‘Bad thoughts were going through my head’: Christopher Watts’ neighbor’s police interview details suspicion, ‘eerie’ feeling
December 8, 2018
When Watts family neighbor and Shanann Watts' friend Nickole Atkinson was looking through the Watts home with Frederick police Aug. 13, she said she tried not to touch anything.
It had been hours since Atkinson had sent several unanswered texts to Shanann, since Atkinson had called Shanann's husband, Christopher Watts, since Atkinson had gone to the doctor to beg them to tell her whether Shanann made it to her scheduled appointment.
So when she walked into the Watts home with Christopher and police at the very beginning of a missing persons-come murder case, Atkinson said she had an eerie feeling. That's why she tried not to touch anything.
"Because at that point, bad thoughts were going through my head," Atkinson told investigators in a newly released audio recording.
The Weld District Attorney's Office on Friday released more information and evidence from the now-infamous Christopher Watts triple murder case.
Watts was sentenced this past month to life in prison without parole for the murder of his wife, Shanann, 34, and daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste. Watts killed his family sometime around Aug. 13, burying his wife in a shallow grave near and Anadarko Petroleum tank battery and stuffing his daughters in separate oil tanks.
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The Weld District Attorney's Office has now released all of the files, documents, photos and videos related to the case, and the investigation, the total data amounting to three terabytes — a huge amount of data.
In the various document dumps, details of the investigation, including interviews with Watts and his mistress, photos and videos of the scene where the bodies were taken and video of searches inside the Watts residence have been revealed.
Perhaps the most striking evidence released Friday was Atkinson's Aug. 14 interview. Coming the day after the disappearance and lasting more than an hour and a half, the interview featured Atkinson's suspicions about the case and discrepancies in Watts' story investigators would eventually unravel.
Throughout the interview, Atkinson highlighted what would eventually become key details in the case:
- Watts' excuse, in a phone call with Atkinson at 12:30 p.m. Aug. 13, that his family was on a play date despite the family vehicle and kids' car seats being at home.
- The kids' beds weren't made, something Atkinson said she knew Shanann did every morning.
- The Watts' master bed was stripped, with sheets in the corner of the room. Shanann, Atkinson said, never started something she didn't finish.
Plus, Atkinson said, she knew Watts did the laundry in the house.
"They're silly little things, but why would he strip the bed before he went to work if Shanann was still sleeping in the bed (as Watts told friends, family and investigators)," Atkinson said.
It turns out, Atkinson's eerie feeling was correct. The family wasn't on a play date; they had been murdered by Watts. Shanann was never around to make the kids beds Aug. 13. And the master bed? Investigators would later find a fitted sheet matching that bedding near the tank battery north of Roggen where Watts had dumped his families' bodies.
There was more. Atkinson watched a neighbor's camera footage from early that morning. It was 5:18 a.m., and Watts had backed his truck up into the garage and loaded something into the bed.
"That's when my mind went bad — really bad," Atkinson said. "What would he be loading up at 5:18 in the morning? And Shanann yells at him (when he uses the garage) because the garage wakes up the (girls) and the girls' bedroom is right above the garage."
Several times in the interview, Atkinson says she doesn't mean to incriminate, and she wants to be nice to Watts, but none of the things she had been listing off made sense.
"I'm not trying to incriminate the man, but I don't know where my friend is," Atkinson said.
Along with Atkinson's interviews, the Weld District Attorney's Office released text messages between Shanann and Atkinson as well as between Watts and a co-worker. The release also included video from the Weld County Jail of Watts giving his DNA, fingerprints and footprints, and pictures of Watts' hands.
In texts between Watts and an Anadarko co-worker, Watts on Aug. 12 was eager to go to the job site alone the next morning. He had good reason: He would later dump the bodies of his wife and kids he had killed at the site. In one text, Watts says "I can go out there though. No sense in both of us going out there lol." The next morning, according to photos of the texts, Watts checked in with his co-worker about 6:30 a.m.
"Where you at?" he asked.
Then: "Where you going first?"
His co-worker responded with a different location than where Watts had taken his family members' bodies. Watts' response? A thumbs up emoji.
One video from inside the Weld County Jail shows investigators collecting DNA, as well as fingerprints and footprints, and taking pictures of Christopher Watts' hands. The video, from Oct. 4, came days after Weld District Court Judge Marcelo Kopcow ordered Watts to provide those things. The evidence the district attorney’s office requested included DNA swabs of Watts’ saliva, finger and palm prints, digital photographs of Watts’ right and left hands, a Polaroid photograph of the defendant, and the collection of inked footprints of Watts’ left and right feet.
In the days before the murders, Shanann texted Atkinson about her relationship with Watts, confiding in the messages that she thought the relationship was over.
In one exchange, Shanann tells her friend Watts wasn't wearing his wedding ring, and he had changed his phone's background photo to sand dunes. Unknown to both Shanann and Atkinson was this: Watts had spent time at the sand dunes with his mistress while Shanann was in North Carolina with the girls.
Shanann told Atkinson she would tell Watts to find a place when they got back from North Carolina, and she told him she was going to put the house on the market and takes the kids out of school to save money.
In a series of texts about a week before she would be murdered, Shanann laid out her thoughts on Watts' posture toward the relationship.
"He's obviously not in it. He's not fighting. He's not in love. He's checked out."
— Tyler Silvy is the deputy editor for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.