Chris Watts' Polygraph Test Was A Pivotal Moment In The 2018 Murder Investigation

The Editors
·3 mins read
Photo credit: Courtesy of Netflix/2020
Photo credit: Courtesy of Netflix/2020

From Women's Health

  • Chris Watts took a polygraph test after his wife, Shanann Watts, and two daughters disappeared.

  • He failed the polygraph test, and it was a pivotal moment in the investigation.

  • Watts then lied in his original murder confession, but later told the truth.

Netflix’s new true crime documentary American Murder: The Family Next Door tells the story of Chris Watts, a Colorado man who murdered his pregnant wife Shanann Watts and their two daughters, Bella and Celeste, in 2018.

Critics have praised the documentary for its careful handling of the subject matter (it was authorized by the victims' family) and its commentary "about marriage and the deception of social media, as well as a piercing examination of domestic violence," per the New York Times. Using Shanann's numerous social media updates and video messages, plus police footage and Watts' polygraph test, the documentary paints a picture of the disconnect between the happy family narrative shared on social media, versus what's actually happening in real life.

Shanann and the girls went missing after returning from a business trip in the middle of the night; a friend dropped her off at her house and reported her disappearance the next day, when she couldn't reach her.

Ultimately, a polygraph test played a central role in Watts' arrest. Originally, Watts told police and the media that he didn't know what happened to Shanann and the girls. He thought they'd disappeared.

Eventually, police brought Watts in to take a polygraph test. Using the polygraph, law enforcement asked Watts "if he physically caused Shanann to disappear," "if he was lying about the last time he saw her," and "whether he knew where Shanann was." He answered "no" to all three questions, and the polygraph indicated that he was lying all three times. Even though there's controversy around whether polygraph tests work, Watts not only failed the polygraph test, but he got among the lowest possible scores on it. Generally, a score of -4 is considered failing a polygraph, and he scored a -18, according to Distractify.

Photo credit: Shanann Watts/Netflix/2020
Photo credit: Shanann Watts/Netflix/2020

After an official informed Watts that he failed his polygraph test, Watts asked to speak to his father, Ronnie Watts, who was in the police department lobby. Investigators recorded their conversation in which Watts confessed to his father that he killed Shanann.

In his original confession, Watts said that he murdered his wife after seeing her trying to kill Celeste on a video baby monitor, a scenario the Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke called a "flat-out lie" after Watts' guilty pleas.

Watts also said Shanann had already killed Bella when he intervened, according to the Associated Press. Watts also said that Shanann killed their daughters out of anger, because he planned to leave the family for another woman, Nichol Kessinger.

"She hurt them," Watts told his father. "And then I freaked out and hurt her."

After Watts' confession, investigators re-entered the room and continued interviewing him for more than six hours. They pressured Watts into telling them where the bodies of his family were hidden.

However, as shown in the Netflix documentary, Watts later confessed to murdering his entire family and dumping their remains in an industrial oil field, where authorities later found their bodies.

Photo credit: RJ Sangosti - Getty Images
Photo credit: RJ Sangosti - Getty Images

Investigators also asked Watts "all the ways a person could make someone disappear," and he gave a short answer before "giggling," per the Associated Press.

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