The Concept of Agency in the Chris Watts Case

She’s a Facebook maven, he’s an introvert. That’s the Chris Watts case, and the relationship dynamic in a nutshell. It’s very simple, but as we begin to educate ourselves on this case, we see a myriad of complicated psychologies spewing out of the opened can of worms.

At Rocket Science we’re allergic to labels, but I’ve recently started thinking about the psychopath label in a new way, which is often the opposite of what labels intend because labels put our thinking in a box, close it, package it and we’re done.

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Chris Watts – a teenage psychopath?

I was thinking of Watts – just an aspect of his identity – as a teenage psychopath.  Teenagers are trying to be something, aren’t they? Teenagers often are faking it to make it. But you only get to be who you are in the theater of the real world, and many of those early existential stabs end in failure. Nevertheless, it’s important to try, to fail, to fall, in order to live and develop as individuals, to eventually find our ways from raw idealism to real and true identities and our superhero costumes [fashioned by ourselves, for ourselves].

School shooters are invariably teenage psychopaths, but it’s also a mistake to think they exist in a vacuum. If they managed to not blow up and graduated high school, probably they would go on to lead normal, perhaps even productive lives. It’s the equivalent argument to: “Why didn’t he just get a divorce” [“why couldn’t you just graduate?”]

Of course we wouldn’t be here talking about true crime if every criminal simply “managed not to blow up”. The point is they did, many have and many will. Why do people blow up, and what does that say about us?

More: The reluctant killer

Columbine seniors graduate under the shadow of shooting [the shooting took place on April 22, 1999, barely a month before the shooters were due to graduate on May 22nd, 199].

Watts versus the Mass Shooter Mindset

I’ve studied mass shooters in detail, but that’s not what I want to get into here. Rather, it’s this idea of agency and how it relates to true crime. Agency is of course precisely what the mass shooter in the school setting is trying to achieve, and though their methods suck, they act as spocial failures but their actions do succeed in making them celebrities of a sort.

Crazed girls flood Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz with fan mail – SunSentinel

Christopher Watts receives love letters while serving life sentence for murdering pregnant wife, two daughters – Denver Post

This attraction to notorious killers by teenage girls and young women is their attempt to gain agency by piggybacking onto the newly achieved agency the criminal achieves by becoming famous because of his criminal act. Does that make sense?

But let’s try to get to grips with how this idea of agency actually plays into the why of a crime. It’s especially relevant in the Watts case, so it’s worth a deeper look into.

At 18:10 in the clip below Cameron Kasky talks about how the March for our Lives changed America. [Watch the rest of the video if you want to understand the broader context of the conversation]. I’ve highlighted just the snippet the comes up about agency below.

KASKY: I think the thing that the March for our Lives did to this country was we told a whole generation of kids, we need to start working together, we need to start thinking, and just because we are little does not mean we are inadequate when it comes to being part of a conversation. 

SACKUR: I find that so interesting because, clearly, in the reaction to what you did, there were some people…who spoke of you as young people who couldn’t possibly be agents for yourselves, for change. You must have been controlled by either your parents or by liberal advocacy groups, and I guess what you showed is that particularly in the age of social media, young people do have agency. They actually have a means to get a message out there for themselves and of themselves. You’re a real, interesting example of what now young people can do and achieve

If we apply this concept of agency to the Watts case [I’ll explain what is means in a moment] we have a similar scenario of a teenager at home leading a double life doing shit, while at the same time being under the thumb of parents, or in Watts’ case, his wife. That’s how he felt anyway.

In the same way that teenagers do or do not engage with their parents or society because they feel inadequate, insecure, intimidated or just small, there’s a similar introversion with Watts. He just can’t stand up for himself. He wants to, but he can’t. He’s afraid for some reason.

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Live in a box, or explode out of it?

Teenagers can be kept in a box, and introverted teenagers even more so, but invariably something happens, some drama or trauma, which causes them sooner or later to explode out of it. This is necessary, and part of the leaving-the-nest process. It’s necessary but nevertheless painful. When this happens, the teenager begins the process of developing his own agency.

Having agency is like having a sense of identity but it goes further than that. It is having the capacity to assert oneself in one’s environment, and in particular, towards society. It’s how we establish where we fit in the social fabric. Those with powerful agency become leaders or influencers, those with little or no agency play second fiddle [sometimes for their entire lives].

So what is this agency thing anyway?

Here’s the Wikipedia version:

Agency is the capacity…to act in a given environment… In sociology, an agent is an individual engaging with the social structure. Notably, though, the primacy of social structure vs. individual capacity with regard to persons’ actions is debated within sociology. This debate concerns, at least partly, the level of reflexivity an agent may possess.

In trying to understand agency we stumble across another concept: reflexivity. We won’t interrogate that here, but it also has a bearing on the Watts case:

A reflexive relationship is bidirectional with both the cause and the effect affecting one another in a relationship in which neither can be assigned as causes or effects.

When we impute the idea of reflexivity in the Watts case, what we’re asking it to what extent Shan’ann’s death was as a result of the underlying dynamics of their relationship. Was it directly related, was it somewhat proportionate, or was Watts simply a monster and these issues are simply meaningless chaff?

Back to our definition of agency:

Agency may either be classified as unconscious, involuntary behavior, or purposeful, goal directed activity (intentional action). An agent typically has some sort of immediate awareness of their physical activity and the goals that the activity is aimed at realizing. In ‘goal directed action’ an agent implements a kind of direct control or guidance over their own behavior.

Premeditated or Involuntary – or both?

In the context of true crime, and the Watts case in particular, we need to be sure to what extent Watts’ agency was unconscious or even to some extent involuntary, or whether it was intentional. This is a tricky one because the premeditated murder aspect makes what he did seem very purposeful. In the high profile cases I’ve studied, Watts went to more trouble than most to dispose of his victims. Arguably, Scott Peterson went to even more trouble by buying a boat and hiding the boat in order to pull off his criminal scheme against Laci.

Watts reflexivity and agency in terms of the pregnancy is another area worth exploring. It makes sense that Watts was very reflexive in terms of the third pregnancy. The cause and effect of the pregnancy on most people is huge, whether positive or negative. The whole delay of the gender reveal was in effect about hiding Watts’ teetering agency – in terms of his fatherhood. So we have this strange contradiction, where the denial of the child illustrates a lack of agency, whereas the affair does the opposite [though not in a particularly flattering way]. The murder becomes a final effort to legitimize his agency, that’s how he rationalizes it, but one cannot have a legitimate claim to anything by cheating [in other words, through illegitimate means]. And during the interrogation with the Feds, Watts seems to realize this [not in these terms, but in how he feels], and throws in the towel.

And subsequent to that he’s thrown in the towel – it seems – on his life. He’s admitted he has no agency, so much so he hasn’t even appointed “an agent” [a lawyer] to represent him. His agency is so poor, the idea of representing himself simply isn’t there!

Chris Watts’ Agency – high, low or changing?

What cannot be disputed is that Watts’ agency – as a man – was low. His capacity to represent himself was low. He lacked capacity in terms of his wife, later even towards his own children and unborn child, to the media, and he folded spectacularly when faced with proper interrogation techniques [as discussed in DRILLING THROUGH DISCOVERY] imposed on him by the FBI and CBI.

His failure to pass the polygraph also shows something else. It’s not so much that he took the test and failed, but that he took the test in the first place. This suggests Watts was in a period of transition, where he was developing agency, or trying to. Taking the polygraph was part of that. Talking to the media was part of that. Talking to the FBI without a lawyer was part of that. His affair was part of him trying to develop his game in the real world.

What the FBI and this whole, horrible crime exposed was that in his clumsy efforts to achieve agency in his life, Watts lost what little he had gained [with Kessinger, with his new look and potential job prospects etc]. The act of murder was both the confirmation of Watts’ agency and the destruction of it.

The inevitable conclusion to this line of thinking is what impact did Shan’ann have on Watts’ agency, and strictly within those narrow terms, whose fault was it if his capacity to act was undermined and/or destroyed?

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59 thoughts on “The Concept of Agency in the Chris Watts Case

  1. Another great piece! I love checking in here for new posts, always delivers. I like the “label” of Watts as a teenage psychopath. I think Watts in many obvious ways lacked some maturity or what we associate with a full grown man. A phrase I think about lately with him is “the man who wasn’t there”. Like, who is/was he? He was only who Shan’ann allowed him to be. What the househould, bills, debt, her MLM videos needed him to be. I just think he was not there. A void, absence. Like you said the capacity to represent himself was low. He was a volcano, nice, serene and scenic up top, while boiling, volatile, & unstable below the surface. Once he erupted, he went back to his dormant state.

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  3. Excellent and thorough analysis.

    “He just can’t stand up for himself. He wants to, but he can’t. He’s afraid for some reason.”

    That’s the crux of it. And when he did begin to assert himself, it was in an excessive and antisocial manner, because it was so late at that point.

    You ask what impact Shannan had on his agency and whose fault was it if his agency was undermined or destroyed.

    I believe she holds no small responsibility within the crime scenario itself. She chose to relate to him in a very inhumane manner, and she chose to selfishly dominate the parenting and the finances, to a detrimental degree. Of course this doesn’t mean murder was in order. But it does mean that Chris didn’t act in a vacuum.

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    • Agreed, Would the murder have happened if Shannan was a positive and affirming force in Watts’ life, and was fiscally adept? Possibly, but surely it would have been much less likely?

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      • Fiscal prosperity hides a lot of happiness. Somehow, I think the murder would not happened if just Nico did not happen. That’s why I wrote in one of the blogs that they should have looked for better jobs.

        “Current earnings + a raise for Chris + a regular job for Shanann – Nico” was what they needed. It might not have fixed the relationship magically, but would have provided the platform to fix it.

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      • In fact, I think had Shanann had left him alone and not doubled down on her possessiveness and persuasiveness during the last 2 months, none of these killings might have happened. I know of a couple who went through a similar phase in their marriage. The wife, instead of pleading desperately and checking restaurant bills did just the opposite. She pulled away. And he came back.

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      • “Would the murder have happened if Shannan was a positive and affirming force in Watts’ life, and was fiscally adept?”

        Would the murder have happened if one or both had won the lottery before the murders took place?

        This isn’t a flippant or frivolous question. The answer to this question will help pinpoint the breaking point(s) in this scenario.

        I posit that, with unlimited financial resources, CW and SW could have amicably divorced (as amicably as they could muster within their dysfunctional limits), and CW could have moved on with NK while SW could have devoted herself even more to that sucking black hole of an MLM scam she was addicted to. So it was the financial details that were the breaking point.

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    • When Shan’ann said that Chris had no game, was she referring to his lack of agency? And did she squelch all his efforts to have it until he squeezed back…

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    • He was the epitome of a narcissistic collapse- he targeted Shan’Ann when he first met her, he the abuser and she the low esteemed victim…his lack of agency developed LONG in the past with potentially emotionally unavailable/incapable parent(s)- specifically his mother…he could NOT be a divorced, single, child supporting failure after the works of social media has seen him through the narrative of Shann’Ann’s “Facebook” postings… she not only created a facade of perfection but put Watt’s on a very high pedestal… we all know where you land once placed on such an illusionary spot- DOWN … Watt’s could only be one thing – a “grieving” widower with a future with a new victim to feed his narcissistic needs… Nikole, his male lover, or perhaps another person who will come out of the woodwork… Determined agency or not, Shann’Ann, Bella, Celeste and in uterine Nico were all the hostages he took for his own mental feeding frenzy… unfortunately for each of them his appetite for his emotional fulfillment from them no longer was required… he was full, finished…DONE with DINNER… his arrogance and egotistical belief that even though he was now a disorganized family murderer one thing rings true: his family was brutally murdered and disposed in the most VILE of ways… I could care less that his “Agency” was weak and he couldn’t find a voice over his loud, controlling wife… it’s a load of s**t… his narcissistic tendencies collapsed, he became satiated and needed a new emotional buffet to feed from… the only one responsible and the only one who holds any sort of responsibility is Watts himself… he’s a covert narcissist 100% and likely a psychopath/sociopath/antisocial personality as well … with those components stacked up, agency becomes MEANINGLESS… he has no capacity to shed tears for any of his victims and only shed tears in court in wake of HIS REALITY… not those of his victims, family members or the public at large…he cried for himself, his truth exposed and for a covert narcissist he may as well have had his own throat slit…what parameters brought his actions to the forefront from the time of his birth to the time of his crimes I hope will be studied thoroughly over the course of his life now behind bars… this crime provided a visceral reaction and just the thought of the way in which he killed and disposed of his children especially is enough empirical evidence to say -“Agency/SM-Agency “ Another psychopath ruined the lives of so many for personal gain but the typical EGO that goes along with his personality destroyed him in the end … his EGO – EDGED GOOD OUT… RIP to the Watts victims Shann’Ann, Bella, Celeste, and Nico in utero-… I’m sure the lovely crazy women writing him anda couple fellas in jail will fill his needs somehow…at least he is off the street.

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    • The murders happened because he has no character. He is the agency of his own fate. He is passive because it suits him to have someone take control thereby it is that person’s responsibility when things go wrong. He chose someone who would take control or was controlling as some say. He is a coward who would not take control or make decisions. He admitted that she controlled the finances because he messed up before. It was all well in good when it benefited him but like a child, he wanted a new toy and thought he could just throw away the old ones. It’s not coincidental that this happened as he is the mist of an affair. THEIR joint financial issues and irresponsibility had been a problem for years it was not the breaking point. It was the mistress and trying to hide the pregnancy from the mistress and wanting a new life that led to the timing of his atrocious actions for which he is 100% responsible. There is nothing good or honorable about him. He has no real substance and cares more about what people think of him than what he actually is. His character is just as fake as any Facebook video. Also, he is the one who murdered three people he was suppose to protect. She shares with him the responsibility for the state of the marriage and finances. However, the murders and dumping toddlers in crude oil is all on him. He deserves to spend his life in prison.

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  4. Or, was there no direct cause and effect in their relationship – in otherwords she did not cause her death by the way she interacted with him as he was shaped by his society early on – and did not effect any change upon his environment which showed up as a low level of reflexivity from the beginning. She was just a symptom of who he chose to put in command of his destiny due to his inherent inability to take charge of it himself. And now he’s reverted back true to form, or how he is as formed by his society and how he interacted with what was in front of him.

    A reflexive relationship bends back on itself. If she had been any different, he wouldn’t have been with her, and if he had been any different she wouldn’t have been with him. She didn’t cause him to do anything. It’s a little high brow for me, as I think we can create our lives however we want them, but only if we are aware and accepting of who we are. If we aren’t, then we have no capacity to accept anyone else the way they are.

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      • Yes – because we’re not “all one thing.” We are complex organisms. He could have wanted to break away from his interpersonal dynamic with Shan’ann but I think he would have found it a lot more difficult to break away from who he fashioned himself to be as he interacted with his society from an early age. It would have taken work to break out of his “reflexivity” – something I don’t see any evidence of him having done. In fact he continued his patterns of lying with Kessinger as a way of deflecting who he was, really was.

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    • “I think we can create our lives however we want them”

      I don’t think most people have anywhere close to that level of agency. Through a strange set of circumstances, I got to know a woman who was living in a homeless/battered women’s shelter with her two small sons. This man I knew went in once a week to teach computer classes, to help the residents gain marketable skills. He and she started dating (huge no-no) and she left the shelter to move in with him. She ended up pushing him to buy this trailer very near the beach, a great location, but it was very small and there were four of them. She described abusive things he did, like picking up the soft butter in the summer and flinging it across the room (getting on everything). She ended up moving out, and he took up with another woman who also had a couple of small children, but they seemed to have a far more stable relationship. One time, he mentioned ruefully to me, “When I was with Frieda, it’s like something just came over me. I think back and I can’t believe some of the things I did. She had such a negative effect on me.”

      Say what you will, but that really struck me – he’d always seemed like a chill guy. To hear “Frieda”‘s tales of rage and out-of-control-ness had seemed so out of character, but he’d confirmed it. There is no simple answer, no one-size-fits-all that works for even most people.

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  5. You raise an interesting point: Chris, had Shannan been more warm and giving, and cautious with finances, would very probably not even have been drawn to her in the first place. Things were too fixed in his character at that point to change them; unless of course he had the time, resources, and capacity to do a huge self-analysis. I predict he will conduct such in prison.

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    • He might, my dear sweet CBH. Or he won’t – because I doubt he has the capacity to introspect. Not that he’s stupid, but had he stood back from his situation and been able to tell you or anyone what wasn’t working for him then I think he could have also been able to take reasonable steps to correct it. He was a go along to get along type of fellow. And so it’s not surprising that he isn’t fighting now. Having said that, whatever kind of story he’ll choose to tell in the distant future, will be interesting. And if I were a good writer with credentials behind me, I would make every attempt to get his story.

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      • “And if I were a good writer with credentials behind me, I would make every attempt to get his story.”

        That’s what I hope happens-that someone can appeal to Chris’s ego and approach with that angle. Of course, who knows if the whole truth comes out or more lies. I also want to know Watts’s mental evaluation and what his deal is. His upbringing, childhood, etc. all from his point of view, would be great.

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      • I would hazard a guess that there’s as close to no chance as you can get that Chris Watts will ever tell his story, possibly even to his own parents. There is nothing I can see about his past or the crime itself that suggests he craves notoriety or infamy, and I doubt he’s so proud of his crimes that he feels the urge to go into detail about what happened?

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      • I wrote CW an anonymous letter, I sealed the envelope and put a stamp on the envelope, then I tore it up. I didn’t have the heart to mail it.

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  6. I think Chris’s behavior goes back so much further than Shan’ann. I say you need to look at the relationship of all the Watts family to Cindy Watts. It was said that the whole family knew not to ruffle her feathers, that they all knew not to challenge Cindy’s authority. That, imo, played a huge part in Chris’s behavior as well as him being an introvert. By the time Shan’ann came along, she just ran with it. “It” being the way Chris saw the order of females in his world. He saw a new batch when looking at his daughters and decided he wanted no part of them.

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    • I agree. Nick points out that Chris seems to want to assert himself but he just can’t seem to; it’s as though he’s afraid to. Might this be because in childhood when he attempted to assert himself, his mother showed him that there were serious consequences for this? Thus, that behavior was flagged in his neurological system as being maladaptive?

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    • This is such a key point. Cindy Watts, in her interviews, comes off as a narcissist. She often mentions that Chris was good and quiet – because there was no room for Chris – only inward, hence the introversion. He learned to defer to her and not to have any needs, opinions or feelings of his own. I.e., a lack of agency – a reasonable result when the mother is a controlling narcissist.

      I speculate that Chris married his mother and when he killed his wife, he was actually symbolically killing his mother. It was an effort to get the agency which he would need to make the changes in his life he wanted (including new girlfriend). Ironically, b/c he is drawn to narcissists, he may have ended up in the same situation once again had he gotten away with the murders.

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    • ““It” being the way Chris saw the order of females in his world.”

      Remember how NK recounted how CW told her he didn’t realize women like her existed IRL?

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  7. At TT:

    Yes on further thought, you’re right with Watts not being the type to chase notoriety. Just a quick reminder to myself about all the times he made it known “don’t want you to think bad of me” etc. He’s probably a steel trap with what happened that night. He maybe even has completely blocked it out of his mind.

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  8. A lot of body language experts and common people (including the neighbor who recorded the video) commented that Chris gave it away when he swayed back and forth during the police search and the interviews. I would like to point out that Chris swayed similarly even during the “relationship video” years back, when he had nothing to hide. Does this mean that he subconsciously went into his reclusive shell, even when there was nothing to hide? See below..

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    • he had nothing to hide.>>>Maybe he did have something to hide when this video was made.

      But to your point, liars have tells. Let’s say the tell is touching the nose while lying. It doesn’t mean every touch to the nose is a lie. But if a particularly sensitive line of questioning elicits a tell, that can be, and often is telling. So as a skilled lie detector, what you’re looking for is all the tells at critical moments covering crucial information. Crucial information may be questions around the last time someone spoke to the victim, or do they knew where they are. Non crucial questions are sometimes difficult to know if one doesn’t know the context or the case. If something doesn’t apply [in reality] such as, were you on a yacht that day, the response is not crucial. The same question to Scott Peterson, however, might elicit a tell. Make sense? If the lie detector is on the right track, a pattern will quickly develop. Tells and the use of certain words often go together. One of Watts’ word tells is when he says “I promise you…”

      Just to clarify, if a vanilla question is asked like, “Do you want this apple?” and the response is to touch the nose and answer “Yes”, then it doesn’t apply. Knowing the difference between a vanilla question and a crucial question isn’t easy.

      So it could be that swaying doesn’t apply here. Or it’s possible he was already cheating at this stage. Or it’s possible that if he had something to hide here, his deception was based on a much larger lie [for example being bisexual, or simply his own sense of him lacking agency with the opposite sex].

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    • “Chris swayed similarly even during the “relationship video” years back”

      Surveys find that most people’s #1 fear is “public speaking”. More people rank “public speaking” as Fear #1 than *death!* They’re more afraid of public speaking than of dying!

      So Chris’ behavior during his presentation could show how stressful giving that presentation was for him. That’s simply what he does when he’s stressed. It’s not a matter of “hiding” or not; it’s just how he self-soothes when faced with catastrophic stress.

      One might argue that, had CW not been guilty and trying to pretend to be innocent and clueless, if he’d actually been innocent, he would have acted and reacted differently all around – he would’ve been too distraught to give his “Sermon on the Porch” interview; he would have *sat* and carefully watched the neighbor’s surveillance video (as there was nothing potentially incriminating in it, as he was innocent); he wouldn’t have agreed to those “interview” interrogations with the po-po (again, too distraught). The fact that he’s doing his best to manage his stress is about the stress, not the hiding. Which brings us back to the question of where that stress is coming from, because if he’s innocent, then what’s going on around him shouldn’t be causing him that level of stress – it should have been the missing persons case that was causing the stress, which likely would have manifested in a very different set of symptoms.

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  9. Is Cindy Watts a Native American? I thought in the texts between NK and Charlotte that one of them mentions that he is dark because he is half Native American. The reason I am wondering that is because some cultural differences may have affected the way CW interacted with people and also have had an effect on his role in a family.

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    • Yes, it’s an area we’re still uncertain about. We’re in the process of examining the genealogy, but thus far there doesn’t appear to be any Native American link. It may mean we have to go back even further into the family history find something.

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  10. Lots if people grow up with crappy parents. Lots more are in debt, have bossy spouses, are cheating, and get no respect from their kids. Something is there in CW that we can’t see yet. The pressures he was under set him off. Why did he kill his family while others, far more stressed and cornered, choose other ways to cope and dont kill.

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    • I have many examples around me for families with bosy souses and may be even worse finances but nobody killed wifes or kids. Here, in this forum you are trying to prove that SW made CW kill her. This is totally crazy. Every family has a dynamic. And there are really serious and bad problems in life. How come that nobody of theese peple with more serios problems and even worse wifes don’t kill them?

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      • Here, in this forum you are trying to prove that SW made CW kill her. This is totally crazy. >>>I’m guessing this is your first visit here, and this is the first post you’ve read. There are over 300 posts and 5 books analyzing many aspects of this case. The dynamic between Shan’ann and her husband is just one.

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      • “Here, in this forum you are trying to prove that SW made CW kill her. ”

        No.

        The fact is that CW killed SW. We’re simply trying to figure out what went on in his life experience that resulted in that outcome.

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  11. I’m really liking where you’re going with this analysis, Nick. “Tween” kids are known for being “easy” – they’ve figured out what they have to do to get along, they understand that they’re small and vulnerable, so they just do whatever they have to do. It’s easier for their parents from when they were small, before they had learned “the rules” of how to avoid incurring their parents’ wrath.

    But all that “getting along” comes at some great cost – that’s why there is such a “common wisdom” that teenagers are sullen, sulky, prone to rage, and always fighting with their parents. The “tween” kid who bided his time in order to survive, now that he’s a teen and possibly taller than his parents, he’s now in a position to attempt to escape that pressure cooker. He’s too big for his parents to brutalize, and he knows it. So he becomes defiant, uncooperative, and the home becomes a battleground. It’s the same with girls, only the tactics are somewhat different. It’s a trope for teenage girls and their mothers to be in a war zone.

    This is the danger of treating your children as a convenience or as your servants/playthings. As Shan’Ann was doing with her own children – using them as accessories. Kids notice, and resent. And they aren’t in any position to retaliate until the teen years, when they become physically large enough and intellectually savvy enough to become adversaries. You can tell a lot about how someone was parented by how that person parents his/her own children. So here’s Shan’Ann using her children as accessories, ignoring their cries of hunger in order to make a big show of how delicious what she’s trying to sell is, to the point of telling her hungry child that “This is Mommy’s – Mommy’s earned this”. And way she accepted routine tantrums as “normal” – as in that picture of CeCe melting down with the caption “It wouldn’t be Mother’s Day without a tantrum” or something. There is nothing “normal” about children CeCe’s age who are so stressed and distressed that they’re losing control like that – there was severe dysfunction in that household. From looking at this, we see a mirror image of what Shan’Ann grew up with – neglected, unacknowledged, treated like a convenience or an accessory, punished when she wasn’t convenient enough. Because that’s what she did with her children.

    Look at their schedules – in “preschool” for long days – 8-4 – and then in bed by 6 or 6:30 PM. Talk about minimizing the time she had to spend with her “precious babies”! And those long assigned naps on the days they were home all day – more avoidance. How attentive was SW’s mom? I’ll bet not very. I’m reminded of someone I knew’s stories of his grandmother when his grandparents had a working farm – when it was time to slaughter the hogs and make all the sausage and stuff, Grandma would be relaxing in her bedroom “with a migraine” until the two sons had finished up all the work. What message does THAT sort of behavior send?

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  12. Chris’s confession was essentially similar to the act of the murder. That he cannot deal with stressful situations. He lands himself in blind ends and breaks down.

    Tha marital stress had built up at home. Nico had intensified it. Nicole Kessinger’s relationship provided an outlet, but elevated the urgency at the same time. Chris-the husband, Chris-the lover, Chris-the good dad, Chris-the helping neighbor were all at odds, they tore him apart. He landed in a blind end. Though there were avenues, he did not see them even when shown the way (Shanann actually acted more mature by suggesting reading and counseling). He buckled. He killed.

    Similarly, stress had built up after the murders. Nicole Atkinson and friends, the media, the neighbors added to the stress. Agents Lee and Coder intensified it and took it to the breaking point. He is not Scott Peterson who remained stoic even till day. Agent Lee baited him with a way to get out of the blind end-that Shanann killed the girls. He took that, broke down and asked for his dad. He confessed.

    Ironically, he was presented with a way out in both the “blind end” situations. Shanann’s suggestion was genuine; they should have gone for counseling. Agent Lee’s was fake; it was a bait. He ignored the genuine one but accepted the fake one.

    That’s where I find the story extremely tragic. That somewhere deep down, lies a man who is more clueless than ruthless. More juvenile than brutal. Not for a moment do I think that he never loved Shanann. It’s just that he could not handle her. “Mama’s son” never grew up.

    I shudder to think how he would have handled life subsequently as he approached mid-age, either with Shanann or with NK. Life is full of stresses: healthcare expenses, substance abuse by kids, kids eloping with their fiances, job losses from company reorgs, retirement savings depleting owing to stock market crashes, home prices on rollercoaster rides…Maybe the prison is the most stable and secure place for him.

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    • Good analysis, although I disagree somewhat with the final point about how he would have approached middle age. I don’t think many people would find themselves in a more stressful situation than facing a second bankruptcy, losing their house, failing relationship, conducting an affair, parents/wife at war, no control over your own finances etc etc.

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      • The situation was stressful no doubt. But it’s related to him not growing up that he allowed the problems to fester. No one held a gun on his head and asked him to impregnate Shanann for the third time. And even after all these, there are enough help and ways that were around.
        -Go to a counselor
        -Upgrade your jobs
        -Do another part-time or online job
        -Disenroll from the daycare (lowest hanging)
        …………

        Also, if financial problems have to happen, it is better to have them early enough in life, when there’s runway to recover. At 55, there’s no runway for recovery.

        I hate patronizing, but lot of us in the US do not know what “blind end” could really mean. Go to the ghettos in Detroit or Mississippi belt, there are folks with no jobs and zero employability, broken families, no healthcare, history of incarceration, no or stolen vehicles..And I do not even want to get started on how that looks in the slums of Mumbai or Kolkata.

        Two young partners with decent employability, a large house, company provided vehicles and health-insurance, and two lovely kids would have hardly hit any “blind end”.

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