The TikTok Suitcase Murder Mystery

A fun adventure quickly turns into a grisly discovery on a Seattle beach.

Beach in West Seattle.

The Scene

It was a warm, sunny Friday in June near Alki Beach in West Seattle, when a group of teenagers thought it would be exciting to document their discovery after “Randonauting” in the area.

What they found…

Upon approaching the shoreline, one of the teenagers spots a small black suitcase balanced on the rocks. The tide is moving in, pulling the small item back with it into the ocean. At first the teens are seen joking, having no idea what they are about to uncover. The video then shows the young woman descend the rocks with a stick in hand. She proceeds to unzip, and peel open the case as her friends film her, only to be met with an overwhelming odor that quickly reveals something more sinister than they were expecting. After police arrived and searched the scene, more human remains were found, and the area was immediately closed off.

The Suitcase: Still shot from TikTok video.
Still shot from TikTok video and faces of victims found inside.

Wtf is Randonauting?

Randonauting is the act of using the Randonautica app to travel to random places near you based on a “quantum random number generator and mother nature”, which gives specific coordinates for you to follow.

When you open the app you start by setting a radius and the generator will spit out coordinates for you to travel to. The apps introduction video claims that these locations can be “influenced by the users thoughts and consciousness”.

This is why, while setting up the app, it asks whether you’d visit attractors (highly concentrated quantum-points), voids (sparse quantum-points), anomalies (reported patterns of areas influenced by thought) and urges you to “focus on your intent” while the app sets a location for you.

The New York Times described it as: “Think: The law of attraction meets geocaching.”

Image courtesy of The Atlantic.

Two weeks earlier…

A young woman arrived at a residence in Seattle on the late evening of June 9th to meet landlord, Michael Lee Dudley, about a room he’d advertised for rent. When he came to help her with her luggage, she noticed his glasses were broken, and he had scratches on his face.

Dudley proceeded to take her to the available unit called the “blue room.” She told police that after taking a shower, she opened the door to her new bedroom and saw “heaps of clothing” in the middle of the floor — and a hand sticking out from underneath.

She said Dudley told her later that night that he needed to “clean up the mess”, and asked if he could take her somewhere else; as they were leaving, she saw him laying out large sheets of plastic in the basement.

When she asked him about it, he told her: “Let’s put it this way, his gun misfired and mine didn’t,” the police report states.

Detectives interviewed neighbors who claimed that they’d called police earlier that same night after hearing gunfire (20 days before their bodies were found) and a male yelling from inside the residence, “please don’t do this, just let me leave.” Burien Police had responded to the call but got no response when they arrived at the residence.

Detectives obtained phone records of the victims and learned that their phones stopped transmitting or receiving data on June 9that approximately 1908 hrs (7:08 pm). One of the last calls from the victim’s phone was to Dudley at 1901 hrs and that call pinged off a cell tower within a mile of his residence at 16466 Ambaum Blvd.

Detectives learned from witnesses that Dudley had been renting a room to the victims but wanted them to leave and had been fighting with them since they couldn’t pay rent during the pandemic, and were — according to Dudley — engaging in criminal activity.

Detectives were able to gain a search warrant for 16466 Ambaum Blvd So. and it was served on August 19th. During the service of the warrant CSI detectives found bullet holes, bullet strikes, spent rounds and blood which was located in the “blue” room.” It was also apparent that the room had been recently cleaned and freshly painted. During the course of his interview with homicide, Dudley confirmed certain details but denied any involvement in the couple’s murder. When asked about the blood, he said Jessica had cut herself earlier that day but he could not explain the bullet holes and empty casings which matched his 9mm handgun.

The remains were later identified as Jessica Lewis, a 36-year-old mother of four, and her 27-year-old boyfriend, Austin Wenner. And according to police, Wenner died of a single gunshot, while Lewis was shot multiple times. They were then chopped up and dumped in the suitcases.

Booking document.

A Shady Past

It wasn’t Dudley’s first brush with the law, Back in 2016 he was arrested and charged for assault in a domestic violence dispute after beating up his then girlfriend, Marlys Gordon while holding a gun. She attests to his violent past and says, “He started to hit me and grabbed my hair and grabbed my head…threw me and my stuff out on his patio…hit my head again…with one hand while holding his gun in the other.”

Gina Jaschke, another witness and Jessica Lewis’s aunt, claims that her knowledge of Dudley more or less tracks with the allegations made by his own daughter. “Sometimes he would break their car so they couldn’t leave,” she said–describing him with various epithets. “He put trackers on people’s cars. Anytime he ever got in a dispute with anybody he would tell them to leave but try to lock them in the house.”

Dudley’s backstory also suggests a history of sexual abuse and incest; Dudley’s daughter filed a sexual assault restraining order against him in June 2018. Filed in Pierce County Superior Court, the document accused Dudley of sexually assaulting his daughter for nearly a decade.

“[Dudley] Sexually assaulted me for 9 years from age 10 until 18 (2007) by drugging and raping me,” she alleged. “Forcing me to share a bed with him from age 10, and making me watch him masturbate while he watched pornography.”

“I don’t feel safe in my home. Or leaving my home to work,” his daughter added–while also describing a disturbing tendency. Dudley allegedly frequently took out his gun and threatened to use it.

Dudley allegedly had another disturbing and typically telling tendency: cruelty toward animals.

“He killed the dog in front of them and left the carcass outside for three days to scare them,” Jaschke continued. “They had nowhere to go. That’s why they stayed there. He beat this dog to death with a hammer because it got one of his chickens…he just left it out there for the other dogs to look at and sniff. He’s a freaking psycho.”

62 year old, Michael Lee Dudley: Murderer.

Charged: Michael Lee Dudley

He was formally charged with two counts of murder in the second degree, for the death and dismemberment of Austin Wenner and Jessica Lewis, by the King County Prosecutor on September 8th 2020. He pleaded not guilty.

While no other suspects have been named, State forensic anthropologist Dr. Kathy Taylor told Seattle police she believed there were multiple people involved. Cuts on Lewis and Wenner’s bodies were ‘disorganized’ and appeared to be done in different manners with various devices.

The case setting hearing was initially scheduled for 1 p.m. Oct. 1st. Dudley remains in King County Jail on $5 million bail.

Details to follow as they develop.

A Crime Archive

I’ve always been drawn to death; I know how that sounds. A lot of people have asked me over the years how I can stomach delving into the darker side of life, and the only reason I can think of is, perhaps there’s a little darkness in me too. Throughout my life I’ve come to accept the fact that not everyone will understand that side of me. And whatever reason(s) are behind this insatiable thirst for truth, it’s always kept me on the straight and narrow; seeking justice where there is none and asking questions many are scared to.

My years growing up are bookmarked by whichever grisly crime I followed at the time and whenever I meet new people and they tell me where they’re from I can often relate it back to a crime I’ve obsessively researched. I have an unusually detailed memory and can still recall the first murder case that sparked my interest when I was eight years old. It was the most gruesome crime committed by juveniles the United Kingdom had seen in over 250 years. A crime that still haunts me to this day. And if you ask anyone living in the UK who was old enough at the time, they’ll remember the James Bulger case.

It was a typically frigid February morning in Edinburgh, Scotland and I was sitting cross-legged by the fireplace, eating breakfast before school. We’d been living back in the UK for two years since leaving California and I was still adapting to the change in climate. The morning headline flashed on the TV screen and I stared at the faces of two boys not much older than myself. Their expressions solemn and somewhat innocent as they followed instructions of officers off camera, and held up mugshot placards with their names written in black marker. I squinted in disbelief, my expression twisted as I turned up the volume to learn more.

Courtesy of Getty Images

“Baby Killers” the newspapers pegged them. Two ten year old boys from Merseyside, Liverpool were found guilty of abducting two year old, James Bulger from the New Strand shopping centre, and leading him to a railway embankment nearby where they tortured him to death.

I felt an adrenaline surge as I tried to digest the information. But the chilling image of two boys caught in surveillance footage leading a toddler through a crowd of unsuspecting shoppers burned behind my eyes. I was stunned. How could two children be responsible for killing another child? I’d always pictured killers as adults; faceless maniacs that lurked in the shadows waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims as they walked past. They replayed the footage, freezing on the last image ever caught of the boys leading a two year old away from his mother. And a knot tugged at the pit of my stomach as I realized I’d stood in the exact same spot as the killers the year previous while visiting my grandparents.

Courtesy of Google Images

If you’re curious regarding details of the crime, I’ve included a link to the case in the second paragraph. After 27 years, psychiatrists who worked closely with the two boys during their time in rehabilitation still cannot fathom a motive to the murder they committed in February of ’93. Detective Phil Roberts, from the local forces serious crime squad stated to reporters, “As far as I’m concerned, I looked evil in the face that day…They were a match made in Hell. A freak of nature.”

Since being released in 2001, both killers have lead very different lives: Jon Venables continuing his life as a repeat offender, and Robert Thompson living a crime free life of anonymity. It’s been nineteen years since their initial release, which sparked fury amongst the public and even though I now live in a different country and had no personal connection to the case, I still check in on them from time to time. That’s in my nature.

And so began my life-long fascination with true crime and the psychology behind it. I have followed many disturbing cases over the years, researching and compiling notes which, more recently, I turned into a novel. It wasn’t until finishing that project that I decided my notes could be put to better use and compiled as a blog rather than a personal journal. Cold and breaking cases will be the focus of my continued discussions here. If you’re interested in true crime or have any additional information about specific cases, you can reach out to me via email or contact the tip links I post at the end of each blog post.

Copyright © Sarah F. Prescott 2020

LISK: A Timeline

Image Courtesy of Pexels.com

If you’re unfamiliar with the ongoing LISK (Long Island Serial Killer) also known as the Gilgo Beach case, this post is created to catch you up. And the quickest way to do so, is with a timeline. Note that this is a work in progress, pieced together using various online sources and includes information gathered over the years by tireless individuals which helped to identify some of the nameless victims. Only cases that were officially linked to LISK have been included here (except Shannan Gilbert whom I’ve included for reasons related to my own theories).

Please let me know if there is anything missing or incorrect.

  • April 20, 1996

    Two female legs discovered on Fire Island, west of Davis Park Beach wrapped in a plastic bag.

    The victim’s skull would later be found on April 11, 2011 west of Tobay Beach in Nassau County, linked by DNA. “Jane Doe No. 7 / Fire Island Jane Doe.”

  • June 28, 1997

    The dismembered torso of a young unidentified African-American female was found in Hempstead Lake State Park, New York. Dumped in a green plastic container, the torso was left next to a road. Both arms, head, and legs below the knee were severed and haven’t been located. The victim had a tattoo of a heart-shaped peach with a bite out of it on her left breast.

    On April 11, 2011, police in Nassau County discovered dismembered skeletal human remains inside a plastic bag near Jones Beach State Park, nicknamed “Jane Doe No. 3“. DNA analysis later identified this victim as the mother of “Baby Doe.” She was found wearing gold jewelry similar to that of “Baby Doe.”

    In December 2016, Peaches and Jane Doe No. 3 were positively identified as being the same person.

  • December 19, 2000

    A female body is discovered by hikers on the Long Island Pine Barrens in Manorville, off of Halsey Manor Road. She was a white woman in her 30s with brown hair and had been dead for several weeks before her nude, headless body was found, cut into pieces and stuffed inside plastic bags.

    April 4, 2011, her head, hands and right foot were found in a plastic bag in the vicinity of Ocean Parkway on Gilgo Beach.

    On May 22, 2020 police in Long Island announced they had positively identified the “Manorville Jane Doe” and will be releasing her identity.

    Jane Doe No. 6 / Manorville Jane Doe.”

  • July 26, 2003

    A naked and dismembered torso, (no head or hands), was discovered 45 miles east of Gilgo Beach in Manorville, New York. The victim was identified as Jessica Taylor (20), an escort from Washington, D.C. She was last seen days earlier at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. Taylor‘s torso was found on top of a pile of scrap wood at the end of a paved access road off of Halsey Manor Road, just north of the LIE. Plastic sheeting was found underneath the torso, and a tattoo on her body had been mutilated with a sharp instrument. Medical examiners determined the tattoo was a red heart with an angel wing that said, ‘‘Remy’s angel”.

    On May 9, 2011, it was reported that the remains of a skull, a pair of hands, and a forearm found on March 29 at Gilgo Beach were matched to Jessica Taylor.

  • July 9, 2007

    Maureen Brainard-Barnes (25) was last seen in her hotel room at the Super 8 in midtown Manhattan. Her last known call that night was to her sister, Missy, during which she says she is at Penn Station.

    Shortly after her disappearance, a friend of Maureen‘s, Sara Karnes, received a call from a man on an unfamiliar number. The man claimed that he had just seen Maureen and that she was alive and staying at a “whorehouse in Queens”. He refused to identify himself and could not tell Karnes the location of the house. He told Karnes he would call back and give her the address, but he never called again. Karnes said that the man had no discernible New York or Boston accent (Amanda Barthelemy mentioned the same detail).

    Maureen’s body was found in December 2010 located very close to three other victims.

  • July 12, 2009

    Melissa Barthelemy (24) was last seen outside her apartment on Underhill Avenue in the Bronx. At some point, the security camera of her local bank recorded her depositing $1,000 into her account, believed to be money she’d received from a date she’d had earlier that night. She withdrew $100 before heading out the door. Her boyfriend/pimp, John “Blaze” Terry, would later say that he knew Melissa had lined up another $1,000 date the next night, somewhere on Long Island. She went by the working name “Chloe.”

    Shortly afterwards, her sister, Amanda, received 6-7 phone calls from a man using Melissa‘s cell phone and claiming to be her killer. The first calls were on July 16, July 19, and July 23 and the final call was on August 26. The calls were placed from crowded locations in New York City, including Madison Square Garden and Times Square. In one instance, police determined that Barthelemy’s phone had been turned on near Massapequa, Long Island, and that someone had gained access to her voice mail.

    Her body was discovered December 11, 2010 beside Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach.

  • May 1, 2010

    Shannan Maria Gilbert (23) was a New Jersey woman who may have been a victim of the Long Island serial killer. Gilbert had been working as an escort. She left for a client’s house (Joseph Brewer) in Oak Beach after midnight on May 1, 2010. At 4:51 in the morning, 911 dispatchers received a panicked phone call from Gilbert who can be heard saying that there was someone “after her” and that “they” were trying to kill her. She was last seen a short time later banging on the front door of a nearby Oak Beach residence and screaming for help before running off into the night. Neighbors Gus Coletti and Barbara Brennan are among the last to see her.

    On December 13, 2011, Gilbert‘s remains are found in a marsh, half a mile from where she was last seen. In May 2012, the Suffolk County medical examiners ruled that Gilbert accidentally drowned after entering the marsh. They believe that she was in a drug induced panic, and have concluded that her cause of death was “undetermined.” Her family believes she was murdered.

  • June 6, 2010

    Megan Waterman (22) was last seen on June 6, 2010 heading toward a nearby convenience store on foot after leaving the Hauppauge Holiday Inn Express.

    Her body is discovered on December 13, 2010, alongside the bodies of Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Amber Lynn Costello.

    On April 16, 2011, police seized the laptop of Waterman‘s boyfriend/pimp, Akeem Cruz, to search for records of clients that could lead them to the killer. In April, 2012, Cruz pled guilty to federal charges of transporting women across state lines to meet clients for sex. In 2013 he was sentenced to three years in prison.

  • September 2, 2010

    Amber Lynn Costello (27) leaves her home in North Babylon to meet a client, and is never seen alive again.

    Her body is discovered on December 13, 2010, alongside the bodies of Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Megan Waterman.

  • December 11, 2010

    A Suffolk County Police canine unit investigating missing escort Shannan Gilbert discover human skeletal remains at Gilgo Beach, three miles west of Robert Moses bridge, at 2:45 p.m. Police discover a full skeleton, wrapped in burlap, in the bramble beside Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach, three miles from Oak Beach. The remains are later identified as Melissa Barthelemy (24).

  • December 13, 2010

    Near Melissa Barthelemy‘s (24) grave was found, police discover three more sets of remains, also skeletal and wrapped in burlap, later identified as Megan Waterman (22), Maureen Brainard-Barnes (25), and Amber Lynn Costello (27). The bodies are found in the same location, within 500 feet of each of other.

  • December 15, 2010

    The FBI offers up its forensic and investigative services in the case. Police seize a white SUV from the client’s Oak Beach residence as part of the investigation.

  • December 16, 2010

    The Suffolk County Medical Examiner reports the remains are all female victims and that Gilbert is not one of the four female bodies discovered. The ME’s office holds a press conference to explain forensic investigation approach.

  • December 17, 2010

    Police hold a press conference to provide an updates on the investigation. They state that they had completed a comprehensive search of the beach area in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties along Ocean Parkway.

  • January 19, 2011

    Police identify one victim found as Megan Waterman (22), a woman from Maine who was reported missing in June 2010 from Hauppauge, NY. Remaining three victim identities still unknown.

  • January 25, 2011

    Police reveal the identities of three remaining victims, and Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota declares the victims are the work of a serial killer. He also reveals all four worked as escorts using Craigslist ads. Police state the women were all killed at different times, possibly a year apart in one case, and disposed of at different times.

    Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer says beach search would resume once weather conditions improve in spring.

  • March 29, 2011

    Police search teams resume search for Shannan Gilbert on Gilgo Beach, LI.

  • March 30, 2011

    During their search they find a skull, hands, and a forearm, all later verified to be additional remains of Jessica Taylor, whose torso was previously discovered in Manorville in 2003. These remains are also found along Ocean Parkway, three quarters of a mile from where the first four bodies were recovered.

  • March 31, 2011

    Police rule out that the fifth set of remains discovered a mile east of the first four sets are not those of Shannan Gilbert (24), the missing New Jersey woman.

  • April 4, 2011

    Police find three more sets of human remains along Ocean Parkway between Oak Beach and Gilgo Beach, bringing the body count to eight. An unidentified Asian male victim is found dressed in women’s clothing; the skull, hands, and foot of the first Manorville Jane Doe (discovered in 2000); and an unidentified girl between sixteen and thirty-two months old described as “Baby Doe“.

    Police later released a sketch of the Asian male. The cause of death was blunt-force trauma. He likely been working as an escort and was wearing women’s clothing at the time of his death. He was between 17 and 23 years of age, 5′ 6″ in height, and missing four teeth. He had been dead for between 5 and 10 years. He had some kind of musculoskeletal disorder which would have affected the way he walked/carried himself.

    DNA analysis identified Baby Doe to be the child of “Jane Doe No. 3 / Peaches.

  • April 5, 2011

    Police say missing woman Shannan Gilbert (24), last seen in Oak Beach on May 1, 2010 is not one of the three bodies discovered on April 4.

  • April 11, 2011

    Police uncover two more sets of remains in two separate locations.

    The first discovery: female bones and jewelry found near the Jones Beach water tower. Described as “Jane Doe No. 3“. DNA testing determines this is the same victim as Peaches and that she is the mother of the child (Baby Doe) found the week prior along Ocean Parkway.

    The second: a skull discovered west of Tobay Beach in Nassau County is later determined to be that of the Jane Doe No. 7 remains found in 1996 on Fire Island.

  • April 12, 2011

    The first news reports air about Mari Gilbert’s claim that she spoke with Oak Beach resident Peter Hackett in the days after her daughter Shannan’s disappearance. Hackett and his wife deny all allegations.

  • May 9, 2011

    In light of the six latest discoveries, DA Thomas Spota revises his theory of the case, announcing, “There is no evidence that all of these remains are the work of a single killer.”

  • July 12, 2011

    Peter Hackett tells CBS News he did speak with Mari Gilbert on the phone days after Shannan disappeared.

  • November 29, 2011

    Commissioner Dormer revises the case theory yet again, announcing he believes a single serial killer is to blame for all ten victims, and that Shannan’s disappearance is a separate case, perhaps not even a murder.

  • November 30, 2011

    The Suffolk County police announce they will reopen the search for Shannan.

  • December 6, 2011

    Day two of the search for Gilbert and the police move from Ocean Parkway to Oak Beach marsh. That same day they discover her personal items mere feet away from where she first disappeared on Anchor Way.

  • December 13, 2011

    Shannan Gilbert’s remains are found on the far side of the Oak Beach marsh, a quarter mile from where her belongings were found five days earlier. Before an autopsy is performed, Commissioner Dormer refers to her death as an accident.

  • December 15, 2011

    DA Thomas Spota decries Commissioner Dormer’s single-killer theory. The same day, County Executive—elect Steve Bellone names Dormer’s replacement as police commissioner, effective January 1.

  • January 3, 2012

    Suffolk County Interim Commissioner Edward Webber announces “There’s no fixed theories at the moment” about the Gilbert case or any of the Ocean Parkway cases.

  • May 1, 2012

    Shannan’s autopsy results are shared with her family. The cause of death is “undetermined.”

  • November 15, 2012

    A lawsuit was filed by her mother, Mari Gilbert, against the Suffolk County Police Department in the hopes of getting more answers about what happened to her daughter the night she went missing.

  • September 2014

    Due to the controversy about Shannan Gilbert‘s death, forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden agreed to conduct an independent autopsy of her remains in hopes of determining a clear cause of death.

    Upon examination of Gilbert‘s remains, Baden found damage to her hyoid bone, suggesting that strangulation may have occurred. Baden also noted that her body was found face-up, which is not common for drowning victims. Despite this, her death is still officially listed by police as an accident.

  • December 10, 2015

    Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini announced that the FBI had officially joined the investigation. The day before, former Police Commissioner James Burke, who resigned in October, had been indicted for alleged police brutality and other issues. He was said to have blocked FBI involvement in the LISK cases for years.

    A spokesperson for the FBI confirmed their official involvement. The FBI had previously assisted in the search for victims, but was never officially part of the investigation.

  • December 15, 2016

    An escort comes forward and claims that James Burke, the disgraced ex-Suffolk police chief, is linked to prostitution on Oak Beach. She gave a press conference with John Ray, the attorney for the family of Shannan Gilbert.

  • January 2019

    State Senator Phil Boyle Boyle introduced a bill in the State Senate to encourage the Commission on Forensic Science to explore use of genetic genealogy. The commission discussed the issue and that of DNA phenotyping at its June 7 meeting.

  • January 16, 2020

    Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart released images of a belt found at the crime scene with the letters “HM” or “WH” (depending on which way the belt was looked at) embossed in the black leather. The belt was found during the initial investigation near Ocean Parkway in Gilgo Beach. Police believe the belt was handled by the perpetrator and did not belong to any of the victims.

    Hart stated that forensic genealogy was being used to help identify other victims, but would not comment on other DNA or forensic questions.

    A website was announced, GilgoNews.com, enabling the police to share news and receive tips regarding the investigation.

    Attorney John Ray, who represents the family of Shannon Gilbert, also gave a press conference urging LE to release her 911 call.

  • May 6, 2020

    A judge overturned the appeal of the Suffolk County Police Department and ordered them to release the long-sealed 911 recording of a call made by Shannan Gilbert the night she died.

    Shannan Gilbert estate attorney John Ray says he has heard the 911 tapes and calls them ‘extremely valuable’.

  • May 22, 2020

    The Suffolk County Police Department said in a statement they had positively identified the “Manorville Jane Doe,” also referred to as “Jane Doe #6,” whose remains were located in Manorville in 2000 and Gilgo Beach in 2011. They have not yet released her identity.

  • May 28, 2020

    SCPD updated their website regarding the Manorville Jane Doe. She was identified as Valerie Mack, born 07-02-76.

    Valerie Mack was a white female described as being 5 feet tall with brown hair and hazel eyes weighing ~100 pounds. Family members last saw her in the Spring/Summer of 2000 in the area of Port Republic, New Jersey. She was 24 years old when she was last seen. Mack was never listed as a missing person.

    Mack‘s last known address was in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area where she had been working as an escort. She used the name “Melissa Taylor”. There is no familial relationship between her and Jessica Taylor.

    Detectives are asking members of the public, friends, family, and associates of Valerie Mack to provide whatever information they have about her and the circumstances leading to her death.



Copyright © Sarah F. Prescott 2020

Chris Watts: What we know

Ahead of the Netflix documentary, American Murder: The Family Next Door, which chronicles the events that led Chris Watts to kill his 34 year old pregnant wife and two children in 2018, I wanted to write a post about the crime that shook the nation. Who were they? What went wrong? What do we know now? And why?

The upcoming documentary, directed by Jenny Popplewell, uses archival footage with no narration, no re-enactments, but includes social media posts, law enforcement recordings, text messages and never-before-seen home videos to illustrate a fragmented marriage which resulted in adultery and ultimately murder — giving a voice to the victims and highlighting the increasing issue of domestic violence.

Who: Chris and Shan’ann Watts lived in Frederick, Colorado with their two toddler daughters, Bella-4, and Celeste-3. They met in 2010 in North Carolina, then married in 2012 and quickly moved to Colorado to start a family.

The Watts family.

What: After returning from a work trip to Arizona, Shan’ann arrived home early on the morning of August 13th after being dropped off by a coworker. According to Watts’ confession, the couple had sex later that same morning and shortly afterward he strangled her to death. He proceeded to load her body into his work truck, put their two children in the back seat while they were still alive, then drove 40 miles east to an oil site.

Where: The dump site where he buried Shan’ann and Niko, their unborn son in a shallow grave, then killed and dumped their two daughters, Bella and Celeste in separate crude oil drums, was located on the property of his employer — Anadarko Petroleum.

Dump site: CERVI 319.

After dumping the bodies of his family, Chris continued like it was a regular day. He texted his mistress, reached out to a real estate broker about selling his house, and even contacted the girls’ school to inform them they would not be enrolling next semester. After receiving a call, he drove back to his Colorado home to find that his neighbor, a friend of Shan’ann, had called the police to report them missing.

During inspection of the house, investigators became suspicious of Chris. Especially after he appeared emotionally reserved and avoided eye contact as they examined the neighbor’s surveillance footage of him loading his truck earlier that morning.

Chris Watts in a still from police body cam footage, as seen in the Netflix documentary “American Murderer: The Family Next Door.” NETFLIX
On the scene: Detective’s body-cam image.
Chris Watts, pacing and sweating profusely after watching surveillance footage.

On Wednesday, August 15th, Chris Watts appeared on television pleading for his wife and kids to return home. An FBI profiler who examined the footage stated that he showed arrogance and a lack of empathy.

Former FBI senior profiler and forensic behavioral expert Mary Ellen O’Toole said Watts’ interview speaks to what he thinks is his ability to be persuasive.

“When somebody kills their own family and then they go on TV to say ‘But I didn’t have anything to do with it,’ that ability to be so very sure of your own interpersonal skills that you can attempt to fool a national and international audience is very unusual,” said O’Toole. “That’s a lot of arrogance and confidence that you could pull this off, and that’s not typical.”

O’Toole said Watts’ insistence that he didn’t know where his family members were shows an attempt to distance himself from the investigation. “If I don’t know anything, obviously I can’t have anything to do with it,” O’Toole said, describing the implication of Watts’ comments.

But O’Toole said he also contradicted himself by calling the situation a “nightmare,” while at the same time maintaining he didn’t know what happened.

O’Toole also noted that during a portion of the interview, Watts talked about himself and didn’t show any emotion or empathy for Shan’ann and the girls.

“There is a noticeable absence of emotional behavior or words of emotion like, ‘I’m so scared,’ ‘I’m so worried about them,’” O’Toole said. “He talks about the house being empty, but that’s not the same as expressions of empathy. There is an absence of that.”

The next day, Thursday, August 16th, the bodies of Shan’ann, Bella, and Celeste were found at an oil site on the premise of Anadarko Petroleum — Watts’ employer, after he led investigators there following his confession after failing a polygraph.

LEFT: Chris Watts being led into court wearing an orange jumpsuit. RIGHT: Dump site: CERVI 319, where his family were found.

Why: The real question: Why did he do it? How could a supposedly, happily married man, expecting his third child, kill his entire family, then go on television pleading for their return?

Friends, family, and other sources close to the investigation have come forward to shed some light, claiming that the couple were having difficulties in their marriage. There was a report of Shan’ann being suspicious of Chris’ infidelities and confiding in a friend about it but feeling hesitant about taking action. With a neighbor even stating that the couple put on a front, meanwhile, their relationship was clearly crumbling behind the scenes. They’d even been seen arguing in public earlier that same summer according to a source in People“I think they were always putting on a show,” says Melinda Phillips, who recalls seeing Chris and Shan’ann “clearly having an argument” in their driveway one day earlier this summer.“Their body language was really angry, and they were just fighting back and forth,” Phillips, 34, says. “He was gesturing his hands and they were shaking their heads, and it was definitely an argument.”“I didn’t really think much of it, because Lord knows that I’ve had the same arguments with my husband,” she continues. “They caught my eye and suddenly, everything changed. They stopped being so angry, and they started talking a lot more calmly. He even gave her a hug. Mind you, this was in the space of 30 seconds to a minute.”“From a full-blown fight to hugs in less than a minute, it was incredible,” she says.

Among various alleged revelations was the fact that Chris cheated on his wife with coworker, Nichol Kessinger (1) who cooperated with police soon after Shan’ann and the girls went missing. After Watts’ arrest, various sources alleged that he was also bisexual, providing information about his extra-marital affairs — including the unverified disclosure from a male escort, Trent Bolte, who claims he and Watts had a 10-month relationship in which he even met the children. The Daily Mail mentions that Bolte claimed he met Watts on the dating app MeetMe, and they began seeing each other regularly just a short time before he murdered his family.

‘He reached out to me and messaged me,’ the man alleged. ‘It was small talk. He told me his age. He had two daughters…He told me he was looking for a relationship in the long run…he was not out and not ready to be out as far as sexuality…I asked him to make sure he’s not bisexual cause he had two children. He told me he didn’t know. At that moment he was attracted to me as a male.’

LEFT: Trent Bolte being interviewed by detectives. RIGHT: Chris Watts mugshot.
Trent Bolte on Facebook.
Facebook comments regarding Chris Watts infidelity.
Facebook comments regarding Chris Watts infidelity.

According to Kessinger, Watts had lied to her as well, claiming to be in the final stages of a divorce and looking for a new place to live. A 2,000-page report issued by the Weld County District Attorney’s Office revealed the details of various family crises to which Watts is said to have alluded while being interviewed by authorities. The discovery documents indicate that Watts made Kessinger believe he was about to divorce Shan’ann, and that he had fallen hard for his new girlfriend fast. According to the report, on July 25, Watts searched online for: “When to say I love you for the first time in a new relationship.”

And on Sunday, August 12th, text messages indicated that while attending a child’s birthday party with his two daughters, he was texting Kessinger, while also messaging another coworker, Roberts, at 5pm informing the man he would be making a trip to a distant oil field, the same one where his family’s bodies were found — revealing a level of premeditation to investigators.

Nichol Kessinger, Watts’ 30-year old coworker and mistress.

Kessinger told The Denver Post, “He made me believe that he was doing all of the things that a rational man and good father would do.”

The Post reported that in the wake of Shan’ann and the kids vanishing, Kessinger said, “It seemed off. It got to a point that he was telling me so many lies that I eventually told him that I did not want to speak to him again until his family was found.”

Unfortunately, Watts’ family was found shortly thereafter.

Chris Watts confession.

And after a shaky confession to his father, investigators watched from another room, as he admitted that he “flew into a rage” and strangled his wife after witnessing her killing their two children through a baby monitor. The cops didn’t buy it.

After Watts’ confession he was arrested. And yet his family still remained insistent of his innocence. Cindy Watts, his mother, told ABC 11, “There’s not one person you can talk to that will say anything about this kid.” A comment made in reference to his final confession regarding killing Shan’ann after witnessing her murdering their children, which his father, Ronnie also believed.

“It’s hard for me to believe that he would hurt them girls no matter what,” Ronnie agreed. “The story he told me that night, I believed it: The way he looked at me, the way he was crying, I believed it.”

“He was normal,” Cindy insisted, “he didn’t have a temper, he was just easy-going like his dad. He’s not a monster.”

That’s a term she seems to reserve for her former daughter-in-law. Claiming that Chris changed after meeting his future bride in high school, Cindy said she could be abusive, manipulative and worked to isolate him from his family. Her interactions with Shan’ann often fraught, she said, “It was a very hard relationship.”

Cindy and Ronnie Watts actually believed that Shan’ann was more capable of killing the two children than their own son. Which, to me, indicates a textbook example of parents who would raise a sociopath with a selfish personality.

According to Investigation Discovery, On November 6, Watts is said to have avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty to three counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to five life sentences without the possibility of parole, three to be served consecutively and two to be served concurrently.

Chris Watts in court.

Although Chris Watts pleaded guilty to multiple homicides, it was reportedly part of a deal for him to avoid facing the death penalty if he went to trial. On the record, though, he was sticking to his original claim that Shan’ann murdered the two little girls, which caused him to, in turn, murder her ‘in a rage.’

But that changed too, on March 7, 2019, when the Colorado Department of Safety released audio files and written transcripts of interviews conducted with Watts on February 8 by agents from the FBI, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and the Frederick Police Department.

During the recording, Watts reportedly came clean about killing Celeste and Bella, saying, “It’s like something else was controlling me that day. I had no control over [it], to fight back.”

He also reportedly expressed regret, stating “Right now, I’d have a five-year-old, a three-year-old and, more than likely, a one-month-old son, and a beautiful wife. And right now it’s just me.”

As for what happened with Shan’ann, Watts allegedly recalled that she came home from a business trip at about 2 A.M. and they had sex, which he experienced as a triggering incident, saying it was “like you push the button on a bomb and it just blows up.”

The transcripts indicate Watts said the couple argued about his infidelity, with Shan’ann threatening to take the kids away.

Watts reportedly said that’s what prompted him to attack his wife, stating, “Every time I think about it, I’m just like, ‘Did I know I was going to do that before I got on top of her?’… It just felt like there was already something in my mind that was implanted that I was gonna do it, and when I woke up that morning, it was gonna happen and I had no control over it.”

In May 2019, People reported that Chris Watts was considering options in regard to appealing his multiple murder convictions.

The magazine quoted a source with “knowledge of Watts’ legal case” saying, “Obviously, it would be an uphill battle for him, because he pleaded guilty. And with a guilty plea, you forfeit some of your rights to appeal. But that’s not absolute, so there’s a small chance that it could work out in his favor.”

The source also reportedly said, “He’s not sure he was in the right mind to plead guilty like he did. For him, it’s not just about him getting out of jail — it’s also that he hasn’t been able to really have his day in court.”

People also reported that the source said Watts has spoken with lawyers, but that any potential appeal “would cost him money that he just doesn’t have.”