After Chris Watts' guilty plea to murdering wife Shan'ann and their kids, prosecutors said a motive and autopsies in the case should be released this month

By KC Baker and Adam Carlson
November 07, 2018 11:59 AM
Credit: Shanann Watts /Facebook

At least two weeks: That’s how long it will be before two of the remaining mysteries in the murders of Shan’ann Watts and her two young daughters, at the hands of 33-year-old family patriarch Chris Watts, will be solved.

How did they die? And why?

On Tuesday, following Chris’ surprise guilty plea to all three first-degree murders (among other crimes), Colorado prosecutors told reporters that there is more they cannot say about the case — for now.

“We believe that we have a partial motive,” Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said at a news conference.

“I’m not sure if it’s the entirety of the motive,” he said. “But I will be happy to comment on that following sentencing.”

The autopsies on Chris’ three victims, too, will likely be made public after his sentencing on Nov. 19, where he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Their release will confirm causes of death and may provide further details about the slayings of 34-year-old Shan’ann and daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, such as the conditions of their bodies and any wounds they have sustained.

Shan’ann was found buried in a grave on a remote oil work site of Chris’ former employer; their daughters were in nearby oil tanks.

“Assuming that the sentencing hearing goes the way we believe that it will and it goes forward, we will not be asking those [the autopsies] be kept sealed any longer after the sentencing hearing,” Rourke explained Tuesday.

According to his arrest affidavit, Chris had claimed that he strangled Shan’ann at their Frederick home after watching her strangle Celeste when he said he wanted to separate. Previous court filings in the case suggested that both daughters had been strangled.

From left: Chris and Shan’ann Watts
| Credit: Shanann Watts /Facebook

However, in pleading guilty this week, Chris essentially admitted that he had lied about the deaths. He was responsible for all three of them.

“What I can tell you most affirmatively today, by what happened in the court room, is the spotlight that he tried to shine on Shanann falsely, incorrectly and, frankly, a flat-out lie has been corrected,” Rourke said. “The spotlight shines directly where it belongs: on him.”

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Still, Rourke raised the specter of Chris’ continued untruths — that even in deciding to plead guilty to his crimes he might keep some of the details of what he’d done a secret.

Asked by a reporter if Chris had provided an alternate, more truthful, version of the murders when he told prosecutors he would plead guilty, Rourke said, “I don’t know the answer to that question.”

“We talked a lot about whether we would require him to come forward and give us what we hope to be a complete, accurate and truthful statement,” he continued. “I think all of us who were involved never truly believed that he would give us an accurate statement.”

chris watts
Chris Watts
| Credit: Weld County Sheriff's Office

It remains unclear if a full picture of the family’s home life will ever be made public. Chris’ plea prevents a trial, which may have involved protracted witness testimony about their marriage, possible domestic issues and other insights into what lead up to the homicides.

In the months since the murders, in the absence of a known motive, Chris’ infidelity has drawn scrutiny: Authorities have said he was cheating with a co-worker when he murdered his family.

A source close to the investigation previously told PEOPLE that Chris has had relationships with both men and women outside of his marriage.

As prosecutor Rourke addressed reporters on Tuesday, Shan’ann’s closest relatives sat not far away: her mom, Sandi, and father, Frank, as well as her brother, Frankie. They did not speak and have not given interviews since the triple murder in August.

Watts arraignment hearing
From left: Shan’ann Watts’ father and brother, Frank Rzucek and Frank Rzucek Jr., at an August court hearing for her husband
| Credit: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post/Getty Images

“I will be the first to tell you I truly appreciate the Rzuceks being present, not only in the state of Colorado but in this room,” Rourke said.

“I can tell you on behalf of them, they are not prepared nor do they want to answer questions at this point,” he said.

Chris’ plea marked a sudden end to a case some observers believed could drag on for years.

“I think there were a lot of emotions that went through their mind,” Rourke said, adding, “I think that there was a combination of relief, extraordinary sadness that we ever had to have that conversation in the first place and I can only say that I hope there is a sense of closure.