The Chris Watts case in a Nutshell: “I got lost in those stunning green eyes”

There’s the long version to the Chris Watts case, and then there’s the short version.

The short version goes like this:

They met at work and over an unknown period of time, hit it off.

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Meanwhile Kessinger communicated to Watts her intent:

I’m looking for someone to build a beautiful life with.

Watts liked the sound of that.

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Especially because he was getting lost too. He was falling in love.

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But there was a problem he couldn’t easily get out of…

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Amanda Knox: A Cautionary Tale for Prosecutors and Interrogators

Whether or not you believe Amanda Knox is innocent, her case raises a few difficult questions. How ought the police and interrogators to treat suspects?

As we saw in the Chris Watts case, Coder and Lee adapted their style to fit in with his. They spoke his language, came down to his level, and sat with him for hours while valuable evidence dissolved in a tank and decayed in the ground. It suited Watts that the interrogation lasted a long time and went nowhere. But it also suited the cops that they had someone in the cubicle, talking casually and openly, while a big team were out in the field gathering intel. This included knowledge about Kessinger, and confirmation that Watts had been cheating on his wife and brazenly lying to Coder, even trying to beat a polygraph test.

If the Watts case went to trial, it’s possible, even plausible, that an expert defense lawyer could have argued – successfully – that he confessed not only under duress, but under false pretenses.

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We know the scenario that Shan’ann killed the girls wasn’t something that happened, it wasn’t what Watts believed, it wasn’t even what the FBI or CBI believed. It was just a ploy to let him off the hook so he could give them some intel they could use. That part worked.

In a scenario of a disappearance, where time is also of the essence, this sort of skulduggery is likely necessary. The cops didn’t know they were dealing with a triple homicide until Watts let on that all three – Shan’ann, Bella and Celeste – were dead.

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It’s also part of the stock and trade of criminal cases that the folks involved are thieves, murderers and liars. They’re habitual deceivers. Are interrogators really expected to be completely honest and completely straightforward when criminals never are?

These ploys may work in the interrogation room but what happens in a criminal case?

The Jodi Arias case is an example of how aggressive a prosecutor felt he needed to be in court trying to extract information from a a slippery slimebag on the stand.

In the clip below, Amanda Knox and Jens Soering seem to be making the case that as young people they should have been interrogated by young people. Or one on one. Or not for hours at a time. Imagine if we applied these guidelines to police interrogations everywhere, everyday.

How should a suspect be interrogated? For one hour at a time, or two? Is three hours in one day too much? If the police feel they have grounds, why shouldn’t they interrogate for hours until the suspect cracks?

We saw with Watts he wasn’t deprived of food or water, in fact bottles of water are seen in the room throughout. He was Mirandized, and though the idea of legal representation came up, he clearly elected not to speak with a lawyer. Had he been questioned more aggressively, would he have exercised that option? Had he been questioned less aggressively, or over a greater length of time, would he have exercised that option?

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The danger in being too soft – in interrogations – is precisely that the suspect has the opportunity to buy time, fine-tune their story and find out what the cops know, and don’t know.

In true crime, time is always against the investigators while favoring the criminal. The criminal is carefully, deceptively, duplicitously play acting…the nonchalance is invariably an act to hide the fact of who’s really holding all the cards and guarding all the exits. It may feel the other way round, it may look the other way round, but it’s not.

Unless the suspect is innocent.

Court allows Amanda Knox to sue Italy for trial ‘abuses’

European court orders Italy to pay Amanda Knox damages

Amanda Knox’s parents sued by Italian police over abuse claims

The First Two Reviews for TWO FACE: OBLIVION

Many regular readers of this blog have followed the Watts case from the very beginning. If the murders themselves aren’t still shocking almost a year later, what is almost as astonishing is the investigation into it. It’s not that the investigation lacked resources, quite the opposite, it’s this mismatch between the crime and investigation, and the prosecution.

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Each successive book in the TWO FACE series is harder to write, but perhaps easier and more interesting to read. The reviews reflect this, but let’s face it – the first two narratives were written without the benefit of 2000 pages of discovery, with no interrogations and very little evidence.

It’s been a challenge in the last few books trying to transcribe hours and hours of often indistinct audio into a cogent narrative. It doesn’t help that Watts and Kessinger are both mumblers, especially Watts. One hopes law enforcement will get their act together in this regard. If you’re going to record an interrogation, make sure you can hear it, and use it. But that’s part of the real meat and potatoes work of the true true crime writer.  Who’s going to do it if not TCRS?

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Over time, true crime evolves. We’ve seen in the Watts case how the story has evolved. It’s already split into those who believe the Second Confession and those who don’t, into a group who believe Watts is a monstrous simpleton who just snapped, and another group [a smaller group I think] who see the case as more complex, and the crimes as premeditated.

As we become familiar with the facts, evidence and nuances, we have to decide what to do with it. That takes discernment. We have to decide which path we’re going to take, and who to trust.

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In terms of the interrogations, it’s worth noting that while we hear the voices of the FBI, CBI and lead detective questioning Watts, and although we get to read the synopsis of the interview, we don’t get their interpretation afterwards. We don’t get to see what they actually believe, and what they don’t.

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It’s tempting to imagine what-you-see-is-what-you-get in these interviews, but it’s really a game. It’s the true crime game, isn’t it? It’s a game from the side of the Silver Fox, but it’s also a game played by law enforcement. Are we able to decipher the rules of that game yet, and the criminal psychology that governs it? Are we becoming better lie detectors, or liars?

All of this is reflected to some extent in the Watts marriage. It’s also a game. It also has unwritten rules and invisible threads running through it, pulling strings, drawing it in this direction or that. The affair is really a reality check for all three players in this game. The affair is going to validate some and invalidate others. It’s going to reveal the true state of the relationships, commitments, cash and secret resentments.

Our incredible access in this case to the Watts family allows us not only to fathom how fairy tales are born, but how and why they die. The Watts case is a vital and valuable cautionary tale, and though the American public were denied the opportunity to learn from this tragedy in court, through a criminal trial, the TWO FACE book series provides another alternative.

5star-reviews

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“I’m not kidding Christopher…I’m spotting…” – What did Shan’ann mean?

On the afternoon of August 5th, 018, a Sunday, Shan’ann encouraged her husband to go see his grandmother, but without her and without the kids. In an uncharacteristically stern tone, Shan’ann told Chris Watts:

“I’m not kidding Christopher. I’m having a bad experience these last few days with my pregnancy and I’m spotting. I’m not dealing with it…” What did she mean?

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In OBLIVION I make the case that Shan’ann was suffering classic symptoms of lupus – skin rashes, inflammation etc. brought on by stress. She started feeling unwell the day Watts arrived in North Carolina. We also know she wasn’t feeling well during her trip to Phoenix, and that she was due to see the doctor first thing Monday morning.

But a Seattle-based reader recently contacted me to to stress that spotting is also a well-known symptom in the first trimester of pregnancy. According to Healthline.com:

Spotting is considered a light or trace amount of pink, red, or dark brown (rust-colored) blood. You may notice spotting when you use the restroom or see a few drops of blood on your underwear. It will be lighter than your menstrual period. There won’t be enough blood to cover a panty liner.

During pregnancy, spotting can be caused by a number of factors. Spotting is different from heavier bleeding, where you’d need a pad or tampon to stop blood from getting on your clothing. Seek emergency care if you experience heavy bleeding during pregnancy.

Given Shan’ann’s health issues with lupus, spotting would be a real concern, a real possibility of miscarriage. Was that why she had her doctor’s appointment Monday morning?

CRIMECON: Nancy Grace explains why the slaughter of a Colorado family captured America’s Attention

Nancy Grace is right. In order to study a case, to really get to grips with it, you have to spend a lot of time reading, listening and thinking.

When asked her opinion on the Watts case Nancy answered:

“He had it all,” she said. “He had this gorgeous wife, Shanann. He’s got the children, Bella and Celeste, beautiful. They always wanted a boy. They’re having baby Nico. He’s on the way. Beautiful home.”

She noted from the outside it looked perfect.

“It looked like a postcard,” she said. “It was perfect. When you look at somebody like Chris Watts in court, this picture perfect setting, it’s hard. It’s like the mind is tricking the eye. You’re seeing one thing but the evidence tells you something different, that he in fact is a cold-blooded killer who killed his own children, so I think that’s the fascination. It’s like trying to put together a Rubik’s Cube. You can’t sort it out in your head.”

All of that may be true, but all of that is the surface layer stuff, the optics,the artifice, the superficial.

I get what she’s saying that one can’t put the dichotomy, the duality together, but given enough analysis and thought, we can figure it out, and arguably TCRS already has. In the first Rocket Science book, published in September 2018, only weeks after the crime, we were already looking at a different portrait of the Watts family.

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To understand these crimes and these case we have to get away from projection and transference. We have to stop imposing ourselves onto these cases. We have to let the cases and criminals speak for themselves.

Chris Watts explains what made him snap

There’s a weird admission here that when Watts wasn’t home, it was almost like he “forgot” he was a father. He says since there were no reminders around him [at Kessinger’s house] it was easy to forget who he was.

It reminds me of a scene in the movie The Hours, where a housewife is baking a cake for her husband’s birthday, “to show him that we love him.” Her son, standing in the kitchen, asks her: “Otherwise [without the cake] he wouldn’t know we love him…?”

Packham: A Reference Case that sheds more light on Chris Watts

A regular reader of this blog and my books recently asked if I was aware of the current coverage of the Zahau case. My response was something long the lines of needing to maintain a single-minded focus on the Watts case.  Consistent laser focus and concentrated attention is necessary, naturally, in true crime.

Focus is vital to penetrate the many layers of deceit and misdirection, and figuring out who people really are when they’re purposefully hiding who they are, takes time and effort. But we have to be careful. There’s focus and there’s also the danger of becoming one-track minded. When we’re one-track minded we’re in our own echo chamber and nothing new gets in. When that happens we as individuals, and as a group apparently sharing the same ideas, risk taking the bus to Abeline.

This is where Intertextuality comes in. It’s an incredibly valuable tool in true crime, and useful in criminal trials where – come sentencing – lawyers argue how previous cases were decided on, or how previous felons in similar scenarios were dealt with. Intertextuality is a highway to insights. Through other cases we have a better idea of who and what we are dealing with.

The first time I was truly shaken by the insights of Intertextuality occurred in early June 2018, during the Jason Rohde trial. At the time I’d written about the Zahau case, and so the unusual scenario of a murder staged as a suicide was still fresh in my mind. Sitting in court watching Rohde, listening to the autopsy findings, seeing the crime scene pictures projected in court, and listening to him testify, I saw many of the patterns I’d noticed in the Zahau case come rushing back. In fact I was so transported by these insights I was moved to do something I wouldn’t normally do. During a recess I boldly approached the prosecutor, briefly introduced myself and communicated my intuitions. He wasn’t very receptive. Not at first.

I’m not sure how many people like to be approached like that and told how to do their jobs. A prosecutor instinctively shoots holes into people. So I felt a little like that on Day 1, but as the trial wore on we communicated more often and soon, some of my ideas were floated in court. When the judge delivered her judgment in late February 2019, some artifacts of those ideas were still circulating.

Watts + Packham

In the Watts case it’s easy to get stuck on the idea that Watts didn’t have a plan, and hence, didn’t have an explanation for what happened to Shan’ann. Conversely, if he didn’t have a good explanation, he couldn’t have a good plan. This is circular reasoning, and within the confines of the circle, yes it’s fairly compelling. When we look at the larger ecosystem of the Watts case, the mistress, the pregnancy, the finances, the evidence, the notion that Watts randomly and impulsively committed triple murder becomes absurd.

It’s tempting to conflate Watts’ social awkwardness and introversion with stupidity and lack of guile. What’s really going on is the opposite. His social awkwardness makes him more internalized, which makes him a thinker, a plot, a planner. He likes to be under the radar.

Watts himself said he had to think carefully about what he said to Shan’ann. He had to plan his answers.

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Over the course of a marriage, where one individual can’t be who they really are, they practice their deceits and soon misdirection becomes second nature. As the deceits become more elaborate, such as an affair, so does the strategy, plotting and planning around it. The affair is the first thing “he gets away with” and this gives him confidence that he’s good at getting away with things. But he has to become more sophisticated and so a plot is hatched. And with enough arrogance and frustration, mendacity graduates into murder.

When we look at Packham, we see a wealthy individual, and an intelligent businessman. Nothing like Chris Watts, right? Actually, besides the money, they’re not so very different.

Packham had been married to his wife for almost thirty one years, but the couple had been having marital problems because of his infidelities, before her disappearance on February 22, last year. She did not arrive for work at the usual time of 7.30am and her body was later found in the boot of her burnt-out BMW near the Diep River train station.

Steyn rejected Packham’s version that she could have been the victim of a random hijacking and instead found that Packham was “a crafty deceiver”, agreeing with the State that his conduct was “incomprehensible” and had been indicative of guilt. – The Citizen

Like the Watts Family Murders, Packham’s wife was made to disappear. But unlike the Watts Family Murders, Gill Packham’s disappearance wasn’t “invisible”. Instead of oil tanks her remains were burnt inside her vehicle near a train station in a derelict suburb far from their lush mansion in Constantia. The incineration of the vehicle was meant to conceal the blunt force injuries to her head, but also to destroy possible DNA evidence linking Packham to his wife’s corpse.

On paper, Packham’s explanation isn’t bad. Packham suggested that his wife had come to grief as a result of a random hijacking. This is fairly common in Cape Town, so why not? Well, one reason is hijackers seldom burn the vehicles they target. In this case it was a BMW, so why would a hijacker burn the vehicle and not just take it? Packham didn’t think it through because he didn’t think he needed to. Who knows the motives of random hijackers…?

We may look at that kind of simplistic thinking as daft, but we’re not seeing the full picture. We don’t know the underlying drivers and dynamics, and we don’t know about Packham’s relationships with others, including his children. [The same applies to Rohde].

Interestingly in both the Rohde trial and the Packham trial, the daughters of the accused immediately forgave their fathers, and despite the convictions for the murders of their mothers [respectively], they didn’t want their fathers to be sentenced too harshly.

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In the Watts case we see the same expression of clemency and forgiveness not only from his own parents, but from the Rzuceks as well. It’s as if he did the calculations beforehand and figured if they found out, they’d let him get away with it.

And what about the lack of remorse? Packham and Rohde also showed no remorse, but interestingly Rohde, when confronted with this, indicated that showing remorse would look like admitting guilt.

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Guilty murderers don’t seem to realize that even an innocent defendant would be concerned and traumatized by the death of someone so close to them, besides being emotional about being “wrongly implicated” in a crime. Instead the lack of emotion is meant to convey blamelessness. It works only in the mind of the one who is to blame, but it can work in the minds of those close to them as well.

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He had not once mentioned that he missed his wife or felt sympathy for his children’s loss, and instead displayed a “dismissive attitude” in court that lacked empathy. Judge Steyn said Packham had not divulged a motive, but it appeared he killed his wife out of “anger and frustration”.

Of course once again we have a case where after all is said and done, the guilty man is convicted, but no one can say why.  The crime is ultimately dismissed as a crime executed in anger. He’s angry but he’s a sociopath who shows no remorse. Really? Is he? Was it random frustration on a random day or was it cold, premeditated and merciless?

Which is worse?

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