“What Car did Nickole Atkinson Drive?” This was one of the unexpected questions I was confronted with when trying to visualize the final moments of Shan’ann’s life, when Nickole drove her home from Denver International airport in the early hours of August 13th, 2018.
It was an agonizingly difficult to answer in early September, when I was writing THE MAN UNDERNEATH CHRISTOPHER WATTS. I knew how I wanted to open the narrative – which became a series of 9 books – and I needed Nickole’s car to do that. What car did she drive? At that stage there was no bodycam footage. It wasn’t even certain what color or what type of vehicle Niockole’s car was.
It took a thorough search of Nickole’s Facebook timeline to come across a small handful of references to her car. Like this one.
In the screengrab of a video [below] it’s almost possible to see the brand of the vehicle on the steering column.
When I posted an audio excerpt of the book onto YouTube recently, some listeners were quick to point out [obviously with the benefit of the bodycam footage] that Nickole’s car isn’t a “battered Mitsubishi”.
Some said it was a Chevy Malibu, which isn’t a bad stab at it except the rear lights don’t line up and the logo is very prominent.
It does look like it could be a Mitsubishi [see below], but it’s not. When I reviewed the data I wondered what made me think it was a Mitsubishi to begin with?
Well, it was this image.
The first time I saw this image, I looked closely and saw the Mitsubishi name and logo, and GT on the right hand side. But I should have looked even closer. Above Mitsubishi was the word DART although the font made it hard to make out. Was the D an O or a 0? Was it 0art? The letter “E” was also peeking out beside Nicolas’ star-spangled shirt. That ought to have been a clue too.
As one YouTube commenter rightly pointed out, Nickole’s car is a DODGE DART, a vehicle that was discontinued in 2016. The image below is missing the GT but the one below it has the GT on the right, just as Nickole’s car does.
Although there are a couple of permutations of the Dodge logo, and often in either red or black, the Mitsubishi logo is still pretty distinct.
This [below] was the original post.
In the scheme of things, the make and color of Nickole Atkinson’s vehicle wasn’t relevant to the facts of the Watts case, but it’s still important that True Crime Rocket Science gets the details [even the unimportant ones] right.
After reading the Watts series, for much deeper insight into the operative criminal psychology and functional family dynamics, you should probably read the trilogy on Scott Peterson starting with Blood & Seawater, then Night Before Christmas, then Night Eternal.
The Treachery series covering Casey Anthony also gives insight into the family dynamics of child murder.
And then the Van Breda axe murders [5 books] gives a lot more background into why family annihilations happen.
If you’re interested in the ideas of narcissism, MLM and vanity associated with the Watts case, then you should look into the 6 part Jodi Arias series, starting with AUDACITY. If you think Chris Watts was living in a dream world when he committed premeditated triple murder, Jodi Was too. Jodi Arias is another classic example of how love can warp peoples minds, hearts and motives.
For those interested in the background to how Rocket Science evolved, read on:
When I started writing True Crime I had to make a decision whether I was going to isolate analysis to one particular case, or whether to use Intertextuality – linking criminal psychology across different True Crime narratives.
The reason it happened [and keeps happening] is due to the unusually rapid pace of research and writing. And as a result of intensely researching one case, and writing a series, and then a few weeks later digging deep into another case, and another series, one invariably finds huge areas where the criminal psychology is aligned. It matches. Not only is the thinking similar, some of the statements and semantics are too. This includes not only the statements, excuses and identities of the perpetrators, but their victims too. It’s fascinating. It’s also very, very disturbing.
The first time this happened was between the Oscar Pistorius and Jodi Arias narratives. Then between the Ramseys and the McCanns. Soon I discovered the basic webs of psychology and symbolism that link all criminal cases to one another, and are embedded programs – effectively – in society, and in all individuals.
This led me to encounter and develop pretty sophisticated psychological concepts already present in psychoanalysis, but somewhat extemporaneous. These sophisticated concepts attempting to explain the human dilemma still needed a little fine-tuning. Principle among these dilemma is the classic one overarching them all: the Problem of Evil.
And eventually I started rubbing shoulders with strange new words. Cosmodicy, Theodicy, Anthropodicy. If you haven’t heard these words before – well, I hadn’t either. They’re all to do with the science of man [who are we, how are we designed, how can we be fixed?]. I was interested in that not only as a true crime writer, but as me, as someone wanting to know how broken people – and broken families, and societies – can be fixed. And to figure that out we have to know how we are put together. Do these designs work? Do we need new More Intelligent Design?
Let em explain a little more about the basic design constructs people came up with when they tried to approach man’s basic dilemma in the world.
If Theodicy is an attempt to describe via religious constructs how God deals with evil, then an Anthropodicy attempts to justify [or simply interrogate] the “fundamental goodness” of human nature in the face of the evils [that is True Crime] produced by humans. If there’s a lot of literature dealing with God as a sort of Deus-ex-machina, there’s not much literature dealing with man as not only the problem, but also the source of [and thus the solution to] his problems, and principly, the problem of evil.
True Crime is a handy turf where those problems can be “safely” but also effectively examined and understood. And so through True Crime, so can we. We also understand and fix ourselves, so long as we’re not simply caught up in fruitless transference, projection and voyeurism. And so Rocket Science really found its feet in the genre by attempting to interrogate True Crime authentically. In this way, I believe the contributions of Rocket Science are real and fundamental to an Anthropodicy that we’re struggling with, but until now haven’t even been sure how to define, let alone approach it.
Because an even higher tier to this psychological clockwork feels like it might be a Cosmodicy, the attempt to justify the fundamental goodness of the universe in the face of evil. In modern entertainment we sees these efforts through the slew of out-of-this world blockbusters: the Marvel Comic Universe, Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy and even our own world gone Magic and Mythical: Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games.
But even the theologians and philosophers acknowledge that Cosmodicy is little more than a wave to the problem as it really exists, for us.
Immanuel Kant points out that no working Theodicy yet exists for our world. But he warns, no effective anti-Theodicy exists either. Ernest Becker has made great strides in this regard, and taking Becker’s threads and weaving them into True Crime, I believe – at last – we do have a working and workable science of man [a True Crime Sociodicy that is but less a justification than an explanation, if you will].
Theologian J. Matthew Ashley described the relationship between theodicy, cosmodicy and anthropodicy:
In classical terms, this is to broach the problem of theodicy: how to think about God in the face of the presence of suffering in God’s creation. After God’s dethronement as the subject of history, the question rebounds to the new subject of history: the human being. As a consequence, theodicy becomes anthropodicy – justifications of our faith in humanity as the subject of history, in the face of the suffering that is so inextricably woven into the history that humanity makes.
And so within this schema, the Watts case emerges as a classical modern True Crime Anthropodicy. These are fancy words to say through the inverted fairy tale of the Watts Family Murders, we can at last understand how our various man-made constructs [nations, cultures, corporations, societies, families, marriages, individuals, children, even the unborn] fail us, and why we as children, adults, individuals, communities, collectives, need to be better to do better. We can, but it starts with an authentic acknowledgement of what’s not working, and why.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
In ANNIHILATION it was firmly established and reinforced that the scenario of the crime Chris Watts gave his interrogators during the Second Confession was a lie. The Watts children weren’t killed after Shan’ann, and they weren’t murdered at the well site. The murder was more calculated and cunning than Watts has let on. It was premeditated.
If it’s clear Watts was lying yet again what remains to sift through in the Second Confession? What’s left to unravel? Just these three questions:
What truth IS there in the Second Confession?
Where does this truth take us?
When did the premeditation start, and what precisely started it?
OBLIVION does the difficult job of untying the knots and strands of veracity tied and tangled into all the lies. They’re there, it’s just a question of finding them, separating them, and figuring out what patterns they weave, and what the patterns mean.
With each successive book in the TWO FACE series, the analysis goes deeper and darker, the insights become sharper and more finely tuned. OBLIVION is a more complex, challenging and complicated analysis than ANNIHILATION, and all the preceding narratives in the series.
“It really is the most earth-shattering of the eight narratives, because what OBLIVION does is it finally completes the circle; the full circle means what is grasped is the full scale – the sheer dimensions – of the devastation of this tragedy.”
The last two books of the series of 7 [as it stands now] were extremely difficult to research and write. Book 7 was probably the most difficult of all. This is because one is relying entirely on the audio as the primary source for the information.
On the one hand, it’s excellent material because what we are listening to is exactly what the three members of law enforcement heard, plus minus some white noise here and there. There’s also a lot to work with – over four hours’ worth.
If you felt frustrated listening to one of the Rzucek lawyers conveying his impressions to Dr. Phil, you weren’t alone. We wanted to know exactly what Watts said, and also how he said it. The tone. The pitch. The context. Most important, the psychology. Is it believable. Does what he’s saying actually make sense, or does it conform to another pattern…?
And then the Rzuceks provided their impressions. They were touching, and while we felt sympathetic to the family, the two-part show never provided the kind of deep diving psychological analysis Watts’s Second Confession really needed.
On the other hand, not having video and sometimes having the audio muffled or cut out was frustrating. The chronology of Agent Tammy Lee’s 29-page CBI Report and the audio aren’t an absolute match, which is interesting. It shows while the law enforcement trio went to the prison with specific questions, they didn’t necessarily ask all of them in a specific order, nor did they get their answers in a prescribed order either. This makes for a chaotic narrative, and it was my job to unravel it and rearrange it.
Transcribing audio is hard work, but worth it, as I think readers have discovered.
After leaving not one but two scathing one star reviews, one reader’s outlook shifts markedly in book 5, DRILLING THROUGH DISCOVERY.
The reviewer makes a good point that one book isn’t the final analysis on Chris Watts. The books need to be seen as a continuum. Each narrative exposes another facet of the case, and each narrative reflects the knowledge-base known at the time it was written.
In ANNIHILATION I’ll be dealing with Watts “Second Confession” and addressing how the information in that final interview changes things, and why and where it doesn’t. I’ll also be providing a final analysis for where, how and why the crimes took place [based on all the information we now have] and what the murder weapons were. ANNIHILATION will also be explicit about the exact time of death of the three victims.
Something else worth noting – although this series of books is designed not to be read at a snail’s pace, racing through the content and skipping links means you miss most of the really good stuff. Many subtle, intricate, carefully laid out and meticulously reasoned arguments are missed when the reader starts detaching from the narrative and scrolling on. Don’t do that.
Give the narrative time and opportunity to present its case. Explore some of the reinforcing material if you’re curious or unconvinced. Be curious! Believe me, all the building blocks and explanations are in place, just give yourself the space to absorb them and then decide for yourself how much they resonate.
Buy the 6-part TWO FACE series here for $40.
BOOK 7 COMING [RELATIVELY] SOON…