The 2018 Watts family murders are at the center of Netflix’s trailer for American Murder: The Family Next Door, the streaming service’s newest true crime documentary. In August 2018, the Watts family murders gained national attention after it was was revealed that a man, Chris Watts, had killed his then-pregnant wife, Shanann Watts, and their two young daughters, Celeste, 3, and Bella, 4, by strangulation and asphyxiation (he has since pleaded guilty to the crimes). Now, director Jenny Popplewell is bringing the tragic story to the small screen with American Murder.
Archival footage, social media posts, law enforcement recordings, and never-before-seen home videos piece together Popplewell’s retelling of the familicide case. Shanann’s own social media posts and recordings are also featured in the trailer, including her retelling of her love story with her husband. “I just want you to know a little bit about my story,” Shanann narrates in a vlog. “I went through one of the darkest times of my life, and then I met Chris,” she continues in the archival footage. “And he’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
The trailer makes it clear that American Murder will avoid re-enactments, a staple of the true crime genre. Instead, the teaser is interspersed with footage of Chris and Shanann’s wedding, as well as clips of Chris being questioned by authorities about his wife’s disappearance. There’s also a voice-over of a 911 recording made from Shanann’s friend Nickole Atkinson, who reported her missing, supplemented by text message screenshots from Chris.
While he initially denied involvement in the disappearance of Shanann and his two children, Chris ultimately confessed to strangling his wife and suffocating his two daughters. Prosecutors cited his affair with another woman and the desire to leave his family as the motive. In November 2018, Chris pleaded guilty to nine criminal counts that included murder and unlawful termination of a pregnancy, per the New York Times, and was sentenced to five life sentences without the possibility of parole. He is currently imprisoned at the Dodge Correctional Institution in Wisconsin.
American Murder: The Family Next Door premieres on Netflix Sept. 30.