American Murder: The Family Next Door

If you have an appetite for true crime, this documentary newly released on Netflix will certainly serve as a hearty appetizer.

It’s a story you may already be familiar with: in 2018, 38-year-old Shanann Watts and her two young daughters disappeared in Colorado and since they were a typical suburban (and need I say, white) family, it made nation-wide headlines. You and I are no dummies when it comes to this kind of disappearance; we all know in which direction to look, and neither the cops nor this documentary waste time on any other perpetrator theories. Director Jenny Popplewell pulls together an impressive amount of footage taken at the time of the investigation (and of the investigation itself), and synthesizes it down to a watchable, digestible narrative. The one thing Popplewell can’t do is make sense of it. Technically, we do know the “reason” by the film’s end, but we can never be satisfied by it. It defies logic that anyone would think this was a good idea and it is immensely painful to know how incredibly unnecessary it was.

And yet, to me, the most intriguing part of the entire documentary is its title.

***SPOILERS***

American Murder

This has become such a frequent M.O. that we have now dubbed this the typical American crime.

Chinese checkers

Dutch oven

French kiss

Canadian bacon

Panama hat

American murder

More than half the time an American woman is murdered, it’s by her former or current romantic partner. In a third of those cases, it was right after a big fight. 15% of these women were pregnant.

Shanann’s partner was by all accounts a devoted husband and father. He provided for his family and said all of the right things. But around 2am on August 13 2018, Shanann is dropped off at home by friend Nickole, returning from a business trip they’d taken together. Footage from Shanann’s own doorbell camera is the last time she’s seen alive. Husband Chris claims they fought about his infidelity and the end of their marriage so he strangled her to death in anger. Her family maintains if that were the case, she would have fought back. They suspect he did it in her sleep. In any case, he wrapped her body in a sheet and loaded daughters Bella, aged 4, and Cece, 3, into the back seat of his truck along with their mother’s body and drove off before the sun was up, just a few short hours later. He buried his wife’s body near his job site, and then quickly killed his daughters as well, dumping their little bodies in an oil well. He had recently met a woman and wanted to be unencumbered to start a new life with her. Shanann was a little over 4 months pregnant at the time of her death.

Considering divorce is also very much an American way of life, it’s impossible to understand why Chris went with any other option, let alone one so gruesome.

He will spend his life in prison for the murder of his wife, their 2 daughters, and their unborn child.

Also spending his life in prison: a homeless man who procured two dime bags ($10 each) of marijuana for an undercover police officer who promised him a $5 commission. Five bucks: the price of a cheap meal. Marijuana: a substance that is legal or decriminalized in many states, and is actually sold by the government in Canada and elsewhere.

Two life sentences, one white perp, the other black.

American justice.

5 thoughts on “American Murder: The Family Next Door

  1. Liz A.

    Yup, our justice system is broken. And about a third of us like it that way. Hence, the violence with the Black Lives Matter marches. The marches are peaceful; it’s the cops and the “counter protesters” who bring the violence. Sigh.

    I don’t get why the guy can’t just divorce. . . And there’s the toxic masculinity that’s another issue in our culture. (By “our”, I mean American.)

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  2. Brittani

    I didn’t read your spoiler section because while the name sounds familiar, the case doesn’t ring a bell and I’ve been listening to a lot of true crime docs/podcasts while working lately. (Because you know, why not be depressed at all angles) I didn’t know this was released, so thanks for putting it on my radar!

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  3. Invisibly Me

    I feel twisted in saying I want to watch this, but I find the psychology intriguing. Such a hideous, ‘evil’ thing to have done and you’re right, it seems such an extreme to kill a pregnant partner and children when a divorce could have been a more convenient way out and onto his new life with the other love interest. x

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  4. Willow Croft

    It’s actually a big deal that he was even sentenced to life in prison…most times the men get off with a slap on the wrist. Probably because of the little girls…if it was just his wife, the justice system here would just shrug and wink and say “boys will be boys”.

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