The doll wrapped like a dead body in the twister mat feels like a message, doesn’t it? Given how close to the murders the doll was staged, and the ominous visual of the life-size doll, the wrapped doll is a material factor in this case.
In fact right at the time Watts confessed, his father Ronnie told FBI Special Agent Grahm Coder about the doll. He said it wasn’t the natural thing for a child to do, implying that Shan’ann had done it, perhaps as a taunt or a warning to her husband.
Ronnie’s theory to the FBI was that:
- The murder of the children was planned [premeditated] by Shan’ann.
- Shan’ann posed the image and purposefully chose the words “I don’t know what to think about this…” as a warning and a threat.
- Shan’ann had lied that Bella had covered the doll in the sheet.
- He felt Bella would never do such a thing based on his experience of her behavior.
Ronnie’s theory made some sense, but it shouldn’t be missed that it conveniently provided a theory for his son’s innocence precisely when he needed it most. Like many folks currently shrieking about shadows and shapes, a single image posted on social media isn’t proof of anything. It isn’t forensic evidence. At most it’s a piece of a larger mosaic. If the piece means something, it will help reveal the rest of the mosaic, rather than stand alone blinking a singular, disconnected message within the mosaic.
Often an outrageous conspiracy theory pokes through the surface of the water like a shark fin. It appears to be an incredible distinct possibility, except, beneath the surface of the water the fin doesn’t connect to anything. In other words, there’s a fin but no shark. Most conspiracy theories work like this – they talk a big game but end up being toothless.
The doll image isn’t quite as irrelevant as the shadow and shape-shifting stuff. The doll image involves everyone in this story, and is part of the dialogue of the most important people in this story: the murderer, the victims and the murderer’s #1 confidante.
Watts’ response to his father’s theory is important to note as well:
- Watts doesn’t provide much information, except to say he was aware of the incident and recalled that Shan’ann made fun of the image, and thought it was funny. Watts doesn’t disclose what he thought, and as far as we can see, he made no comment on the image himself, or if he did, removed it when he deleted his Facebook account. We also know at some point close to when Shan’ann posted this image, Watts Googled how to delete his Instagram account.
- When Coder asks Watts if Bella “did it” Watts answered he doesn’t know, because he “can’t recall”.
In effect, Watts – either by design or by default – is reinforcing the idea that Shan’ann was responsible for the picture. He doesn’t say he thinks Bella would’ve or could’ve or might have done it. There is a slight undercurrent to his reference of Shan’ann laughing in the face of the picture. It seems a subtle jab at her, undermining her as an undermining and sometimes mocking personality. If Watts murdered her to get revenge for her killing the children, then his lack of anger and mild response – his nonchalance – to Shan’ann’s supposed jeering isn’t appropriate.
They key to solving this mystery lies in Ronnie’s remark:
“I was around Bella and she would…never cover a doll’s head like it was a body…”
Due to the very special circumstances of this case, we’re able to be around Bella too and thus we can see how she behaves around dolls and toys. This is how we try to connect the shark fine to a jangle of possible dots below the surface. We don’t take the fin as evidence and run with it. Instead, we try to connect it to something bigger. Not one other image but a body of evidence that adds up to something.
Now, to begin with, the scene for the staging of the doll is the downstairs lounge. It’s on the couch against’s the wall, rather than the main living room couch. In other words, it’s not the couch in this picture.
It’s also not the couch in this picture.
It’s not the couch in this picture.
It’s the two-seater couch peeking out of the left edge of this picture.
This is a view of the television and of Bella from that two-seater couch.
This is a view of the couch from the main couch. Note the small table on the one side of the two-seater couch.
Here’s a view of the same couch from the floor. Notice the small table beside the couch.
Now that we know where the couch is, we can see it’s an area where Bella and Ceecee not only were likely to play, but also sit. And we can see that life-size doll was also located near this particular couch in several photos and videos.
Sometimes the doll is upstairs.
Other times the doll is downstairs closer to the front door lounge and dining room.
“I was around Bella and she would…never cover a doll’s head like it was a body…”
What was your knee-jerk, gut response when you first saw the doll wrapped in the twister mat?
Mine was that Watts had been intently watching a lot of true crime in the lounge on television while Bella played. Bella, taking her cue from what her daddy was watching, imitated something on television to get her father’s attention and approval.
Obviously this initial response was based on knowing [at that time] virtually nothing about Bella, knowing nothing about the ongoing nut anxiety, and knowing little about Bella’s habits and the family’s sense of humor. Does any of this really matter though? It does. These dynamics are important, but it takes a long time to figure them out.
When we take the time to try to understand the dynamics, a few things become apparent that begin to play into that mysterious image.
We see several instances of Bella imitating one or both of her parents.
It’s also debatable whether Bella wouldn’t cover the head of doll or toy.
In many of Shan’ann’s posts, she has pictures of her children in weird sleep poses, many from the baby monitor showing Ceecee in particular climbing under her blankets or sleeping face down.
As for the idea of covering up the face with anything, the children were often seen wearing masks, and at one point Deeter was also recorded crawling into the long sleeve of a sweater. During that recording Shan’ann says: “Bella would get a kick out of this…”
Since Chris Watts sent the image to Shan’ann, it’s likely he did so because Bella asked him to. Perhaps Bella wanted her mom to see it because she thought Shan’ann “would get a kick out of it” [and if that was the plan it worked].
It’s not likely Watts sent the image to Shan’ann either to implicate her, or himself. This is sort of the main thrust of the conspiracy shark fin – that either Shan’ann or Chris Watts deliberately staged an image as warning that they might commit murder unless X, Y or Z, and then went through with it despite the fact that it had been posted in the public domain, onto social media.
Was Watts wasn’t aware of Shan’ann posting this image to Facebook? It was posted at 11:46 local time. Less than two hours later on August 9th, Watts scrubbed his Facebook account.
An interesting question is whether he knew about the image and continued with his plan regardless [similar to the hitch of the flight delay], or whether he didn’t know. Another possibility is that he did know, and didn’t like the aftermath of the nut incident, where Shan’ann’s family started talking about a dead body and the kids having one another’s backs. We know shortly after deleting his Facebook his father asked him about it, to which Watts responded:
“Yes sir, liberated myself!”
This indicates the degree to which Watts felt exasperated with and perhaps imperilled by Shan’ann’s social media.
We also see many signs of Bella staging with toys, blankets and dolls, many of these instances are on the same couch as the life-size doll, and in the same room.
If Bella did stage the doll, what was she trying to do? One possibility is she was playing a game of imaginary hide and go seek with the toy and perhaps with Ceecee.
Another possibility is she was trying to communicate some message to her mother, either to amuse her as mentioned earlier or, possibly, to send some sort of urgent but unconscious message.
If it is the former, Bella may have learned that her mother got a kick out of seeing children, adults or dolls sleeping with or without blankets over their heads, and Bella simply wanted to share the joke with her mother.
The elder daughter had spent several weeks back-to-back with her mom, which was plenty of time for mom and daughter to develop a rapport, particularly around a particular subject.
Perhaps Bella had gotten in the habit of covering her own head with a blanket when the sun rose in the early summer mornings, or, if Shan’ann had cried herself to sleep over the past week, perhaps Shan’ann herself had covered her face in the mornings.
If it is the latter, and Bella wanted to share a more serious message, we know in the last days of her life, Bella was concerned that Ceecee might go to sleep and never wake up. That was an artifact of the nut debacle, which had clearly traumatized the older child.
We know Bella had confided in McKenna as late as the last night of her life that she was worried about Ceecee eating coconut and never waking up. Bella was so worried about this she couldn’t sleep when Ceecee went to sleep.
When Agent Kevin Koback spoke to McKenna he asked her if Bella had any concerns when she babysat her on Saturday night [August 11].
KOBACK: Was there anything that was concerning, that you heard?
MCKENNA: Um…Bella just…she sat by me and she was really concerned that…her little sister fell asleep before her, so she sat on the couch with me for a while. And she actually told me something. She said, ‘Can I ask you something?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ ‘My little sister has, like…’ She told me if she eats coconut she’ll never be able to see her again. So I’m guessing that the littlest one has a severe allergy. And that’s what they told her, that if she eats that she’ll never be able to see her again. She was really upset by that.
KOBACK: Bella was?
We also know from Watts’ evidence that although Bella went to bed much later than her sister, she would up first and went to wake Ceecee up.
We also know that far from Watts sending images to Shan’ann, he was far more likely not to send images to her, and also less likely to post images to Facebook. In fact the final request made by Shan’ann to send images of the sleeping children wasn’t honored by Watts – instead he simply resent images he’d sent of the girls eating and playing from earlier in the day.
So the likelihood that Watts staged the doll and took the photo is slim. It’s more likely Bella demanded that he send the image to Shan’ann, perhaps as a message to her mother that she was worried about her sister and needed to confide in her, and be comforted [just as she needed that from McKenna].
We also know that Watts was cold and standoffish to his children, so Bella “reading” something unsettling in the ether was based to some extent on real and mythical undercurrents,. The nut emergency was [arguably] overblown, just a case of the older sister picking up on her mother’s paranoia. But the other aspect that was unsettling was she wasn’t getting the soothing she needed from her father when he mother was away.
Perhaps in a sense the doll covered up was a kind of self-portrait, a sculpture of suffocation and agony that Bella couldn’t explain or give voice to, but nevertheless felt. It’s difficult to imagine her father, given his murderous premeditations right then, didn’t see any symbolism in the doll turned into a mummy. Perhaps he sent it on because he knew what it meant: that Shan’ann had unnecessarily traumatized both his children, turning them against his parents, and ultimately declaring them unfit parents while expecting him to babysit.
Bella’s concerns about Ceecee would also have made her difficult to babysit, and difficult to put her to bed, something that would have irritated the adulterer when he wished to have long conversations with his mistress.
When the FBI asked Watts if he thought Bella staged the doll, Watts answered that he couldn’t recall. Since he sent the image to Shan’ann at 11:44 on August 9th, and since Shan’ann’s response was that Bella did it and she couldn’t explain it, it means Shan’ann didn’t do it. And since Watts was home, and the doll was staged in the most communal room in the house, how could he not know who did it? If he didn’t do it, and Shan’ann didn’t do it, who’s left?
In the same way that Watts “implicates” Shan’ann in the staging of the doll, he also implicates her in the staging of crime, and murder of his children. It’s the coward’s way out – to accuse or manipulate by not providing evidence to the contrary, evidence only he had.