A man who made an emotional appeal in the media for the safe return of his missing pregnant wife and daughters appeared in court Tuesday charged with their murders.
Chris Watts, 33, faces three counts of first-degree murder, plus two counts of killing children under 12, and is accused of tampering with the bodies and unlawfully terminating a pregnancy.
Colorado man Watts contends that it was Shanann Watts, 34, who strangled Celeste, three, and Bella, four, after he told her he wanted them to split up — leading him to fly into a rage and kill her.
Watts, who lived with his family in Frederick, a small town around 30 miles (48 kilometres) north of Denver, was arrested last week and is in custody.
He appeared at a Weld County courtroom where he waived his right to a preliminary hearing within 35 days and didn’t enter a plea. His next appearance will be in November.
Video of the hearing, posted online by local news station ABC 15 Arizona, showed Shanann’s distraught father being comforted by her brother in the courthouse.
A bespectacled, bearded Watts listened intently but made no statement, speaking only to confirm that he understood the proceedings.
His wife, who was 15 weeks pregnant, was found in a shallow grave last week at a petroleum company that he had worked for, while the girls’ bodies were found later in nearby oil tanks.
“Chris was presented with an aerial photograph of the tank battery area and identified three separate locations in which he placed the bodies,” the affidavit reads.
Court papers showed the couple had financial troubles, and filed for bankruptcy in 2015. Investigators said they learned Watts, despite previous denials, was having an affair with a co-worker.
A friend dropped off Shanann Watts at her home from a business trip to Arizona in the small hours of the morning last Monday, according to the affidavit.
It was then that Watts told his wife he wanted to separate, he said, telling police in an interview that it was a “civil conversation and they were not arguing but were emotional”.
The affidavit says Watts saw Bella “sprawled” on her bed and looking blue, and observed his wife Shanann strangling Celeste via a baby monitor. He went into a “rage,” he said, and strangled Shanann.
Shannan Watts was reported as missing when she failed to show at a doctor’s appointment later that morning and a friend rang Watts when she visited the family home and could find no sign of Shanann.
Watts appealed on local television for the return of his family on Wednesday last week — after his family disappeared but before his arrest.
“I’m just hoping right now that she’s somewhere safe. I just want them home so bad,” he said.