TCRS assessment of DEATH AT THE MANSION [Part 2 of 2]

The finale of the 4-part series is by far the best, basically because the presenters finally quit pussyfooting around the main suspect – Adam Shacknai – and finally get to grips with the idea of Rebecca’s death being a homicide, not a suicide. Why it takes these documentaries so long just to get up to speed is just plain sad. If each of the 4 episodes was as solid as the last, it would have been a damn good package.

One aspect touched on in the final few minutes of the finale was the same limiting aspect I discovered writing the first book and second in the Red Rope series. There is a heck of a lot of information that the public and the media simply don’t have access to. This restricts the scope of documentaries and to some extent written narratives too. That being said, episode four provides some useful glimpses at items of evidence from the crime scene that haven’t been seen before. So, without further ado, let’s deal with seven significant evidentiary aspects.

1. Rebecca’s Bed

For some strange reason it’s been very difficult to locate images of the bed besides where the rope is connected to it. It’s obvious from the image that no one lay or say on the bed. This is a weakness in the sexual assault theory. It’s certainly indicative that the sexual assault a) didn’t occur on the bed and thus b) was likely brief.

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2. The Orientation of the Room 

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In a scenario where the suicide is staged, we can imagine Rebecca’s killer standing behind her and lifting her already dead body over the railing, and letting it descend in a relatively controlled motion. The obvious point to clarify is if we impute a killer in the room and on the balcony [or even simply his foot on the balcony], why wouldn’t he be in front of Rebecca? It’s obvious right. The upstairs balcony was very visible through line of sight from very many vantage points, an issue I clarified and illustrated in detail in INTO THE BELLY OF THE WHALE. Greer actually mentions as part of his theory that the killer stood behind her, basically just off the balcony and maneuvered Rebecca’s body over the railing. The balcony isn’t very wide at all, around half a meter, so this would be fairly easy to pull off.

But the mere fact that the doors were closed calls into question the entire suicide hypothesis. Did Rebecca close the doors with her hands tied behind her back, and while the heels of her feet were right against the door? If she did, why on Earth would she do that? Meanwhile, we can see clearly why a murderer would want the door or doors closed. Firstly to hide behind while lowering her, but secondly, and importantly, to hide behind while staging the bedroom [including painting the message on the door].

3. The Candle

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The candle on the grass is one of the seemingly inexplicable idiosyncracies of this case. Although I will be dealing with this aspect in more detail in AT THE EDGE OF CIVIL, for now it’s worth mentioning that the candle may have been used for “low light” illumination late at night, not only in Rebecca’s room but outside on the lawn. It’s also possible, but unlikely that the candle was used to “cut” the rope by burning through it. As unlikely as this scenario is, we nevertheless have to ask why the candle is where it is? What function did it serve? Was it only illumination?

And that raises the issue of the rope. Why is the length of rope so long behind Rebecca? Why is it in a virtual straight line?

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Why are Rebecca’s legs bent inwards, and her face turned upwards? Were her legs bent when she “fell” when she was cut down? Or was she cut down and carried, placed on the lawn and this “bent” her legs? The position we see here suggests the position she lay in when she was struggled at some other location. Note, her knees also appear slightly open.

4. The “Rope Burn”Fullscreen capture 20190629 153625

If the injury to Rebecca’s middle finger is rope burn, it suggests that she was lowered fast enough to inflict the injury – post mortem – but slow enough that she suffered no significant trauma to her neck vertebra. Since this would be the riskiest manoeuvre of all for her murderer, he had to do it quickly but also not too quickly. Too quickly would jolt the bed, perhaps breaking the leg that was ultimately anchoring the entire rig, and limbs might dislodge out of their bindings.

Oxygen provides useful analysis on this particular point in this post on their online blog.

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It’s very clear that Greer is quite correct and the Defense witness [Williams] judgement on the nature of the wound is questionable, to put it mildly. It also beggars belief that the cops didn’t test the blood for vaginal epithelial cells, but if the San Diego cops were trying to fuck up this case, and their forensic technicians trying to frustrate the prosecution of it, they were doing a great job in that department.

5. “Blood Imprint” on Rebecca’s Left Inner Thigh 

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We know there was also tape residue on Rebecca’s legs, possibly from duct tape. It does make sense if she was murdered and then a suicide was staged that the original device used to bind her wouldn’t be the lengthy ski rope.

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In episode four Greer suggests a bloody imprint fits the size of a knife handle with the blade facing outward and handle facing inward. This impression, frankly, reminds of the blade impression left on a sheet in the Amanda Knox case.

imagesDoubleDNAKnifeMap6. Two Pairs of Gloves were Found at the Crime SceneFullscreen capture 20190629 144850

I will deal with the gloves and additional analysis in a follow-up post at CrimeRocket II. But the issue of two pairs of gloves raises the possibility of a killer and at least one accomplice, an aspect Oxygen provides some reinforcing evidence to support.

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7. 3D Rendering of Rebecca’s Route to the Balcony

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The animation in episode four is extremely brief – a few seconds – but it’s arguably the best footage in the whole series. The animation seeks to cast doubt of the absence of blood drops in the imputed route Rebecca would have taken if she hopped [bound, obviously] from the bed to the balcony.

But what the animation also achieves is that it provides a context to imagine her attacker. Where is he? Where would he have stood [especially in the final image], and what would he have done with the shutters to avoid being seen? Probably he had one of those shutters [the left] completely closed, while the other was slightly ajar. Did he use a candle to illuminate what he was doing?

That’s seven assessments – that’s enough.  This analysis covers the first 18 minutes of the final episode. The last 20 minutes or so, including some of the insights from the DEATH AT THE MANSION crew and their experts, will be highlighted in due course at CrimeRocket II.

A final point: when the presenters enter Greer’s “Zahau Room” Adam Shacknai’s signature features prominently in the room, along with handwriting analysis taken from that signature as well as other handwriting.

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Although Adam Shacknai has been found guilty by a civil court [where the burden of proof is lower], the producers have been careful to be explicit that the evidence presented is “the opinion” of the prosecutor, and that Adam Shacknai “expressly denies all allegations”. Fullscreen capture 20190629 144537

Interestingly, both Greer and the DEATH AT THE MANSION presenters share a kind of consensus on their four primary person’s of interest. Adam, Nina, Dina [and Max] and Jonah.

We can see why DEATH AT THE MANSION spent a relatively short time dealing with Adam as its “main suspect”. Although a jury and Judge supported Greer’s version, the medical examiner and San Diego cops do not, and most important, Adam’s billionaire brother also still seems to be in his corner.

Chris Watts: Toys, Trash and Treating Human Beings like Garbage

There is so often a connection in True Crime between dead bodies and garbage bags, dead bodies and excrement, dead bodies and toys left lying around, and between the supersmooth suspect and a sudden desire to do laundry and take a shower.

In the Watts case we’ve already dealt with the doll thrown into trash can in the garage. We’ve dealt with the brown substance which Watts said was excrement. We also know Watts threw his clothing into a dumpster on Black Mesa on his way home from CERVI 319 at midday on Monday.

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The doll in the trash stood out to me even more than the book on marriage improvement in the garage dumpster. This is because toys are often a give-away clue when children are murdered. The favorite toy itself either has cadaver traces on it, or the location of the toy provides some insight into where the child died and what happened.

There’s a lot of Intertextual data on this in the Casey Anthony case, also Madeleine McCann and JonBenet Ramsey. In fact, toys are a key feature of the JonBenet Ramsey case, and the secret key to unraveling that case. [It’s not for nothing the little girl was murdered over Christmas, with a wrapped Christmas toy beside her body in the basement].

In the Discovery Documents the word toys features 13 times. Although Watts claimed he took toys out to CERVI 319, this seemed to be more a case of Coder or Lee leading him in that direction. In other words, Watts never volunteered this information. If the children were murdered first, it also makes no sense why there would be any toys at the site [and none were found].

It does seem clear that the only “toy” or “toyish” object associated with the children were their blankies. It seems all three bodies were wrapped in “blankies” and in Shan’ann’s case, a fitted sheet.

Interestingly, Watts also claimed not to want to go upstairs because he “couldn’t handle seeing the toys and stuff”.

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While watching Toy Story 4, the new Pixar film, I couldn’t help revisiting aspects of the Toy Narrative as it relates to the Watts case. What stood out was the lackadaisical cruelty of the children [seen from the toy’s point of view], and how easily toys are replaced, disposed of – and yes – thrown in the trash. In fact, each of the Toy Story movies deals with these aspects in different ways.

In the second movie when Andy accidentally damages Woody’s arm, Woody instantly goes from being a favorite toy to trash.

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The film then explores the transactionality of toys – toys can be worth something to collectors, but only if they’re in mint condition, and if evidence of their owners has been removed.

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Buzz meanwhile experiences an identity crisis, where his delusions are and his lack of individuality are exposed. It’s unsettling to watch because we as consumers often feel the same way – like zombies, drones, nameless automatons herded into shops like sheep.

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Toy Story exposes the capricious nature not only of children, but society as we know it today. One moment you’re someone’s world, the next you’re trash.

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When Woody is replaced by a much fancier, new toy, there’s metaphor in the Cowboy being replaced by the flashier, but somehow more vacuous Space Ranger. When that happens the interior of the boy’s room changes, even what he cover himself in [his clothing and his blankets, and the pictures on the wall] changes. We can see how a disposable society is also expressed visually. We see acquisitions. Just as social media overtly shows the degree of influence, the pulling power of a profile and bio, or lack of.

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In one scene in one the films a plague of red monkeys swarms over the prairie. This is an interesting metaphor for children. How mindless monkeys can overwhelm individuals, and by implication, so can a house full of children.

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Like Shrek, Toy Story inverts the modern fairy tale by showing the adventures toys have in spite of their mercenary and often sociopathic owners.

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Reader’s Question: “Did Shan’ann really have Lupus?”

QUESTION: I have a question that has been addressed before on your blog, but only briefly, and (not that I can ascertain) not very clearly: It is widely reported that Shan’ann had Lupus. You subscribe to this belief, also, it appears. However, in the autopsy report, the coroner states….NO OTHER EVIDENCE OF DISEASE was found. Is it possible Shan’ann did not have Lupus? I don’t know that she actually did? Wouldn’t SOMETHING of the effects of Lupus be present in an autopsy report? I am 40 and have survived 2 cancers. I am healthy now, but I promise you, if I was murdered, systemic signs of problems just from cancer treatments (osteoporosis, damaged salivary glands from chemo, bad thyroid hormone levels, hormones out of whack, scars, etc) would be reported. Could you re-visit this, or is it your absolute opinion that Shan’ann did, indeed, truly have Lupus? I would love your to read more insight on this issue from you. Thanks!

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TCRS: Thanks for your question. You raise an excellent point on the Lupus issue. There does seem to be a possibility that Shan’ann was a hypochondriac, but on the other hand, Lupus probably causes folks to react with a lot of anxiety due to its very nature, and may not appear to show symptoms even when there may be inflammation etc. It seems unlikely Shan’ann didn’t have Lupus if so many people close to her “knew” she did – not only her immediate family [the Rzuceks] but also her husband.

Shan’ann seemed to me to have a lot of issues, and didn’t want to work away from home. The Lupus seemed to be a big part of that, unless it was a con. It also seems significant to me that she had a childless marriage with her first husband.

I’m no expert, but I suspect her Lupus was completely in remission in 2018. When you ask about “something of the effects of Lupus be present” in the autopsy, I would think so, but I’m not sure if Lupus leaves the sort of trail cancer might. I guess it depends on the Lupus. Shan’ann seemed to have a fairly mild case. It doesn’t appear that the autopsy did a very thorough check. I’m not sure whether the restrictions on health related information had a bearing on this aspect, or the Thrive aspect, or both.

The autopsy also made no references to elevated levels of any Thrive-related chemicals. This also seems odd, but since she was pregnant, perhaps she wasn’t using the patches. All of this would doubtless have come out in a trial. So what we’re left with is conjecture, unfortunately. In May I think, Shan’ann was sort of talking about being cured of Lupus [thanks to Thrive] which may nor may not be part of the answer.

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Chris Watts: Complete Cast of Characters

Watts Family

  1. Christopher Lee Watts, 33, born Spring Lake, North Carolina [Former mechanic, Rover/Field coordinator at Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Platteville, Colorado at the time of the murders. Convicted of triple homicide and felony tampering with deceased human remains].
  2. Shan’ann Watts, 34, born in Passaic, New Jersey [Former call center nurse, computer assistant at Longmont Ford. Sales promoter at Le-Vel from January 2016 to August 2018. Accused of murdering her two children by Chris Watts].
  3. Bella Marie Watts, 4, born in Frederick, Colorado.
  4. Celeste Cathryn Watts, 3, born in Frederick Colorado.
  5. Niko Lee Watts, 15 weeks old [fetus].
  6. Ronnie Watts, 62 [Father of Chris Watts, present during the CBI/FBI interrogation and confession on August 15th, 2018 at Frederick Police Station. Mentioned the life-size doll to law enforcement when his son implicated his wife in the murders of his children].
  7. Cindy McLeod Watts, 63 [Mother of Chris Watts. Campaigned in the media prior against the plea deal, arguing that it was coerced. Spoke emotionally at the sentencing hearing on November 19th, 2018. When she turned to Watts, telling him she loved and forgave him, he did not acknowledge her].
  8. Jamie Lyn Williams, 37, born Spring Lake, North Carolina. [Active on Websleuths under the profile “Trinket78”]
  9. Maw Maw” [Chris Watts’ paternal grandmother. He visited her on August 5th, without Shan’ann while in North Carolina].

Rzucek Family

  1. Frank Rzucek [Carpenter].
  2. Sandi Onorati Rzucek [Hairdresser].
  3. Frankie Rzucek [Carpenter, Shan’ann Watts’ younger brother].

Mistress

  1. Nichol Lee Kessinger, 29 years old. [Geologist, HSE Representative, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation].
  2. Dwayne Kessinger, 59 years old. [Engineering Group Lead. Sat in on first two interrogations with his daughter on August 15th and 16th, 2018].

Ex-husband, ex-boyfriend and ex-employers

  1. Leonard King [Lawyer, Shan’ann’s first husband between 2002 and 2008. No children. Took out life insurance policies on themselves during their marriage. After divorce Leonard King changed the beneficiary on his own life insurance].
  2. “Sean” [Ex-boyfriend of Nichol Kessinger mentioned in texts to Charlotte Nelson on Sunday August 12th, 2018].
  3. Hisham Bedwan [Owner of Dirty South, a car accessory company based in Fayetteville, North Carolina].
  4. Morrisville Ford and Longmont Ford [Watts worked at these dealerships between 2001-2012 and 2012-2014 respectively. Shan’ann Watts also worked at Longmont Ford].
  5. Greg Alore [Longmont Ford Sales Director].
  6. Hair Jazz, Aberdeen.

Friends, Witnesses and Babysitters

  1. Nickole Utoft Atkinson
  2. Nicolas Atkinson [Also dog sat when Watts family was in North Carolina].
  3. Cassie Rosenberg
  4. Josh Rosenberg
  5. Addy Molony
  6. Nicholas Thayer
  7. Amanda Thayer
  8. Jeremy Lindstrom
  9. Jennifer Lindstrom
  10. McKenna Lindstrom
  11. Cristina Meacham
  12. Samantha Pasley
  13. Sara Nudd
  14. Mark Jamieson
  15. David Colon [Wrote a letter to Chris Watts while Watts was in jail, approximately mid-October, 2018].
  16. Lance Alfonso
  17. Charlotte Nelson
  18. Jim Gutoski
  19. Brandi Smith
  20. Taylor Welch [Babysitter, also helped plan the “gender reveal” party. Discovery Documents, page 94].
  21. Ashley Bell
  22. Michele Greer [Witnessed Watts family at a playground in Myrtle Beach on August 2nd, 2018].

Neighbors

  1. Nathaniel Trinastich
  2. Bette Marcoux [Witnessed Chris Watts’ truck idling in the driveway at 05:15].

Teachers

  1. Matt Francis [Shan’ann Watts’ 9th Grade teacher]
  2. Joe Duty [Pine Forest High School Automotive teacher, retired. Remembered Watts as “one of the best students I ever had.”].

Primrose School Staff

  1. Keri Wood, School Director [spoke to Sandi Rzucek between 08:00 and 08:30 and again at 15:00 on August 13th, 2018].
  2. Alba Orantes, Assistant Director [spoke with Sandi Rzucek approximately 11:30 to midday].
  3. Shannon Meyer [spoke with Chris Watts at 08:26. Meyer was freaked out by the call, and later reported it to the police].
  4. Chris Lang, Primrose School owner.

Realtors

  1. Ann Meadows, ReMax, Cherry Creek, Denver, Colorado
  2. Julie Cole [Weld County Deputy Public Trustee].
  3. Byron Falls bought Shan’ann Watts’ Belmont, North Carolina home in 2012 [Furniture was left behind as part of the sale].

Banks and Bankruptcy-Related

  1. JP Morgan Chase
  2. USAA
  3. Bankruptcy filing, June 2015 [Watts].
  4. Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Court filing, May 22nd, 2015 [Rzuceks].

Thrive Related

  1. Paul Gravette, CEO of Le-vel
  2. Chris Collins
  3. Cindy Derossett
  4. #ThrivingforShanann

Anadarko Related

  1. Luke Epple [Chris Watts’ supervisor].
  2. Kodi Roberts
  3. Anthony Brown
  4. Melissa Parrish
  5. Tony Huskey
  6. Jennifer Edwards [Legal Department].
  7. Jennifer Brice [Corporate Communications].
  8. Firestone Explosion [April 17th, 2017].

Vehicles and Vehicle-Related

  1. White Lexus 350 [CO 528-ZJV].
  2. Ford Lariat F250 2015 [QFT-682, VIN number 1FT7X2B67FEC57658].
  3. Shelby Mustang Museum, Boulder, Colorado. [Visited by Watts and Kessinger on July 14th, 2018].
  4. Bandimere Speedway Event, Morrison, Colorado [[Visited by Watts and Kessinger on July 21st, 2018].
  5. Cross Creek Subaru, Fayetteville.

Sentencing Judge

  1. Marcelo A. Kopcow [Criminal Trial].
  2. TBD [Civil Trial].

Law Enforcement

Lead Detective

  1. David Baumhover [Frederick Police Department, interrogated Chris Watts and Nichol Kessinger].

FBI

  1. Special Agent Grahm Coder [Interrogated Chris Watts].
  2. Special Agent Philip Jones [Interrogated Nichol Kessinger].
  3. Special Agent Mark Lehrer [Interrogated Nichol Kessinger].
  4. Special Agent Tory Smith [Downloaded the contents of the Router in the Watts home].
  5. Special Agent Kevin Hoyland [Analyzed GPS information and cell phone information from Watts’ work phone].

CBI

  1. Director John Camper [Previously Chief of Police of Grand Junction Police Department].
  2. Agent in Charge, Kirby Lewis
  3. Intelligence Analyst Gillian Ganley
  4. Agent Tammy Lee [Polygrapher, interrogated Chris Watts].
  5. Agent Kevin Koback [Interrogated Nichol Kessinger].
  6. Agent Timothy Joseph Martinez [Interrogated Nichol Kessinger].
  7. Agent Greg Zentner [Interviewed Nickole Utoft Atkinson].
  8. CSA Dave Yocum
  9. CSA Kaitlin Schroeder
  10. Dave Maloney [CBI Lab Manager].
  11. CSA Eric Bryant
  12. Agent Stacy Galbraith
  13. Agent Matt Sailor
  14. Agent Jerry Means
  15. Agent Timothy Martinez [Interrogated Nichol Kessinger].
  16. Kellon Hassenstab [Present during execution of  buccal swabs at Weld County Detention Facility on October 4th, 2018].
  17. Aaron Koning [Present during execution of buccal swabs at Weld County Detention Facility on October 4th, 2018].
  18. Kailee Henson

Frederick Police Department

  1. Commander Dave Egan
  2. Officer Scott Coonrod [First officer on the scene].
  3. Sergeant Brent Manley
  4. Officer Matthew James [Arresting officer].
  5. Officer Amanda Purcell [Evidence/Records Supervisor involved in Phone Data Review].
  6. Officer Ian Albert
  7. Officer Katherine Lines
  8. Officer Ivan Perez
  9. Officer Kenneth Doll
  10. Officer Paul Scarlett
  11. Officer Robert Bedsaul [Press liaison].

Firestone Police Department

  1. Bryce Borders [Commander].
  2. Detective William Dewitt [Drone pilot at CERVI 319].

Dacono Police Department

  1. Officer Lorraine Fratelli
  2. Officer Kyle Cooksey
  3. Jackie Boyer [Downloaded contents of Chris Watts’ smartphone between 21:17 and 21:33 on the night of August 14th, 2018].
  4. Officer Jessie Lambert [Dispatched to check on a burglary at 2825 Saratoga Trail on August 17th. Lambert entered the scene with an Axon bodycam].

Longmont Police Department

  1. Officer Jocelyn Plascencia

Other

  1. Agent Daren Ford [North Colorado Forensic Laboratory, responsible for Phone Data Review].

Prosecutors

  1. Michael J. Rourke, Weld County District Attorney.
  2. Steve Wrenn, Chief Deputy District Attorney
  3. Patrick T. Roche, Deputy District Attorney
  4. Kathy Holscher, Weld County District Attorney Investigator
  5. Dan Boyle, Weld County District Attorney Investigator

Defense

  1. Megan Ring, Colorado State Public defender
  2. John Walsh, Attorney
  3. Sylvia Patricia Martinez
  4. Richard Eikelenboom
  5. Carla Jessica Delgado
  6. Selma Jolanda Maria Schieveld
  7. James Edward Merson [Attorney].
  8. Kathryn Herold, Deputy State Public Defender

Coroner’s Office

  1. Carl Blesch [Noted bruising to the soft tissue on the right side of Shan’ann Watts’ hyoid bone, during autopsy].
  2. Dr. Michael Burson [Forensic Pathologist].
  3. Joey Weiner [Investigator].

Lawyers [Including commentators]

  1. Jean Powers [Appeared to represent Ronnie and Cindy Watts at the sentencing hearing on November 19th, 2018].
  2. Amanda K. Ashley [Hindman Sanchez, Lakewood, Colorado Law Firm representing Wyndham Hill Master Association].
  3. Ed Hopkins [Defamation lawyer representing Nichol Kessinger].
  4. Steven Lambert [Grant & Hoffman Law Firm, in Greeley, representing Rzucek Family in civil suit].
  5. Nancy Grace

Media

  1. Ashleigh Banfield, HLN
  2. Dr. Phil McGraw
  3. Dr. Mehmet Oz
  4. The Devil in DisguiseABC

Journalists

  1. Tomas Hoppough, Denver 7 [Asked Chris Watts questions during his Sermon on the Porch, including: “Did you guys have an argument?”]
  2. Madeline St. Amour, Times-Call
  3. Meghan Lopez, Denver Channel

Representatives

  1. K. Almand [Watts family].

Dog Handlers

  1. Jayne Zmijewski/Cody [Larimer County Search and Rescue. Also known as the “Bear Lady”.]
  2. Deputy Katie Tkach/Scout [Boulder County Sherriff’s Office].
  3. Jeff Hiebert/Dax [Boulder County Open Space officer].
  4. Alan Duffy [Greenfield, Colorado – Offered but not used].

Dogs

  1. Deeter [Dachshund, family pet. Spelled “Dieter” on family’s social media. Spelled Deeter in Discovery Documents, page 461. Animal was left at the crime scene on August 13th, presumably in the basement. Transferred from Watts home, to Thayer’s home, to victim’s brother Frankie Rzucek].
  2. Cody [Trauma dog. Labrador retriever. Certifications unknown].
  3. Scout [Bloodhound, certified in Suburban Trailing and Human Remains Detection through SARDUS].
  4. Dax [Black German Shepherd, 4-years-old in 2018].

YouTube Coverage [Credible]

  1. Scott Reisch [Colorado-based criminal trial attorney].
  2. Jim Can’t Swim
  3. Crime Vault

Discussion and Conspiracy Theorists

  1. Molly Golightly
  2. Armchair Detective

Other

  1. Trente Bolte [Assumed gay lover of Chris Watts].
  2. Amanda McMahon [Claimed to have hooked up with Watts in March, 2018, and watched the movie Shutter Island together, a psychological thriller about a man who murders his wife because she kills his children].

 

Chris Watts Case versus Viewing the World from a Toy’s Perspective [WARNING: SPOILERS]

True Crime is a whole lot easier to figure out when we change our perspective. When we see these crimes through the individuals in their world, suddenly all the dynamics become explicitly clear. Like a cartoon.

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Seeing the world vividly from a toy’s perspective, in hyper-real, sensitive detail as we do in Toy Story [arguably the most successful modern franchise in cinema history], means we’re not only gifted with a NEW PERSPECTIVE per se, we also get to see glimpses of ourselves through the filter of this new perspective.

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Seeing the world in a new way is always a huge creative achievement – Vincent van Gogh did this, Tolkien made us see that even the smallest person can make a big difference, Harry Potter showed us magic is real, Star Wars that there are galaxies far, far away. But Toy Story specifically is a brilliant analogy for using a change in perspective to understand True Crime, and what criminals reveal to us about the human condition, society, and – yes – ourselves.

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In the Toy Story world, there’s a fine line between being a toy and trash. In Toy Story 4 we see just how fickle that world can be. One minute you’re a favorite toy enjoying pride of place, center stage in a little person’s life, the next you’re nothing. You can be displaced, replaced, tossed aside, by something that is none of the things you are. And if the thing that supersedes you is something out of the trash, what does that say about you, or about the kid, or about the whole notion of being a kid’s favorite toy?

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One of the disquieting aspects of Toy Story – but one that also resonates – are those moments when the toys themselves willingly give up their life force whenever the godlike gaze of humans passes over them. Suddenly they turn limp, like dead bodies on a bedroom floor. In this spiel toys are precisely that – empty objects to be used [or abused] at the pleasure of their gigantic hosts.

And in this vulnerable state, anything can happen – including terrible things. Their limp forms – sentient but paralyzed – can be stomped on, or turned into fairground fare, or experimented on via brute force, animals or fire.

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One of the worst fates for a toy – and a child, and people incidentally – is becoming lost. The terror in Toy Story 4 is how one can do everything right, live the perfect toy’s life as Woody has, give up everything, sacrifice everything, be completely loyal, and still end up in the closet, end up unwanted, end up making sacrifices that no one wants and no one cares about.

Finding out you’re lost is terrifying, but it’s even more horrible to be lost and not know it, tumbling down the rabbit hole of life getting more and more lost simply because you’re doing what you’ve always done.

Every character in the movie struggles with a longing for a status quo that no longer exists. – Vulture

Things pick up when Bonnie makes a new friend – literally. Fashioned from a disposable food utensil and some pipe cleaners, Forky raises existential questions about the toys’ consciousness that I had previously brushed aside under the umbrella of “imagination”. Made from bits and bobs (rather than fashioned in a factory), Forky thinks he’s “trash”, and wants nothing more than to escape to the safe oblivion of the waste bin.The Guardian

“As we wrote the film, for a while we thought of it as a twin protagonist story. Most kids relate to Buzz, which is funny because Buzz is basically deluded. I’m not sure what that says about kids. But in the end, the film is really Woody’s journey, dealing with his own jealousy and how that gets in the way of truly being there for his child. Woody became a very deep, multifaceted character, who has continued to surprise us by bringing emotional depth to four films. Most characters — having been created for just one film — tend to run out of steam at some point. I think Woody continued to be a rich mine of emotion because he’s basically echoing our own lives. The ‘Toy Story’ films are about toys, but they’re really about us. Woody’s this well-intended good guy who’s often his own worst enemy.” – Writing Studio

Getting lost sucks. All toys, all children, and people tend to agree on that score. Being left out and then slowly withered to dust by the wear and tear, the wuthering winds of insignificance. It’s a fate to fear, almost worse than death. Almost.

Even if toys make it through a child’s childhood in one piece, even if they perform their duties to distinction, even when they serve their purpose, they invariably end up in a box, and in the trash.

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There’s a scene in Toy Story 4 that reminded me of Shan’ann and Chris Watts. A dysfunctional brunette doll asks Woody to make a sacrifice no toy should be asked to make for another toy. But Woody, being the toy he is, dutifully gives up his voicebox to Gabby…and it doesn’t really make any difference.

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Gabby, like Shan’ann, sees Woody as a prop, as a piece of merchandise that she can use to find her own voice. He’s just a prop to her, his purpose reduced  no more and no less than a means for her to enjoy her own fairy tale.

The part that seemed something of a stretch, was even after Gabby takes his voicebox, literally cutting it out of his back, Woody decides to do Gabby another favor by trying to find her a kid. I wouldn’t do that, would you? Someone’s betrayed you, cut your heart out, and you’re going to stick around and do more good deeds for them?

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But Woody does. Woody does his damnedest to give Gabby the fairy tale she feels she deserves. Because he’s loyal. He’s just that kind of cowboy. he’s a cowboy with a holster but no gun. That’s how he rolls. Even though Gabby’s companions are creepy, controlling, slave-like Ventriloquist dummies [like Shan’ann’s Thrive promoters], Woody persists in doing a good deed even though he’s already been punished.

But then something happens. While all this is going on, Woody’s old flame Bo Peep makes an entrance. Bo Peep is a “lost toy” who – since she was taken away in a box – has made the most of her life. She’s taken herself off the shelf, dusted herself off and is making the most of her toy life. Bo Peep’s living her life on another level to Woody and Gabby.

Now, Bo Peep is way too wholesome a character for Nichol Kessinger, but what she does is she offers Woody a sort of alternative world, alternative life, alternative perspective. Ultimately she shows Woody 1) he’s lost, 2) just how lost he is and the way he’s going 3) he’s getting more lost.

What Woody needs to do is find his balls and do something else with his toy life. Bo Peep’s appearance creates an existential tension – Woody has to decide who he’s going to be, and who he’s going to go with.

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And even this is a transaction. If getting lost as a toy means finding oneself without a kid that loves you, or simply being thrown away like garbage, then getting unlost also seems to be a matter of hitching your wagon to someone. Someone else that is. Which is a toy’s way of turning the tables on being turned into garbage.

The Hyoid Bone and what it reveals about the Watts Family Murders

At 3:08 into his address to the court on November 19th, Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke noted the following:

“The only injuries that were on Shan’ann’s body were one set of finger…er…or bruising…what appeared to be fingernail or fingermark…bruising…to the right side of her neck….It takes 2-4 minutes to strangle someone to death – manually.”

Although Rourke doesn’t mention the Hyoid Bone here by name, we know from the Discovery Documents that this is the area of Shan’ann’s neck he was referring to, where bruising was found.

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Chris Watts claimed in his Second Confession that he manually strangled Celeste and Bella. If that were true, we’d expect to see some sort of bruising in the same area as Shan’ann’s neck. And since the Hyoid Bone structures are much smaller and more fragile in toddlers, and Watts’ hands relatively much larger and stronger, we’d expect far more damage to these structures in the little girl’s necks.

But we don’t.

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What this suggests is:

  1. Shan’ann may have been strangled by hand, or by using a rag soaked in ethanol pulled over her nose and mouth, or a plastic bag, which she desperately tried to remove. This might have resulted in tiny fingernail incisions from her own fingernails. [This is difficult to confirm without seeing the autopsy images firsthand, but this was a feature in the Rohde case]. Fullscreen capture 20190624 173116Fullscreen capture 20190624 173059
  2. Both Bella and Celeste were almost certainly NOT manually strangled, and both children would have been primed to panic and resist had they been aware of their mother’s precarious situation. They may have been drowned, or killed or smothered in another way so as to prevent bruising/injury [either to them =- to their necks – or to Watts].
  3. If the children were killed first, then Watts had already “learned” how to execute a quiet murder without leaving evidence of his own actions on his victims, or being wounded in the process. If he succeeded in the initial double homicide, he would have tried for the same result with Shan’ann. He almost succeeded. It’s likely she winged him on the neck with her fingernails while she was facedown, with her attacker on top of her, and behind her, exerting force on her throat from behind.

To be a True Crime Rocket Scientist means to understand the nuances of the Hyoid Bone. The Hyoid Bone is basically a litmus test for manual strangulation. It’s a tremendously important artifact in True Crime pathology, perhaps even more significant and condemning than cadaver traces. It’s also one of those areas murderers typically don’t know about, and criminal courts should know more about.

To be clear, the Hyoid Bone is also an important feature in the Rebecca Zahau case, the Amanda Knox case, even JonBenet Ramsey. It can be a tricky piece of evidence because, especially if it’s engineering is not understood, it can be argued both ways by expert witnesses and often is.

Let’s quickly breeze through reference to the Hyoid Bone in the three aforementioned reference cases:

REBECCA ZAHAU:

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Source for this reference from the autopsy report: Oxygen

AMANDA KNOX:

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Source for this reference from the autopsy report: The Telegraph.

JONBENET RAMSEY:

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Source for this autopsy report: CrimeOnline.

The three references above may be familiar to True Crime afficionados, so let’s add a fourth that might not be. It’s from the recently concluded Roderick Covlin case.

Covlin assumed he could get away with murder simply because Orthodox Jews are generally against the practise of performing autopsies. This could have guaranteed him to collect an inheritance of over $5 million from his ex-wife, just hours after she communicated that she intended to disavow him.

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How it works is due to the unique structure of the Hyoid Bone, if its damaged it tends to indicate manual strangulation. When ligatures are used [for example in the JonBenet case, and in murders staged to look like suicides [Rebecca Zahau and Susan Rohde] what we expect to see is no damage to the Hyoid Bone. To understand how this works, and why the mechanism of ligature strangulation tends not to harm the structures [the horns] of the Hyoid Bone, we need to look at where the structure fits into the throat.

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It’s relatively high up and close to the jaw, and ligatures are often lower and cut into the throat below and perhaps above the Hyoid Bone. It’s a unique structure because, like the cartilage of the nose, knees and ears, it’s relatively loose. So when extreme force is applied, the cartilage tends to slip out of the way.

With manual strangulation, the hands and fingers prevent the Hyoid Bone from slipping, and this structure is often crushed or fractured.

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I learned about the remarkable idiosyncrasies of the Hyoid Bone while researching the Zahua and Rohde cases simultaneously. In both cases, the murder suspects claimed the victim wasn’t strangled, but that she [Rebecca and Susan respectively] had hung herself. One way of proving the case, one way or another, was to look at the Hyoid Bone in both instances. If the Hyoid Bone was undamaged, it would suggest hanging. If it was bruised or fractured, or there was bruising or hemorrhage immediately adjacent to it, this would indicate ligature strangulation [hanging]. One has to be careful being too reductionist about it, because manual strangulation can involve a ligature. It’s very likely Susan Rohde was strangled with the belt of her nightgown.

A differentiating factor in terms of a ligature from manual asphyxiation and hanging is that a person hanging will tend to have a ligature rising at the back of the neck. A manual ligature will tend to be horizontal.

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A mannequin was used in the Rohde case to demonstrate the ligature. To make it even more complicated, one must add to the equation the possibility of post mortem ligatures [as part of the staging process]. Can ligatures form on a dead body, and can the Hyoid Bone be damaged as part of post mortem staging?

In the Rohde case it became quite confusing, with two experts for the state arguing convincingly about damage to the Hyoid Bone, and two experts for the defense basically jumbling everything into a big mess, making a confused muddle in which many possibilities were entertained. They also argued that since Susan was half standing while she hung herself, the ligature wouldn’t necessarily be “more vertical”.

In the end the Judge went with the state, and accepted the well-worn wisdom that a damaged Hyoid Bone, which besides being slippery, is a tough and elastic structure, tends to indicate manual strangulation and therefore murder.

In intimate partner murders, especially between husbands and wives, or ex-wives, the Hyoid Bone is as damning as cadaver odor was to the McCanns, Casey Anthony and Scott Peterson. But the fact that the MSM version of how the Watts children were murdered defaults to manual strangulation – in contradiction to any corroborating evidence – shows the True Crime genre still has much to learn from the forensic pathology side of things.

More: Rohde Trial: The 1 Factor that determines murder or suicide

Below are additional excerpts from the Rohde Trial Judgment related to the Hyoid Bone.

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“Why didn’t he just get a divorce?” The Importance of the Inner Voice in True Crime

Every one of the four Toy Story flicks [to date] has been about the same thing: finding your purpose. The fourth installment seems to convey this message more powerfully, at least I thought so, through the metaphor of the inner voice.

Without giving the film away, that voicebox inside some toys becomes very important in this film. What if yours is broken? What if you don’t have an inner voice ? Does that mean you have no conscience?

As it happens, this tends to be our default response when we’re faced with unfathomable crimes like the Watts Family Murders, The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann and Who killed JonBenet Ramsey? We can’t understand the people involved so we immediately imagine THEY don’t have a conscience. How could they?

But what if they do, and what if committing these crimes is precisely because this inner voice, this inner purpose, made it impossible not to.

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There’s a wonderful scene in Toy Story 4 where Buzz is trying to reason with Woody, trying to show Woody that his efforts to rescue someone are…well…probably not worth it. Woody answers by saying he’s just listening to his inner voice. This prompts Buzz to look for and listen to his. He’s pretty sure he doesn’t have an inner voice, not in the way Woody does anyway.

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And it’s true, Buzz doesn’t. None of us have the same inner voice. Each of us has a unique purpose.  So, when faced with a delicate choice, Buzz presses his own buttons, hoping for a programmed response from his inner voice that sits well with him. But each time his programmed answers tell him not to do what he wishes he did want to do. And finally, he obeys his programming and heads off.

This is a fantastic analogy to similar situations in True Crime. We can’t understand why criminals would do some of the things we would never do. Because of that, we put them in a box, call them MONSTER or NARCISSIST or SOCIOPATH, put the box on a shelf and shrug our shoulders with a huff.

The fact is, we’re only going to figure out the why of these crimes if we take the time to figure out their programming [the dynamics, the psychological wiring, the inner dialogue]. Instead of projecting our inner voices onto them, and into their situations, we have to spend some time figuring out who they are. What’s actually going on inside the toy crime and the criminal? And to do that we must examine their voice box inner voice.

534e400a-a495-4639-9f23-58f5333416e0The TWO FACE series endeavors to do that – to figure out why Chris Watts discovered that getting a divorce really wasn’t an option for him.  Like Woody in Toy Story 4, Watts was also a cowboy who finally figured out he’d gotten himself lost, but this crisis also prompted him to try to find his true purpose. In fact, for Watts, being who he was in the situation he was in, divorce didn’t feel like the best option, it felt like the worst option.

Why? How did that happen? And is that happening to us?

By peeling back the layers and getting into the stuffing, we find the humanity hidden under the veneer of a perfect toy. In the same way, when we peer under the veneer of a picture-perfect family, and a picture-postcard marriage, we see real people, with real flaws, and flawed approaches to dealing with serious problems. And perhaps, just perhaps, by looking at what went wrong in their fairy tales, we can avoid making the same mistakes as we head into the sunset in search of our own Happily Ever Afters.