A week later, despite Chris’ pleas of innocence and desperate public appeals to find his ‘beloved’ family, he has been accused and charged of murdering his wife and daughters Bella, four, and Celeste, three. He has allegedly confessed to murdering his wife, and disposing of all three bodies – after claiming to have acted in response to his wife, whom he says strangled the girls.
But until that arrest, the American media flooded their stories with images of a picture-perfect family; something most of us aspire to create in our own lives.
The media did that to build the story, to show us who this family was. That’s their job, right?
And, did it help that the Watts, a conventionally good-looking white family, was presented to the public as such, with all the positive racial and social connotations possible?
This is the conundrum the media faces: it's their job to sell stories as much as it is to tell them - so these cases are presented to appeal to the largest demographic - white people - to make them relatable in a "that could be me/my sister/my neighbour" way.
Is that why we were shown those images to paint the picture - to make us click? To make us care?
And is that why, despite Chris Watts' arrest, we're still seeing stories leading with the 'happy family' image?
These are questions which Australian psychologist Dr. Helen McGrath has been asking for years. In her book, Mind Behind the Crime, McGrath looks at the case of New South Wales farmer Geoff Hunt, who in 2014 shot dead his wife and three children on the family property in the state’s Riverina district.
“No matter the background, or the events that led to the murder, a 'good guy' does not murder his family," McGrath tells Mamamia.
"The media always leads with the happy family image, but if a man is a loving and caring father, why has he killed his family?"