‘Beyond the Headlines: The Watts Family Tragedy’: What Was Chris Watts’ Polygraph Score?

The devastating Watts family murders shook the nation with their level of brutality and callousness.

On Aug. 13, 2018, Colorado husband and dad of two, Chris Watts, murdered his wife Shan’ann Watts, as well as their two daughters, four-year-old Bella and three-year-old Celeste (CeCe), by strangulation. Watts, who is currently serving five life sentences without the possibility of the parole for the murders, then hid their bodies in oil tanks and a makeshift grave at his worksite.

A new Lifetime documentary about the murders, Beyond the Headlines: The Watts Family Tragedy, premiered on Jan. 25 just after the network’s “ripped from the headlines” fictionalized movie about the notorious crime, Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer.

In the Lifetime documentary, law enforcement officials who interrogated Watts revealed secrets about the brutal murders. Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) agent Tammy Lee, who became close to the case and famously issued Watts’ polygraph test, shared what it was like to give Watts his lie detector test just days after Shan’ann went missing.

Chris Watts
Chris Watts | RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Lee said she acted ‘bubbly’ with Watts to get him to talk

Lee told Lifetime producers that she tried to build trust with Watts in order to give him a false sense of security before the polygraph. Before she issued the test, officials had already been tipped off about Watts’ affair with his co-worker Nichol Kessinger, which mean they knew he was lying about something.

“I conduct all my polygraphs the same,” Lee explained in Beyond the Headlines: The Watts Family Tragedy. “I’m very bubbly. I find it very easy to maintain rapport with someone.”

In police footage, Lee leaned in to Watts and clearly tried to establish a sense of rapport through praise. “I think that’s totally awesome that you’re here today,” she told Watts. “I mean, I commend you. We do this in all of our missing person cases, so don’t think that we’re just singling you out.”

Lee explained that this was all part of the game. “I needed Chris to know that I was his friend, I was there to listen, and I was there to hear his story,” the agent said.

The CBI agent delivered the polygraph test one-on-one with Watts

But just before she launched into the questions, Lee’s tone changed a bit. “Right now, there’s only one person in this room that knows what the truth is,” she told Watts as he was prepped for the test, “and in about five minutes, there’s gonna be two of us, so that’s the coolest part.”

The CBI agent explained that this technique was meant to push the subject to be truthful.

“We call it ‘snapping a knot in their a**,” she told Lifetime producers. “That’s what we do right before the polygraph. Because we want them to know, it’s over. Whatever you’re saying…you better be truthful, because we’re gonna find out.”

Lee then asked Watts a series of questions about Shan’ann’s disappearance: “Do you know where Shan’ann is now? Did you physically cause Shan’ann’s disappearance? Are you lying about the last time you saw Shan’ann?” Watts responded “no” to each and every one.

There was little doubt of Watt’s guilt after the polygraph

Watts failed the polygraph with flying colors, Lee told Beyond the Headlines: The Watts Family Tragedy producers.

As soon as he answered the questions, she knew something was very, very wrong. “The type of testing format that I used, we would consider someone to be deceptive if they were a negative 4 or below,” Lee explained. “Chris Watts scored negative 18.”

With that virtually undeniable result, Lee’s focus switched to wrangling a confession out of the now-convicted killer. “Immediately, I started thinking about, how are we going to get him to confess to this?” the CBI agent said. “Because at that point, I knew he’d done it.”