A father who murdered his wife and daughters subconsciously gave away his guilt while appealing for their safe return on TV, fresh body language analysis reveals.
Chris Watts, of Frederick,
The shocking case, which was brought to the attention of UK viewers in
In new true-crime documentary Chris Watts: A Faking It Special, available to stream on discovery+, British body language expert Dr Cliff Lansley analyses footage of Watts taken in the days after the murders and reveals there were early signs of his guilt.
Murdered: Chris Watts, of Frederick, Colorado, killed his pregnant wife Shanann and daughters Bella, four, and Celeste, three, pictured, in the early hours of 13 August 2018 but spent days masquerading as a concerned father and husband who believed they were missing
Look of pleasure: In one TV appeal, Watts performed a ‘cluster’ of four gestures which indicate he was lying, according to body language expert Dr Cliff Lansley. The first clue is Watts’ expression of pleasure when saying he ‘wants his family back’. Dr Lansley’s analysis (above) shows: A) The eyes tighten, B) The cheeks raise and C) The Lip corners raise
In one TV appeal, Watts performed a ‘cluster’ of four gestures which indicate he was lying, according to Dr Lansley.
The first clue is Watts’ expression of pleasure when saying he ‘wants his family back’.
‘If you look at Watts’ face in more detail with a close-up, on the left-hand side you’ll see baseline. This is Watts’ normal face during the non-emotional parts of the interview,’ Dr Lansley says, comparing two images of Watts’ face.
‘But on the right, when he says, “I just want them back,” and he’s talking about his children here, you see the lip corners raised; you see the eyes tighten.
‘His cheeks are raised. This combination of these two muscles is an indicator of genuine pleasure.’
As the interview came to an end, Watts looked down the camera to make a direct appeal to Shanann, Bella and Celeste to come home. As Watts did this, his body continued to leak clues pointing towards his guilt.
‘While he’s saying that, he slings out a left hand – a hand shrug – which rotates anticlockwise,’ Cliff notes, examining the footage.
‘Now, a single hand shrug is not enough for a behavioural analyst to rely on, but when he closes his eyes for a full second, and you see a slight head shake no when he’s making the claim he wants them back, we’ve got a cluster of four behaviours which say there’s nothing in this statement that you have confidence in, because it’s not true.’
Dawn Archer, a professor of linguistics at Manchester Metropolitan University, says the insincerity is also reflected in his speech.
‘It’s about him. And there’s a lot of if “I” statements in there,’ she says. ‘He then focuses on his apparent despair, but there’s no matching affect in the voice; we don’t hear that despair. More red flags.’
Viewers are also shown the police bodycam footage taken of Watts in the hours after he reported his family missing. Even then, his unease at potentially being caught was starting to show, according to Dr Lansley.
‘We’ve got the swaying, we have the double-handed hand shrug, and we have a volume drop,’ Cliff explains. ‘The swaying shows anxiety, so there’s anxiety going on.
Horrific: Watts strangled Shanann and then put her body and their two daughters in his truck and drove to isolated oil storage tanks owned by Anadarko. He buried Shanann in a shallow grave and then smothered his two daughters and placed their bodies inside the storage tanks
Jailed for life: The shocking case, which was brought to the attention of UK viewers in Netflix documentary American Murder: The Family Next Door, culminated in Watts being sentenced to five life sentences after pleading guilty to the murders
‘He’s making an affirmative claim that she was still here when I was here at 5:15am, but his hands are doing a partial gesture – it’s leakage, you can just see it on the bottom of the screen – so that small movement of the hands, the rotation, is what we call a double-handed shrug, which is part of the full gesture “I have no confidence in what I’ve just said”.’
Finally, experts tell how Watts was ‘fidgety’ and on edge while joining police to view footage captured by a neighbour’s CCTV camera showing his truck’s movements on the night he killed his family.
Watts killed Shanann after she came home from a business trip to Arizona.
He strangled her and then put her body and their two daughters in his truck and drove to isolated oil storage tanks owned by Anadarko.
He buried Shanann in a shallow grave and then smothered his two daughters and placed their bodies inside the storage tanks.
For two days Watts claimed that he had nothing to do with his family’s disappearance and went on television to plead for them to come home.
After his arrest he initially claimed that Shanann had killed the girls after he had told her he wanted a separation, and then he had strangled her in anger.
At his trial, he pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty, which has since been abolished in Colorado.