A Critical Review of FAMILY MAN, FAMILY MURDERER

The 42 minute documentary starts off with a very dark, poignant scene. We see a man with his truck [headlights on] shoveling sand. The voice-over is Shan’ann’s, saying how the man digging her grave is “the best thing that’s ever happened to me…”

It’s powerful. It’s not a bad start, but from a technical perspective, it’s not a great start either.

In the opening montage, a man is digging in a nondescript landfill-type setting. It’s not the well site; it looks nothing like it, and there appears to be a big tree somewhere in the picture. Going into the documentary I was wondering whether Anadarko would be mentioned, and if so, how? This very first scene seems to answer that question. The Anadarko stuff will be blacked out and pushed out of the frame.

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Now, I like true crime dramatizations. They remind us to think practically about a particular crime scene, and they force us to consider what’s plausible and what isn’t. In the above image the shirt might be close to the right color [pink…orange], and the jeans and boots are right, but it’s doubtful Watts would have dug a grave with the car lights shining on him. There was enough ambient light right then, just after dawn, to know what he was doing without artificial light.

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The Trinastich video footage also confirms just how light it was out when Watts pulled out of his driveway, and remember, it was going to be almost another hour after he left before the head of the shovel in the truck nosed into the sand at CERVI 319.

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We see a montage of images from Shan’ann’s social media, and a clip from the Sermon on the Porch where Watts speaks into the camera asking Shan’ann, Bella and Ceecee to “just come home…” An image of Watts with Kessinger appears onscreen within the first minute,  then some strange dude appears, and then District Attorney Michael Rourke is the first heavy-hitter to make  an appearance. Rourke says Watts was saying all the right things, he just wasn’t saying them right. He was just too cold.

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Next the program promises to “explore the transformation” Watts made from family man to monster for the next hour [well, 40 minutes and change].

I like the way Diane Dimond refers to Watts early on as “a dichotomy of personalities”. Another way of saying that is a TWO FACE, right? Next large red text appears above another montage.

DOUBLE LIFE REVEALED

After showing the title [at the 2 minute mark], the scene opens with a pump jack and a well site. It’s August 13th, 2018 according to white text superimposed over a local traffic scene.

And then Dimond begins taking the viewer through the spiel – from Nickole Atkinson’s point of view.  We see another strange and rather unattractive interloper [playing the role of Nickole] and then we see Steve Wrenn, fingers folded, baseball on his desk, apparently in his office.

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Wrenn provides a scintillating insight. “Things weren’t right.” Think about this for a moment. You have the District Attorney appearing in the first minute to say Watts wasn’t acting right, and that everyone could see that [well yes, they could]. Not his deputy is confirming that things weren’t right [yup, that’s what Nickole thought, and…?]

Next the narrative reverts to Rourke. Rourke provides a little insight now. Nickole worked with Shan’ann, for the same company, and they sold the same product. Which company was that? Which products were those? Rourke doesn’t say. This documentary has promised to show how Watts has transformed into monster, right?

A voiceover [flashing to an aerial shot of Phoenix] mentions a business trip and Le-Vel, but that’s it. Nothing about the kind of company, or that it’s a MLM.
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Next the narrative deals with the pregnancy and health issues. Now we have another reporter, this time from the Denver Post, providing more overview. Then it’s back to Rourke. Rourke explains what Nickole was doing. Checking her phone, wasn’t Shan’ann supposed to be at a doctor’s appointment, this and that. There’s a lot more to it than that, but this is just lightly ticking the narrative boxes – and 4 minutes have already blown by.

Where’s Nickole though? Is she not giving interviews?

Then there’s a dramatization of Nickole arriving at the Watts home. The Watts home isn’t used, and Nickole’s son and daughter aren’t in the frame. The make of the car [Hyundai Elantra instead of a Mazda GT] looks wrong, where its parked is wrong, but the color is right.

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The clothing the Nickole stand-in is wearing is similar to the camouflage shirt Nickole wore, the white glasses propped on her forehead are a match, and the busy-on-the-phone vibe, but where’s her son Nicolas?

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Just before 5 minutes, Wrenn is back to tell us Chris Watts worked in the “oil field industry”. Wow. Nice and vanilla.

“He was a supervisor and typically visited various well sites…throughout the day.” Cue a nondescript pump jack.

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So far no mention of Anadarko, or the fact that Watts work involved the maintenance of fracking batteries. So far, we’re still getting the vanilla version, an ultra superficial version simply recapping the basic case, with prosecutors interspersed with reporters doing the job of a narrative run-through. Some of the reporters are not terribly affiliated with this case.

Next Nickole’s actual 911 call is played. It’s not the first time it’s even been on television but kudos for at least having something authentic and not necessarily easy to get hold of onscreen.

Then we dive into bodycam footage, with Nicolas appearing but his face smudged out. At 6 minutes, Rourke is back to provide some insight. Coonrod can’t just kick down the door and walk in, and so on and so forth. So far there has been zero reference to any actual text messages or the times they were sent. That’s 6 minutes, that’s enough. Let’s hear some of your thoughts and observations, and if need be I’ll post a follow-up on the rest of the documentary.

What to expect from “Family Man, Family Murderer: An ID Murder Mystery” [airs Sunday, June 2 at 10 p.m. on Investigation Discovery]

We’re about two-and-a-half months shy of the one year anniversary of the horrific Watts Family Murders, and Investigation Discovery are the first to do what looks like a thorough and in-depth recap.

The heaviest hitter in the true crime special is deputy district attorney Steve Wrenn. This is him:

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Although Wrenn seems to be a relatively unfamiliar figure in the Watts saga, especially given the prominent role of Michael Rourke, he was part and parcel of the prosecution team from the beginning.

We also saw him in court on the few occasions [just three in fact] when the case was actually heard within the protocols and prescriptions of a criminal trial.  While Rourke addressed the court at the sentencing trial, and stood by while Frank senior and Frank junior read their statements [Rourke also read Frankie’s statement for him], Wrenn stood beside Sandi Rzucek when she read her statement.

According to Fox News:

The mini-series features interviews with those familiar with the tragedy and experts who have covered the case extensively. It also highlights body camera footage from the Frederick Police Department, as well as new details from the investigation following Watts’ jailhouse confession. Steve Wrenn, the Deputy District Attorney for Weld County who was interviewed for the special, told Fox News those who handled the case are still attempting to make sense of it.

A year after the family annihilation, almost everyone involved is still asking why. This suggests that the interrogations of FBI agent Grahm Coder and CBI agent Tammy Lee may continue until there is a better handle on Watts – at least from the perspective of the authorities and prosecutors.

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Wrenn describes the “ripple effect” of the crime on first responders as being “phenomenal”. While those involved in the recovery of the Watts children from the tanks may be damaged psychologically, perhaps permanently, Watts himself seems to have emerged from his own handiwork relatively unscathed, and even upbeat.

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Perhaps there is a world of difference between killing someone who is alive [even one’s own family] and the gruesome task of reaching into the dark to fish out their remains. This may seem a silly statement, but it’s one I’m grappling with as part of the research for OBLIVION, the 8th book in the TWO FACE series. In our rush to judge murderers, we ourselves tend to prefer them to be worse – sometimes – than they really are. And so when given the option of their committing a crime in a harsh and callous manner, that seems to fit better than a more subtle, strategic and painless [planned] taking of lives.

Even Watts – during the First Confession phase – seemed to wince at the prospect of being involved in fishing out the remains of his daughters. He was appalled at the notion of his coworkers being involved in the same operation. Not that this is absolute proof or proof of any kind, but when Coder prodded Watts on whether he shoved the bodies of Bella and Celeste through the thief hatches while they were alive, Watts was similarly aghast.

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In the second interview the same issue came up and Watts again denied it.

Fullscreen capture 20190530 221951 Wrenn also describes his own feelings while watching Watts during his interrogations.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been more frustrated in my life watching something take place.”

When Watts casually describes doing the unthinkable, there is a sense that there is a serious screw loose with this guy, and only he seems unaware of it. Even so, he seems to be trying awful hard to be everyone’s pal. It’s this aspect that seems to distinguish Watts from other sociopaths. He does the unthinkable, and yet he seems to care very much what people think of him, and tries very hard to appear not as monstrous as he otherwise might. It’s not just that, what’s unnerving is his effort to be pals with law enforcement, when they know who and what he really is. His game seems to be making friends, which is precisely the ruse they use to extract more information from him.  It’s done gently, painstakingly and the result is the cops get something for their trouble [maybe not very much] and Watts also gets something [ditto].

Wrenn refers to the post-conviction interview conducted in mid to late February 2019 [the so-called Second Confession] as providing “glimpses” into why what happened happened. It will be interesting to see whether Wrenn will take a firm position, or express himself clearly on Watts’ latest version of events.

Rourke seems to have accepted it, and the media as well, which suggests further towing of the lie line. But this version presents both Shan’ann’s murder and that of the children afterwards as spontaneous [in other words, unplanned].

The TCRS position on this has been clear from the beginning – the murders were all premeditated.

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In Wrenn’s view the only possible explanation for the crime is that Watts is a sociopath. As labels go he’s not wrong. A sociopath can’t understand or quite get to grips with the feelings of others, and they don’t feel guilty about harming others. While this explains Watts within the confines of the crime, as well as the aftermath, it doesn’t explain why his wife loved him [and was fighting to stay married to him] until the moment he murdered her, or why a mistress fell in love with him and he with her. Are sociopaths lovable? Are sociopaths good fathers? Are sociopaths assets to families, desirable to singletons and beneficial to societies until they aren’t?

If the sociopath label works, it’s clearly reductionist and way too simplistic. See, it also rubs against the notions the Rzuceks shared of their son-in-law, as well as the community [including the Thrive Facebook community] who regarded the Watts family as the perfect family, and Watts himself as an ideal husband and father. The media and social media have been cooing about this aspect all along – but he [and they] looked so perfect and so perfectly happy! If sociopaths can only be identified by spouses, extended family and the community in the rear view mirror, then we as a society are in real trouble.

Our ongoing failure to understand this case – and Watts specifically – speaks to some kind of systemic failure in modern society, including our inability to see those around us for who they really are, or to simply fathom those around us [and perhaps ourselves].

Wrenn insisted that despite Watts’ tell-all to investigators, we may never truly know why he was willing to slaughter his entire family.

Curiously, although the documentary on Watts claims to [feature] interviews with those familiar with the tragedy and experts who have covered the case extensively zero contact was made with TCRS. This is either an indictment of TCRS and the seven books covering the Watts case [as the work of an amateur, and thus bogus and basically bullshit] or it’s an indictment of something else.

Which do you think it is?

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Source: Fortune