When we run scenarios in true crime, we’re not trying to commit murder, nor are we trying to commit the perfect murder. We’re trying to see the logic [or lack of] in heinous crimes, and why they were committed to begin with.We’re also doing a kind of True Crime IQ test, except what we’re testing for is criminal acumen and criminal logic, which is different to normal psychology and common sense. Chris Watts’ murder of his family was particularly heinous but within the context of criminal psychology, was it logical? Just how illogical was it?
The idea for this particular post comes from Sylvester’s comment [read it before reading further], and his idea of how the Watts crime could have been better executed. Could Watts have gotten away with it?
Murder is dumb as it is, but committing murder only to be caught a few hours later, and then to undo your own stupid schemes a few days after that is even dumber. No argument there. The question is: how dumb was the execution itself, and by extension, how dumb was Watts.
In Sylvester’s Scenario:
Watts murders his family and then goes to work leaving their bodies in the house. Perhaps he takes her ring and some jewelry. When enough time has passed he can call 911 and have them checked on. The idea when they’re found is a burglary gone wrong. Maybe they got in through the back door.
What’s good about Sylvester’s Scenario is it’s a better story than Watts’ story in the sense that Watts theoretically doesn’t really have to come up with any explanation of Shan’ann visiting a phantom friend or why she left behind her phone, car and medication.
The bad thing about this scenario is it doesn’t solve the original problem. The original problem was that the Watts home and the homes surrounding it were a kind of spider’s web of digital surveillance. There were layers and layers of digital security. So if it was tough to take bodies out of the house without being seen [and Watts almost succeeded], it’s equally tough proving anyone came in with malicious intent. It’s not just the doorbell cams that wouldn’t show approaches from the front and back, it’s the hi-tech Vivint system that wouldn’t show anything either.
In theory Watts could have disabled the home system himself and then failed to account for it [as happened in the Ramsey case].
When I first stumbled into the Watts case, I remember thinking if he had only broken a window somewhere in the house, it would have given the idea of an interloper [someone who had come in and taken the three of them] some credence. But it seemed Watts cared too much about the expensive house and maintaining it to break anything, let alone purposefully. But if he had, he would have set off the perimeter layer alarms. Probably the Vivint protocols would have automatically alerted authorities to check on the house. This is why Watts seemed to want to use the dodgy garage door sensor as his go-to explanation for how Shan’ann left on her own volition. It was a hole in the perimeter security.
The other issue facing Sylvester’s Scenario and effectively any scenario is, well, Nickole Atkinson. If Watts murdered Shan’ann at 05:00 or completed the execution of that phase of the crime [including washing up and removing bodies from the home] at about that time, then he only really had until 08:43 to get a headstart. Because that’s when Nickole contacted Shan’ann. If the bodies were in the home, the cops would have found them very early in the game, and would have provided [arguably] the best evidence against Chris Watts much earlier than they actually got it, and in a much better state of preservation. Time of death, cause of death, manner of death, crime scene, all provided to the cops on a silver platter.
If Watts had acted more like Patrick Frazee, and responded to Nickole’s message and perhaps even posted something on Facebook along the lines of…
SO UPSET! TAKING A TIMEOUT TODAY WITH SOMEONE WHO CARES ABOUT ME…
…maybe he could have bought himself some time. Probably not though because any response posted on her phone would have pinged from wherever he was, if he had her phone.
Posting a message on her Facebook while he was still home was another option, but it would be very unlikely Shan’ann would go to bed after 02:00 and be up at 05:00 posting declarations about her day. Not completely implausible, just something that might raise suspicion.
It’s important to remember, if this was a premeditated murder [and I believe it was], Watts himself also ran through many scenarios in his own mind. What was clever about the execution was he had the end result – the evidence – mostly taken care of.
He also hid almost the entire fabric of the crime within the plausible deniability of just going to bed, waking up and going to work like he always did. It didn’t quite work, because he didn’t typically head out to the well sites first thing, but only someone close to his colleagues would know that. Also, if caught, because of the flight delay he’d have to explain how a lot happened between him and Shan’ann in three hours instead of twice that time.
If Shan’ann had arrived on time, maybe Watts had a different plan involving the Lexus, and maybe it would have played out better. Maybe there would have been time for a late night fake Facebook announcement.
My view is that the technical aspect of the crime was executed fairly well, as heartless as that is to say. If Watts had the resources to afford an elite defense lawyer, and if he’d stuck to his first confession, who knows, he may have pulled a Casey Anthony.
It was all hidden in the fabric of the average work day, in plausible deniability, not only the digital traces of the home, but the GPS traces of the truck. Watts also went to some length to send fake messages of concern and make fake calls to Shan’ann’s phone. It shows he was ready to play.
But the social aspect of his game was abysmal. Maybe his mistress had led him to believe he really was a kind of Rain Man who could do [and get away with] anything.
But Watts was a bad liar and an even worse actor from the get-go. Even so, it took a massive law enforcement team several days, and many hours of continuous questioning and data analysis to crack him. Watts did crack, but not completely, not even close to completely. He didn’t spill the beans during the first round. He cracked and revealed a little information.
True to his introverted nature, he has never fully revealed what he did, when or how. And the fact that many of the people closest to the case and charged with prosecution it still don’t know what really happened suggests Watts wasn’t so dumb after all.