Netflix’s ‘American Murder’ Is Both Sad and Chilling

Netflix’s ‘American Murder’ Is Both Sad and Chilling


There’s no doubt that we’re obsessed with true crime. The more heartbreaking the victims, the more lurid the crimes–it seems as though we can’t get enough. Netflix knows our dark secret, and they’re more than happy to supply us with our fix.

American Murder: The Family Next Door has been at the top of the rankings on Netflix ever since it premiered at the end of September. The film tells the true story of the Watts murders. It’s not a dramatized account, like The Act, but a true documentary that uses police footage, social media posts, and other first-hand evidence to figure out what made a seemingly happy, loving husband murder his family.

The Watts Family Murders

It seems like this tragedy happened fifteen years ago, not in 2018. That’s how skewed time has seemed in the past two years. In case you’re fuzzy on the details, in August of 2018, Chris Watts murdered his pregnant wife Shan’ann and their two daughters, Bella (4) and Celeste (3).

The police suspected Chris Watts might be involved in the disappearance of Shan’ann from the very beginning. Although she and the girls were initially reported as missing, Chris soon confessed to murdering them after he failed a polygraph test.

However, his story remained slippery. At first, he claimed that Shan’ann had gone crazy after he asked for a divorce and killed the children, and that he was forced to kill her in revenge. Eventually, he said that he’d strangled them all and hidden the bodies. But it still wasn’t clear why.

Searching for a Motive

American Murder searches for answers but ultimately comes up short. When he was first questioned by police, it seemed as though Chris Watts killed his wife during a fit of rage. They’d been having problems, both in their relationship and their finances.

But later, letters he sent from prison revealed that he’d planned to hurt his wife all along. He initially tried to poison Shan’ann to make her miscarry. When that didn’t work, he killed her. Chris was having an affair and wanted to be with his mistress at any cost. Now he’s serving five life sentences without the possibility of parole.

According to FBI profiler Candice DeLong, Chris Watts is an anomaly because family annihilators typically commit suicide afterward. Even the experts can’t fully understand his motivation. Chris had only been dating Nichol Kessinger for a few weeks before the murders. Like Amber Frey, the mistress of murderer Scott Peterson, Nichol was a key part of the investigation and trial.