Before Chris Watts was charged with murdering his pregnant wife and two young daughters, friends and neighbors had strong opinions of him. “Likeable.” “A selfless father.” ” A loving husband.” It seems that no one was more surprised by his arrest than the people who thought they knew him best.
Those of us familiar with the research on men who kill their families were less caught off guard. In fact, when we look at the literature on “
,” it is eerie how much Chris Watts fits the psychological profile; a white man in his thirties with financial problems and a history of infidelity who feels increasingly trapped by his life circumstances.
Of course, the number of men who find themselves in that exact situation far exceeds the number of men who use murder to escape it. So why would Chris Watts do such a thing?
The Family Annihilator or the Revenge Murder?
Chris Watts has an explanation. He says that, on the night his family died, he told his wife, Shanann, that he wanted a separation, he saw his wife via a baby monitor strangling their 3-year-old year old daughter, Celeste; he says his 4-year-old, Bella, was already cold and lifeless on the bed. In a fit of rage, he says, he strangled his wife to death. Then, fearful of the consequences, he buried her in a shallow grave and placed his two children in oil drums at his job site at Anadarko Petroleum.
Look, I have no special window into the inner workings of Chris Watts’ mind and I know we are all innocent until proven guilty. We’ll have to wait for the trial to see what the evidence says. But, as a forensic psychologist, when I look at the psychological evidence, there is no way I believe Chris Watts story.
Here are just a few of the reasons:
Not only did Chris Watts initially deny having any idea where his family was, he went on the air to make a public appeal for help in finding them. Is this how a man who was so devastated by the loss of his children that he impulsively killed the wife he loved would act?
Chris clearly has a penchant for deception that predates his current legal problems. Not only did he allegedly have extramarital affairs with both men and women, at least two people have stated that Chris lied to them about his marital status (among other things) months before the murders.
If Chris Watts really killed his wife in a fit of rage because “my kids were my life,” how could he then kill his only remaining child (Shannan was four months pregnant with a boy)? And how could he dispose of them like they were trash?
Chris Watt’s story of his wife killing their two daughters because he wanted a marital separation is known among forensic psychologists as spouse revenge filicide. Not only is revenge the rarest reason a mother kills her children, Shanann Watts does not fit the profile of someone who would. From all accounts, she was an exceptionally devoted mother who took medical risks to have children (she had lupus), changed jobs to be a stay-at-home mother, and was thrilled by her unexpected third pregnancy. Additionally, neither of the most common triggers for spouse revenge filicide - a bitter custody dispute or a devastating infidelity – apply here. Shanann may have suspected her husband was unfaithful, but there is no evidence she knew.
Could I be wrong? Definitely. But given what I know about human behavior, I don’t think so.