2 Reviews – 1 Gets it, 1 Doesn’t

Some people wake up in the morning and check their notifications on social media. Since I have about 92 titles out there [including several series], and since I earn a living from true crime writing, I like to stay on top of the reviews. Am I hitting the mark with readers or missing it?

Are the Jerry MaGuire moments that I experienced while writing translating in people’s minds? Are they seeing some of the insights I’m seeing, is some of the obscurity around this case beginning to clear in their minds too?

Today was a pleasant surprise. A dude called Joshua found the signal in the noise and reflected on it. We’ll get to Joshua in a moment.

For true crime to be any good it has to be accurate. If any of the facts are wrong, if small details are slightly off, the whole narrative becomes unreliable. In this respect I sincerely value feedback from readers or critics who point out material inaccuracies.

One of the strong points of my books [and CrimeRocket] is the consistent quality and accuracy of the research. One can only be on top of a case by sitting on it day in and day out, and applying one’s mind consistently.  It can take a long time to unearth what’s hidden. As tough as true crime is, it becomes unnecessarily harder when conspiracies are added to the stew. They’re easy to foist away when they’re fresh. If, however, one comes to a case like the Ramsey case 20 years later, there are often so many myths and conspiracies, it can feel pretty daunting finding a tangible thread to draw on when the case is so littered with chaff and nonsense.

At this site conspiracy theories are avoided like the plague unless they’re considered serious and important enough to be debunked.

While precision needs to one of the highest priorities in true crime, what precision is not, and isn’t trying to be, is this:

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The “error filled” criticism suggests that the research is at fault, when in reality, the gripe seems to be about spelling mistakes. The Discovery Documents are rife with spelling errors, and a few factual inconsistencies too. Does that mean the entire file is trash?

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The above reviewer’s most useful contribution is in the color of the suitcase. He’s right. The suitcase Shan’ann traveled with to Arizona wasn’t a neon pink-orange as described in the first TWO FACE book [published in mid-September 2018], in fact it was black.

Of course, complaining about this in January, four months after the book was written [and with the benefit of the bodycam footage] is playing johnny-come-lately to this case, piggybacking on one set of data at one point in time in order to poke holes in another set, writing at another time. Not exactly fair, is it?

That said, it is worth mentioning, and it has been mentioned here several times. This issue was broached on November 25 [a week after the Discovery Documents were released] in this post:

Chris Watts moved Shan’ann’s suitcase from the bottom of the stairs to inside the master bedroom upstairs, leaving it at the doorway – why?

And again on December 4 in this post:

The Suitcase At the Bottom of the Stairs

And to some extent in this this post on December 6:

Shan’ann’s black suitcase was moved upstairs – what about the purple sleep mask?

What makes the reviewer’s point feel a tad disingenuous is the contention that the “errors” were made recklessly, rather than the fact that when the first book was written the color of the suitcase, as pointed above, was unknown.

When I described Shan’ann exiting Nickole’s vehicle in the narrative and entering the front door, I wanted as realistic an account as possible. So I went looking through Shan’ann’s social media for her suitcases and initially found this one.

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Ironically, this narrative description hasn’t been trumped by actual video footage from the doorbell camera of Shan’ann arriving at the door as she was recorded arriving. So we have to visualize that until the evidence is released [if it ever is].

The point of writing the first book barely a month after the crimes was to demonstrate [and test] how much we could know and extrapolate based on publicly available knowledge, as well as observation and insight.

In the scheme of things the color of the suitcase doesn’t matter as much as the suitcase narrative matters [where it was, where it moved to subsequently, and what was removed from it without the permission of law enforcement]. The suitcase is also an important marker in that theoretically it points to Shan’ann’s movements inside the house. She’s at the door, she removed her shoes, she enters and gets to the staircase. After that there is arguably no way to track her final moments.

The reviewer also seems to take great exception to the assertion in the first book that Shan’ann was a qualified nurse. Wasn’t she? What student loans was she repaying?

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The accusation that the book was published “too soon” misses the point. It was purposefully researched and written quickly and published first. This is one of the mission parameters of Rocket Science as per the TOOLBOX tab on CrimeRocket:

To deliver accurate, accessible  true crime narratives quicker, better and more effectively than anyone else.

The logo of TCRS depicts a journalist riding a rocket, holding a camera in one hand, blasting the latest story into the public domain. So to accuse Rocket Science of researching and/or publishing too quickly is like accusing Coca Cola of being sweet.

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As for the reviewer’s complaints about spelling, Dieter with a small letter is dieter, and like many in the news media, I took an executive decision and “corrected” the spelling. It’s true that Shan’ann and others spelled the dog’s name Dieter, but my own journalistic standards balk at the spelling. What can I say, sorry about that.

The spelling of Shan’ann’s name is a different story, but at least on this point the reviewer agrees.

The name of Thayer’s daughter was taken from audio interviews made to the news media following Watts’ arrest. Her name was not published in any news media, but was subsequently found on Thayer’s Instagram account.

The reviewer seems to care about these details, and of course they matter, but how they play into the material aspects of a triple murder are questionable. What about the big theories presented in the first book? What about the order of the crimes, the timing, the location, what about the core issues to this case?

The final point to make is about a regular accusation made by true crime critics of true crime writers. By writing a book about a case one is being “greedy”. I used to be a full-time journalist. Now I’m a full-time true crime author. I do it for a living. It’s work, it’s work I care about and I daresay harder work and longer hours for each dollar earned than most regular jobs. When folks working regular jobs receive their paychecks for work they did are they greedy too?

It’s tempting to think that the criticisms mentioned above aren’t even sincere, but rather that – for whatever reason – the reviewer simply wishes to score points. But it may be that they are sincere, which is a shame, because he completely misses the point of what these narratives are trying to do.

Far from just writing to pay the rent, I have a sense of mission about justice and true crime. And a few people do get it, like this guy.

More: Chris Watts: What Rocket Science got right – and wrong

The Atkinson Transcripts – Shan’ann’s final call to Chris Watts on the night of August 12, hours before her murder: “He started working out while he was on the phone with me. So I just let him go.” [#11 of 15]

On the night of August 14, CBI agent Greg Zentner was dispatched to Boulder to interview the most crucial witness in the Watts case. The transcript below is an excerpt from a 72 page document spanning 3223 lines of text.

CrimeRocket is the first to reproduce and analyze this critical transcript in-depth. The entire transcript has been broken down into 15 sections.

The eleventh part includes:

  • One of the earliest indications of infidelity.
  • Nickole describes the circumstances around Watts going to the “Rockies Game” [a lesser crime in the scheme of things but one he couldn’t get away with either].
  • Shan’ann’s also received security alerts from the house on her phone, so she knew when Watts was home and when not.
  • The fact that Shan’ann asked Watts to save the receipt means he had to have known he would have been busted shortly after Shan’ann returned home.
  • During one of Shan’ann’s last conversations with her husband he told her he didn’t want to talk to her because he needed to “work out”.
  • Nickole describes Shan’ann being in “a lot of [emotional] pain on the plane”, during the flight home. This suggests Shan’ann intended to confront Watts when she got home, and probably wouldn’t have been able to sleep even if she’d tried to sleep.

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The audio for the above transcript is available here.

The twelfth part deals with Nickole’s knowledge of the Watts’ finances.

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Chris Watts – what happens when the other woman is you? [A Thought Experiment]

Have you noticed, months after the murders, people are still split on the Watts case? Some say he was a shit and she was a saint, others blame her and say she drove him to cheat. A lot of these pronouncements are projections and transference made by folks who are married, or cheating [or both] or once were [married, cheating or both].

This means rather than an appreciation of the actual people involved [besides and apart from who you and I are] and what was going on in their hearts and minds, the crowds are really cheering for themselves.

But that’s not really what decent or intelligent true crime is about or tries to figure out. We’re not here to make sides, choose sides or pick a winner. We’re not here to feel better about ourselves or our sins. We’re simply here to figure out what the fuck happened. Believe it or not, that’s a very difficult question to answer accurately and authentically and very few even try. 

To do so takes time and effort. Fixing a fuck-up also takes time and effort. 

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One way to test our bias is to find an analogy to the Watts case where the people are completely different, but the situation is identical. I managed to find one. It’s an anecdote about infidelity from a woman’s advice column. No one was murdered in this scenario, but the pressure and intensity of the dynamic is nevertheless absolutely plain to see.

Read “Lala’s” salacious cautionary tale at this link.

A few obvious impressions we draw from the story are:

1. Cheating in our society is very common. When cheating leads to a child, a less common but deadly serious occurrence and one fraught with life changing consequences, it’s very difficult to know what to do, let alone to actually do the right thing.

2. Many of us learn the skill of duplicity in our society. Few learn the technique [or have the courage] to admit small mistakes, let alone admit to giant gut-wrenching betrayals of those closest to us.

3. We live in a society that is about maximizing profit and so it’s natural to want [or feel entitled to] the best possible deal for ourselves. This includes the mate we choose, the lifestyle we search and settle for, and the kind of sexual behavior we engage in. Sometimes in our desire for safety and security [the big house, the secure lifestyle] we make trade-offs in terms of the likability of our partners [or they do in terms of us]. 

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4. Our greed and materialism is also reflected in a desire for experiences. Once we have the treasure side of things sorted, we still want to be excited. We want to be stimulated. If our partners don’t give us what we want, we may feel tempted if not justified in getting what we want elsewhere. Does it do any harm if it’s a secret? 

5. In the same way that Lala got what she wanted from her husband, she didn’t like his approach to strict schedules. She felt bored and burdened. Being bored seems like a dumb reason to gamble one’s life, to risk one’s home, and yet people everywhere are doing it all the time. The reason? Boredom is like a living death. Risking an experience is like coming alive again. Everyone wants to feel alive, but feeling alive can come at a price.

6. Like Shan’ann, Lala’s husband Michael traveled often. Like Watts, Lala didn’t mind Michael being away as this gave her [him] a chance to indulge in her [his] Other Life.

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7. When the indulgence leads to a pregnancy, the original fairy tale becomes a nightmare. That’s why it is so hard to give up. Most people want to hold onto the fairy tale. And most people who believe in fairy tales don’t like to own up to being responsible for a nightmare that will end it. 

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8. When the nightmare is real, do you acknowledge it and deal with it, or do you refuse to believe it?

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9. If you could lose everything simply by saying a few words [the truth], by the same token you could save everything by simply not saying those words [lying].

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10. Even with expert advice, the outcome is not guaranteed, and the process is likely to be messy, let alone expensive, stressful and unpleasant. Still think you’re be the first one to own up to your sins?

If you’re cheating on your husband, and the infidelity leads to your falling pregnant, the answer is simple, right – just tell your husband what you did.

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It is actually that simple. If you’re not attached to your home, your lifestyle, many of your friends and possibly even your job, it’s as easy [and as difficult] as that. Just say what you did and possibly [probably] lose your home, your lifestyle, your friends [especially mutual friends] and possibly your job. 

The alternative is to be a coward and not to say anything. And you get to have your cake and eat it. Still think it’s so simple? Still think Chris Watts could have “just gotten a divorce”…?

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View this post on Instagram

We swipe, tap and scroll through social media. There is an immediate sense of connection and, perhaps, the fear of missing out. All your pals and the ones you respect have an ever increasing level of stoke. In the 30 minutes I just spent (lost) here I witnessed skiing, climbing and living that, well, makes me feel all of the 56 years I am. I’m as guilty as anyone, perhaps more so. I curate my public life to highlight the highs and obscure the low points. It’s an ever increasing loop that feeds on itself. Alas the game of gravity plays for keeps. The risk of not returning is part of the allure. What would the sports we play be with out risk? Merely games? The down side is our family and friends don’t always make it back. Gravity always has the upper hand. When it plays its card too soon we all loose.For those left behind the pain begins. Was it worth it? Could it have been avoided? If you escaped the vice of gravity along side your bestie, why not me? What do I do next? I’m not one for cemeteries. When in Big Oak Flat I wander through the headstones of family long past, never known, yet part of who I am. I’ll refresh a few flowers and move on. In the mountains the these reminders are more poignant and powerful. The friends memorialized struggled with the “why” vs “consequence” paradigm just like we do. While walking through Dugla, the terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier, a series of stone remembrances (chortens) are a stark reminder of how fleeting life is and how the pursuit of gravity has real consequences. Scott, Babu, Alex and Ueli are memorialized with stacked rock. If you’re ambling about, it’s a reminder that we carry our friends with us. How we carry our friends is up to us. Internalize it, over share it, laugh about it, ignore it or stew in anger over it. We go through all the points of the emotion wheel. It isn’t fun. If you are a serious about gravity, it’s not “if”, it’s “when”. When death strikes unexpectedly – be part of the community. Reach out to others and listen. The challenge of being a survivor could well be you. And if you’ve been there, lend your experience to others. We all heal.

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The Atkinson Transcripts – “I don’t understand why the police officer let us go in the house”[#10 of 15]

On the night of August 14, CBI agent Greg Zentner was dispatched to Boulder to interview the most crucial witness in the Watts case. The transcript below is an excerpt from a 72 page document spanning 3223 lines of text.

CrimeRocket is the first to reproduce and analyze this critical transcript in-depth. The entire transcript has been broken down into 15 sections.

The tenth part includes:

  • Nickole describes Watts “tell her” [presumably Shan’ann] that he didn’t want the baby.
  • Nickole describes Josh Rosenberg and Watts as “bros”.
  • Nickole describes a woman calling her [perhaps Agent Tammy Lee] and wonders if the status of the case has changed from a Missing Persons case to something else.
  • Nickole sends texts to the officers phone so that he has the contact details of Shan’ann’s friends [Cristina, Addy, Cassie and Josh].

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The audio for the above transcript is available here.

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“Chris Watts is the dumbest criminal ever…”

Chris Watts was so dumb it took the cops three to four days to find the bodies of his victims, even though they had the GPS data and knew exactly where he went that day.

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He was so dumb cadaver dogs couldn’t find any clear cadaver traces in the home, or any other clear and unambiguous evidence.

He was so dumb even today we can’t say when, where, how or why the murders happened. Compared to other high-profile true crime, Watts outscores almost everyone else in almost every department.

Seriously.

Think about all the other ultra dumb moves in true crime…

1. JonBenet Ramsey Ranson Note

Patsy Ramsey’s three-page, ahem, I mean someone’s Ransom Note. It was called the War and Peace of Ransom Notes, it didn’t make much sense and whoever wrote it forgot to kidnap or collect the ransom. If there was a kidnapper, even if JonBenet died in their custody, the ransom could still have been collected. So why is there a Ransom Note, no kidnapper, no kidnapping and no ransom?

Patsy herself, a former Miss West Virginia, forgot to change the clothes she was in that night.

Easily missed in terms of the Ransom Note, Patsy also forgot to leave her fingerprints on it. Even she didn’t write it, if she picked it up to read it [and she said she did], why aren’t her fingerprints on it?

2. Jodi Arias’ Camera

After driving thousands of miles from Yreka California to Mesa Arizona and back to murder Travis Alexander in secret, Jodi left a camera at the crime scene. The camera contained timestamped photos of herself cavorting with Travis Alexander and also over 11 minutes chronicling his murder in the shower stall and hallway.

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3. Oscar Pistorius “screams like a woman”

He shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp to death four times through a locked toilet door, then said he’d fired by accident and mistook her for a burglar. Pistorius claims the sounds of a woman screaming [heard by five different witnesses] was actually him screaming like a woman. Dumb as this was, the judge actually believed his testimony and found him not guilty of murder.

4. Henri van Breda’s 20+ minute EMS call

Although three of his family members were already dead, Van Breda’s younger sister was still alive when he called to report the emergency. Van Breda was on the line for more than twenty minutes despite the fact that his sister Marli, having sustained serious head and neck wounds from the same axe, lay upstairs hanging onto her life by a thread.  It also appeared Van breda smoked three cigarettes while on the call, and some thought it sounded like he was chickling when he said his family were dead. Marli ultimately survived her brother’s axe attack.

5. OJ Simpson’s Bruno Magli shoes…

Had the “shoe evidence” been used at his original trial, would OJ still have been acquitted? Who knows. One glove was found at the crime scene and a matching glove at his residence in Rockingham, covered in blood and containing the genetic markers of Simpson and both victims, but that wasn’t enough. The shoeprint and circumstances around the shoe size was certainly overwhelming.

The list goes on and on, but the point is, all of these criminals either made silly mistakes in leaving behind evidence, or came up with cockamamie explanations about the evidence, or both.

Crime itself is stupid. It’s a stupid solution. But when we see crime that way we miss the most important thing – the human element. It’s the human element that leads to these terrible crimes being perpetrated, and it’s through the human element that we can understand them.

Like Watts, Amanda Knox also confessed to what seemed like a semi-bogus scenario [suggested to her by the cops] after a few hours of interrogation. Like Watts, Knox also courted a media storm because of her seemingly weird behavior after the crime.

In the list above, as dumb as all of these criminals’ ideas, executions and explanations are, more than half of the suspects implicated in these cases got away with it. 

Think about that.

Of course, if there were elements of the crime that were executed well in the Watts case [such as the cover up inside the home] there were other elements that were just plain lazy.

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The bed sheet left in the open field at CERVI 319 is an example, but then Watts couldn’t have imagined the cops catching up to him as soon as they did, or that they would use a drone to gain access to the remote area. Still, one has to wonder, how did the bed sheet get away from him?

Perhaps the dumbest thing about Watts Family Murders wasn’t so much the logistics but the crime itself. It may be that because his motive is so simple and simpleminded we regard this crime as so stupid, and this case with such contempt.

Besides that, Watts’ ability to stand up to scrutiny [in front of his neighbors, the media cameras, and in front of law enforcement] is probably the area where he lacked the most game.

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Having performed for years with his wife to a captive multi-level marketing audience [not the most discerning audience in the world], perhaps he’d allowed himself to believe he was a convincing actor. The real world is quite different from the fictitious stew of Thrive on Facebook, however, where the only people buying what they’re selling are the promoters. Social media is an echo chamber at the best of times, but an MLM-themed echo chamber seems designed to addle the mind, and perhaps it did.

In the list mentioned above Jodi Arias, Oscar Pistorius and OJ were involved in similar stuff as the Watts family; Jodi in MLM, Oscar and OJ performing endless stunts as brand ambassadors for wellness brands/sponsors – but all eventually becoming actors in their own respective fairy tales.

Although Shan’ann was the leading actor in the Watts family, Watts eventually took that role over from Shan’ann. His Sermon on the Porch had to feel weird where he was the starring figure, as it were, after years of playing the extra to Shan’ann’s spiels. That morning she was the extra and this time he was talking for himself, and on her behalf, leaving out the stuff [like her pregnancy] that didn’t suit him so that he could sell his spiel.

When the fairy tale becomes real enough, a nightmare can’t be allowed to exist. What happens when a nightmare starts to infect a fairy tale? Can it simply be acted or pretended away, spoken out of existence by choosing the right words? It’s not just criminals who like to think so. The reality is we’re all trying to make our lies and fairy tales amount to something in the face of our own inevitable extinction.fullscreen capture 20190117 174927

DRILLING THROUGH DISCOVERY now #9 Amazon Bestseller in Hoaxes & Deceptions Category

fullscreen capture 20190130 045617DRILLING THROUGH DISCOVERY is the most expensive of the 5 TWO FACE books, but at 259 pages, it’s also the longest. It was by far the most difficult to write simply because so much information had to be assimilated, filtered, transcribed and then analyzed.

Sometimes when you analyze information there’s nothing in it. There’s an aspect to that in Watts’ interview with the FBI. Large segments of monologue start to feel like circular hogwash that doesn’t get you or take you anywhere. It feels bland, even boring.

What made the fifth narrative so difficult was not simply rehashing everything we already know. Instead I wanted to look for new information hiding [or withheld] in the discovery. I wanted to see the negative space between the stars and dots of data and see if something was hiding there.

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What was incredibly compelling, was approaching the FBI interview and the subsequent interrogation from the perspective of law enforcement. How much did they really know and how soon did they know it? What didn’t they know? How did they decide to deal with this guy? What was their strategy? When exactly did they decide to tell him what [or some of what] they really knew? How should they say what they needed to say to get him to start giving them something they could really use, instead of endless bullshit?

It was also weird how I initially regarded Agent Coder as the “bad cop” in the interrogation, and Agent Lee as the friendlier, more benign “good cop”. But as the interrogation goes on, Coder seems to soften, and Lee seems to harden. It’s amazing to follow and watch, and readers are recommended to click on the many links provided at crucial parts of the questioning process.

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The other aspect that was difficult but very meaningful was putting the timeline pieces into place. This contextualized the puzzle and makes many things that are puzzling or strange, less odd. For example, Watts seems to be one of the dumbest criminals in high-profile true crime history. But a cursory look at the timeline reveals an obvious and understandable reason for why he made some elementary mistakes. 

It was also interesting to see where the research took the original theories, such as the contentions that the children were murdered first, and that Shan’ann was murdered earlier in the morning, not later.

It’s taken a long time, and it should, but after five narratives we’re only starting to figure out the enigma that is Chris Watts. What I didn’t expect was for a psychological symptom many of us are [or were] very familiar with to reappear in this story. It seems all this talk of narcissism has blinded us from something else all of us know all too well, not only about ourselves but each other.

The Atkinson Transcripts – “I’m not putting my friends through a ‘fake happy Chris’…he doesn’t care that he’s hurting me…He’s done…I might go masturbate to relieve stress.” [#9 of 15]

On the night of August 14, CBI agent Greg Zentner was dispatched to Boulder to interview the most crucial witness in the Watts case. The transcript below is an excerpt from a 72 page document spanning 3223 lines of text.

CrimeRocket is the first to reproduce and analyze this critical transcript in-depth. The entire transcript has been broken down into 15 sections.

The nineth part includes:

  • Detailed explanations behind the gender reveal, why it was cancelled and how Shan’ann felt about it.
  • Shan’ann wanting good news, wanting to know the gender directly but Nickole wanted to see Shan’ann’s face when she heard so they both decided to wait…

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The audio for the above transcript is available here.

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