“American Murder: The Family Next Door”


Emma Norenberg (9th), Reporter

Need a new Netflix suggestion? I got you! I just recently watched American Murder: The Family Next Door. It was actually a really good movie and kept me entertained throughout the whole thing. I really recommend you to check it out.

The movie starts off with the disappearance of Shanann and her two kids, then backtracks to find “evidence”. Shanann had a husband, Chris Watts, and Shanann was pregnant with their third child. They were a very happy family. Shanann had a Facebook account and she always posted family updates, trips that they were going on, and any other exciting events that were happening. When she found out that she was pregnant in May of 2018, she of course had to post an update on FaceBook. She surprised her husband with a shirt that said, “Oops… We did it again!” Already parents to a 4 year old, Bella Watts, and a 3 year old, Celeste Watts, and planning to name their third child, Nico Lee Watts. 

In June of 2018, Chris started to have an affair with Nichol Kessinger. Nichol told the authorities that she started to see Chris more seriously at the end of that same month. Kessinger said that Chris admitted he just separated from his wife and was in the middle of a divorce, which was entirely untrue. She also said that when Watts would walk into her office he would not be wearing a wedding ring. 

On June 27, 2018 Shanann took Bella and Celeste up to North Caroline for a 5 week trip to visit Chris’ family. Chris was expected to join them toward the end of the trip. In July of 2018 Shanann became suspicious of Chris and how he got so distant in his text messages and everything in general. On July 10, Shanann messaged Chris and said, “I miss you and I feel like you just want to workout and run.” and after that, he joined the family in North Carolina on July 31, 2018. However, after the trip, 2018 Shanann sent Chris an angry message about how his parents didn’t even take Celeste’s peanut allergy into consideration and how she stood up to his parents. 

The day Shanann and the two daughters went missing was August 13, 2018. Her flight back home was delayed so in result, instead of getting home on the 12th she got home around 1:48am on August 13. Shanann was dropped off by her friend Nicole Atkinson, who was the first person to raise a red flag when she couldn’t get a hold of Shanann later that day. Shanann was also 15 weeks pregnant and had a doctor’s appointment that she never showed up for. 

When Chris got home, he was met with cops at his door. They asked to search the house and he said yes. They searched the house and found her phone, purse, and medication. Chris stated that Shanann went to drop off the girls at a friend’s house, but that he admitted to knowing about. In the documentary, you can see that his neighbor, who was helping with the investigation because he saw Chris pull out of the driveway super early in the morning, said that he was acting very strange about his wife and kids disappearance and that he has never acted this way. His security cameras saw him leaving his house at 5:27AM “work”.

On August 14, 2018, he pleaded for Shanann and his two kids to come home on the news, and the day after, he took a polygraph test which he failed. That’s around the time they found out about his affair with Nichol Kessinger. Then on the 16th, they sadly found the body of his wife and two kids. They located Shanann’s body and removed it from its burial site, nearby, bodies identified as Celeste and Bella were located in oil tanks.

On August 20, Chris Watts was officially charged with three counts of first-degree murder; two counts of first-degree murder for causing the death of a person under the age of 12 while being in a position of trust; one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a deceased body. And on November 6, of 2018 Chris Watts pled guilty to nine criminal cases in exchange for not having the death sentence. He was sentenced to five life sentences with no possibility of parole. 

The Judge definitely had a response to the whole thing, “I could objectively say this is perhaps the most inhumane and vicious crime that I have handled out of the thousands of cases I have seen. Nothing less than a maximum sentence would be appropriate.”

After watching this documentary, I really wanted to get other people to take on the documentary. I interviewed my cousin, Sarah Hughes, who watched it at the same time as me. I asked her, “What did she think about the documentary?” She then responded with, “I thought it was really good, it kept me intrigued throughout the entire movie and I was shocked with the ending of the movie.” The last question I asked her was, “Do you agree with Chris’ sentence?” She responded with, “ Of course I do. I think he deserved a death sentence but he obviously didn’t get that, but he will by rotting in that cell and he deserves it, honestly.”

In conclusion, this documentary was very interesting and intriguing. I really enjoyed watching this documentary and I really recommend watching it if you are into murder mysteries!