Words and deeds

The other night — actually three nights — I watched the Netflix documentary American Murder: The Family Next Door about the Colorado man, Chris Watts, who killed his pregnant wife and two baby daughters in the summer of 2019. It took me three nights not because the film was so long but because it was so painful.

Watts worked for Anadarko, the oil and gas exploration company, and the night his wife returned to him from an out-of-town conference he had sex with her and then confessed he no longer loved her. He was working out like a maniac, chiseling his body for the sake of his ego and his new GF and chiseling his wife in the bargain, as he adamantly denied he was interested in anybody else. He was making love to her that last night, he was fessing up that he did not love her, and then he strangled her in the bed.

Chris Watts' wife and daughters
From left, Bella Watts, Celeste Watts and Shanann Watts. – The Colorado Bureau of Investigation via AP.

He took the wife’s body to his truck and packed in the two girls, three and four years old also, who were crying and asking what was wrong with mommy. He drove to a worksite and laid the wife’s body on the ground, then strangled both girls, the younger, then the older, and threw the bodies into an oil storage tank.

You see what I mean? This is hideous and incomprehensible.

One of the lines that struck me in the film is one of the little girls skipping and singing, “I love school!”

But her father hadn’t learned much. He was a liar, in short. He was quieter than his wife, Shanann, who was passionate and frantically needed to be loved. She would text her girlfriends about Chris’s indifference and his lack of interest in her. She would hope to be lucky, that night, she would tell her friends, but Chris was not interested.

He was interested in working out, which he would do in lieu of talking to her or leveling with her or doing things with the family. He would bite his tongue till the blood roiled and keep his feelings to himself.

After the murders he told investigators, when he began to break, that his wife had strangled the girls, so he strangled her. That wasn’t true, of course.

He denied he had an extramarital love interest. And that wasn’t true.

Even his friends knew something was wrong. He was ordinarily such a calm, or should we say repressed, character, and here he was in the presence of investigators, in his house at first, acting weirdly nervous.

Wouldn’t you?

The wife doesn’t come across in the film as a very sympathetic figure — too needy and wheedling. But that’s no reason to kill her, as witnesses say. Why not simply leave her and the girls? Go with the GF and create a new life?

There was something darkly, demoniacally compelling, though.

“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?” he told investigators. “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.”

This despite his apparent, or overt, Christianity. Chris Watts and his wife both hailed from North Carolina, part of the Bible Belt, and Watts’ father could not believe his son had committed murder. “In my heart,” he told ABC News, “I know he didn’t kill those girls.” After all, he “knows the Bible inside and out.”

But you can say one thing and do another, yes? You’ll see famous liars even in the Bible: Satan, St. Peter, Judas Iscariot.

You’ll see liars in Dostoevsky and other authors of the modern condition.

There’s love and marriage, and then there’s murder.

There’s saying one and doing something else.

There’s crime and, of course, there’s punishment, and Chris Watts is in prison for the rest of his life, where he will have ample time to cogitate his words and deeds.

 

Author: Greg Zeck

Greg Zeck taught college English in Michigan, Iowa, and Minnesota. He also had a career in freelance business writing and communications. He's retired now in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with his wife Jennifer, where he continues to read, write, bike, hike, and garden.

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