‘Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer’: Why Is the Watts Family Angry About the Lifetime Movie?
The name “Chris Watts” is now synonymous with one of the most brutal murders in recent history.
On Aug. 13, 2018, Watts strangled his wife, Shan’ann Watts, as well as their two preschool-aged daughters, Bella and Celeste, before dumping their bodies in oil tanks and a shallow grave at his worksite near Frederick, Colorado.
Shan’ann, Watts’ wife since 2012, was fifteen weeks pregnant with a baby boy, Niko. Watts had recently been having an affair with co-worker Nichol Kessinger, who is not believed to have had anything to do with the crime.
34-year-old Watts admitted to the murders and was charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder. He is currently serving five life sentences without the possibility of parole at Dodge Correctional Institution in Wisconsin.
The Watts family murders sparked widespread media attention as people sought to make sense of this horrific crime. Most recently, Lifetime released a documentary about the murders, Beyond the Headlines: The Watts Family Tragedy, which premiered on Sat., Jan. 25, 2020. The same evening, a fictionalized Lifetime movie about Chris Watts, Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer, was also released.
Not everyone was happy about the renewed attention to the case. Shan’ann’s family members, including her parents, Frank and Sandra Rzucek, were unhappy after seeing the trailer for the new Lifetime movie. They held a press conference in mid-Jan. 2020 to warn people against taking Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer at face value.
Shan’ann’s family worried about online harassment and bullying after the movie aired
At a press conference, the Watts family’s attorney, Steven Lambert, said the family was worried about several aspects of the film.
First, he pointed out that Shan’ann’s family had not been contacted prior to the film’s production, nor had they had any say in its development. This led them to worry that Shan’ann and her daughters would be portrayed negatively or that their murders would be portrayed inaccurately.
The Watts family has spoken out in the past about being victimized, harassed, and bullied online. They were concerned that the renewed attention from the Lifetime movie would exacerbate these ongoing issues.
The family also pointed out that they would not profit in any way from the film’s release, and that Watts had previously sought to profit off of the murders via rumors of tell-all books and media appearances (which they blocked with the help of an attorney).
The family held a press conference to push back against the Lifetime movie
Lambert told ABC Denver 7 that the Watts family murders had unfortunately sparked so much attention that the constant media frenzy could spread misinformation.
Of the family’s concerns, he said, “Armchair detectives going out there trying to find scraps of evidence, saying, ‘Chris really wasn’t the killer, it was X’ or, ‘His original confession was the true confession and Shanann did have a hand in this’ or ‘There is some sort of conspiracy going to it,’ that kind of stuff bothers them a lot.”
Watts originally told police he had no idea why Shan’ann and his daughters had disappeared after his wife returned from a business trip in Arizona. Later, he claimed he had attacked Shan’ann in a fit of rage after she harmed their daughters.
Finally, after he was sentenced, Watts claimed he had committed the murders in anger after his wife found out about his affair and threatened to keep his children from him. Law enforcement officials still believe Watts is lying about all three versions of events. They in no way suspect Shan’ann of having harmed or threatened to harm her children in any way.
Some thought the movie subtly blamed Shan’ann for her own murder
After Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer aired on Lifetime on Jan. 25, some viewers and critics thought the film took liberties with the facts and even subtly blamed Shan’ann for Watts’ crime.
Michaels Roberts wrote in Denver-area publication Westword that the film seemed to implicitly accept with Watts’ defense at trial, which was in part that Shan’ann’s role as a sales representative for the nutrition supplement patch Thrive with the marketing company Le-vel played a role in Watts’ actions.
Roberts writes that the film “implies that Watts’s homicides weren’t motivated just by subtly vicious amorality and rage, but by an adverse reaction to weight-loss pills and patches that Shanann energetically marketed as a sales representative.” At trial, Watts’ attorney argued that Watts had suffered from sleep deprivation due to the patch.
“Clearly, prosecutors didn’t buy the idea that Watts turned evil because of Thrive,” Roberts continued, but Lifetime’s producers seemed to take the argument at face value at certain points in the film.
The Lifetime movie’s Watts, played by Sean Kleier, appeared frustrated with his wife’s job and stressed out by the patches. Meanwhile, Lifetime’s version of Shan’ann, played by Ashley Williams, was at times annoyingly perky and pushy about the supplements and her role in the company.
While the film didn’t come out explicitly in favor of Watts’ Thrive-based defense, the script lingered quite a bit on Shan’ann’s job and seemed to present “both sides” in its portrayal. This, it seems, was exactly what the Watts family feared in terms of possible inaccuracies in the Lifetime movie.