true crime

In August, Chris Watts killed his family. This is why his case feels so eerily familiar.

A day after his pregnant wife and two young daughters went “missing”, Chris Watts stood outside his family home and begged for their safe return.

Within days, the Colorado man was in handcuffs.

The bodies of his pregnant wife Shannan, and daughters Bella, four, and Celeste, three, were found submerged in crude oil vats on a property owned by Watts’ then employer, Anadarko Petroleum; one of the largest oil and gas drilling companies in Colorado.

The trio had vanished from their Frederick home on Monday August 13, some time after a friend dropped Shannan home at 2am, following a work trip.

In local television news interviews the following day, Watts claimed Shannan told him she was going to visit a friend later that morning and had never returned.

“I don’t know what to do right now. I just feel so alone in this house right now,” he told Fox31. “In my heart, I believe that she is somewhere and I hope that she is safe.”

When questioned by police, 33-year-old Watts initially claimed he killed Shannan “in a rage” after he witnessed her strangle their youngest daughter to death.

After police discovered Watts was having an affair with his coworker, a woman named Nichol Kessinger, he quickly changed his narrative.

Watts’ story is gruesome and disturbing, but it’s not unfamiliar.

On December 24, 2002, Laci Peterson was reported missing. The Californian woman was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with her first son, who she and her husband, Scott Peterson, were planning to name Conner.

When questioned about his whereabouts that day, Peterson said he had traveled to Berkeley Marina in Richmond to go fishing on his boat. Detectives were immediately concerned by Peterson’s cool and calm demeanour and he quickly became a suspect in the case.

On January 17, 2003, it emerged that Peterson had engaged in numerous affairs. At the time of his wife’s disappearance, Peterson was in a relationship with a woman named Amber Frey.

Frey approached police and told them she had been dating Peterson for several months but she had no idea that he was married. Frey, a single mum, then agreed to let the police record her subsequent phone calls with Peterson in the hope of getting him to confess to his wife’s murder.

Frey later wrote a book, Witness, about her experience of helping the police to prosecute her boyfriend. The book quickly became a New York Times best-seller.

On April 13, 2003, the remains of a late-term male fetus were found on Richmond’s Point Isabel Regional Shoreline, just north of where Peterson had been fishing on the day of Laci’s disappearance. The next day, a partial female torso missing its hands, feet, and head was found in the same area. The bodies were later confirmed to be that of Laci and her unborn son.

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Investigators arrested Peterson on April 18, 2003, near a golf course. He claimed he was meeting his dad and brother for a round of golf, but his Mercedes-Benz contained nearly $15,000 in cash, survival gear and some Viagra tablets. His normally dark-brown hair had been dyed blonde.

On November 12, 2004, a jury convicted Peterson of two counts of murder: first-degree murder with special circumstances for killing Laci, and second-degree murder for killing the fetus she was carrying.

He was sentenced to death via lethal injection and is currently serving time on death row at San Quentin State Prison.

The cases are so familiar, Watts’ mistress Nichol Kessinger, even made the comparison herself.

In the early hours of August 13, when Kessinger suspected what her boyfriend had done, she was quick to investigate how she could come out of the situation favourably. She googled how much money Amber Frey made in her book deal, as well as her net worth and “did people hate Amber Frey”.

Like Frey, Kessinger claims she wasn’t aware that Watts was married at the time.

In an interview with the Denver Post, Kessinger said that on the afternoon of August 13, Watts had kept up his public lie that his family hadn’t returned from a playdate, telling her in a text that his family was “gone”.

The 30-year-old said he never wore his wedding ring and she only learned he was very much still married – and not in the process of a divorce like he had told her – when she read the news about his family’s disappearance.

“I thought, ‘If he was able to lie to me and hide something that big, what else was he lying about?'” she said.

And just like Frey, Kessinger approached the police and offered to help prosecute the man she was having an affair with.

However, her search history suggests she was far more aware of Watts’ wife and children than she let on. Almost a month into their relationship, on July 24, Kessinger googled the phrase “Man I’m having affair with says he will leave his wife”.

Then less than a week before the murders she searched topics relating to “marrying your mistress”.

Although we’re yet to hear the full story of Watts’ murderous betrayal, there’s no denying the two cases feel hauntingly similar.

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