When I wrote the first book in the TWO FACE series, I was convinced that the cadaver dog evidence would be instrumental in solving this case. I was also certain Chris Watts made a fatal error in allowing the canine units into his home. This suspicion seemed to be confirmed by the loud barking of these dogs while he was giving his Sermon on Porch. I assumed those barks were the dogs alerting to cadaver traces. I was right. And wrong.
It’s true that Jayne Zmijewski’s K9 alerted in several places. But Jeff Hiebert’s K9 did not. For there to be “reasonable cause” to suspect a crime, an alert requires corroboration. This may be physical evidence, or a second dog showing a strong alert separately but in the same area. If this happens it’s considered “confirmed”. But this didn’t happen in the Watts case.
In fairness to the dogs we have to acknowledge that in this instance the dogs weren’t just scenting for one cadaver but three, and making it even more complicated was the fact that all three cadavers occupied the search area in life, which had been extensively cleaned prior to the search. Adding to this was the possibility that scented items were contaminated by Watts himself.
Although the shoes of the children were used to scent off, it appears these had been washed and touched by Watts.
Normally the brief for a cadaver dog is simple: find evidence of a dead person. In the Watts case the dogs had to identify the dead, and there were three identities to juggle in their noses.
When the discovery was made available, I made a beeline for the cadaver evidence but was sorely disappointed at how iffy it all was. Watts obviously had reason to be confident in letting the dogs in. He’d prepared and processed the house from top to toe. It’s not that he completely boggled the animals, just that he compromised the crime scene enough to produce a confusing and contradictory result. The dogs were interested in something, but they couldn’t agree on where. Nevertheless it’s a mistake to assume there were no alerts. The word “alert” appears 102 times in the Discovery Documents. Let’s examine a few of them:
1. Cadaver Alerts
2. Vivint Security Alerts
3. Transactional Alerts
4. Chemicals/Drugs causing reduced alertness and impaired muscle coordination
5. Ordinary Alerts [Notifications]
6. Missing Endangered Alert
What both dogs have in common is that they both alerted to the basement stairs. According to the discovery, one dog alerted at the bottom, the other at the top, or both at the bottom. The Discovery Documents are somewhat inconsistent and unclear on this information.