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Chris Watts is the focus of Netflix’s ‘American Murder’. Does the doc have details that were missing in ‘Confessions of a Killer’?

Chris Watts Netflix doc: Does it have details ‘Confessions of a Killer’ didn’t?

Chris Watts has been the focus on numerous TV specials in 2020. He was portrayed by an actor in the Lifetime movie Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer and his likeness was captured through archival footage in the recent Netflix documentary American Murder: The Family Next Door. Some viewers may be curious what the difference is between the two projects & whether one possesses details that the other doesn’t.

Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer is a highly dramatized (and partially fictionalized) account of Watts’s decision to murder his wife & kids. Oxygen listed all the inaccuracies the movie passed off as fact, including Watts’s taped confession & his last exchange with his wife Shanann Watts.

Creative license

Confessions a Killer changes around the details of Watts’s confession, most notably the claim that Shanann incited a struggle before she was killed. The movie also doctors the final conversation between Watts & his wife. In the movie, Watts admits to cheating but in real life they had a mundane exchange & Watts maintained his adulterous secret.

Confessions of a Killer also posits Watts’s murders as being partially caused by the nutrition supplement patch Thrive. Westword critic Michael Roberts condemned the movie on these grounds. “[Confessions] seemed to implicitly accept Watts’ defense at trial, which was in part that Shan’ann’s role as a sales representative for the nutrition supplement patch Thrive with the company Le-vel played a role in Watts’ actions.”

Conspiracy theories

Shanann Watts’s family was rightfully critical of the Lifetime movie & they blamed the network for not consulting them about the real events. Family attorney Steven Lambert told ABC Denver 7 that Confessions of a Killer was “irresponsible” and cited the movie’s reliance on “conspiracy theory” as troubling. 

“Armchair detectives going out there trying to find scraps of evidence, saying, ‘Chris really wasn’t the killer, it was X’ or, ‘His original confession was the true confession and Shanann did have a hand in this’ or ‘There is some sort of conspiracy going to it,’” Lambert stated. “That kind of stuff bothers them a lot.”

Crucial insight

Conversely, American Murder has garnered praise for its accurate depiction of events. The documentary uses real-life footage of Chris & Shanann Watts, as well as text chains & audio recordings to give a well-rounded portrayal of their marriage. The documentary provides insight into Shanann’s mindset in the days leading up to her death. Her texts prove that she was aware of Watts’s cheating & considered getting a divorce.

There were also additional details regarding Watts’s murder methods. He recounts with chilling clarity the experience of strangling his wife and children near an oil refinery. He told police that his final exchange with his daughter Bella is what bothered him the most. “She said, ‘What happened to Cece?’” Watts recalled. “Every time I close my eyes, I see her saying, ‘Daddy, no,’  and that was it. I hear that every day.”

Additional details

Shanann’s brother Frankie Rzucek praised American Murder for providing a reprieve from the sensationalism of the Lifetime movie. “I highly recommend watching this,” he wrote on Facebook. “The director made sure we were a part of the process and we met the whole team personally. [The team] made sure we were okay with them making it.”

That being said, there were some things that were left out of American Murder for the sake of runtime. The details involving the Watts family’s money problems were largely glossed over, as were the details that Chris Watts gave about his motives once he was convicted. Both make sense, as they surfaced after the events of the documentary, but they are worth mentioning here.

American Murder: The Family Next Door is now streaming on Netflix.

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