substantial processing including dismemberment. It’s possible to dismember a cadaver without creating a bloodbath if it’s frozen first. If the cadavers did fit through the thief hatch, they were probably prepared in a minimum manner, including cutting off hair and probably removal of clothing that could clog the grates inside the tank.
The arrest affidavit is also unambigous on this point, that all three of the victims’ bodies were tampered with to the extent serious enough to charge Watts with a felony in each and every instance.