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A memorial placed on the lawn of the Watts family home after the news broke.
A memorial placed on the lawn of the Watts family home after the news broke.
newschannel5.com screen capture

Christopher Watts Tragedy House Auction Likely to Be Delayed Again

In January, word that the Frederick home where Christopher Watts killed his pregnant wife and two children a year ago this week would be auctioned made global headlines. But most media outlets included the wrong date for the deal, reporting that the residence at 2825 Saratoga Trail would be going on the block circa April 17 when the transaction had been moved to July 17.

Eventually, most news agencies corrected the misinformation — which means this update is a case of déjà vu all over again. The Watts home didn't go up for bid on July 17 because the auction was delayed a second time by its seller, JPMorgan Chase Bank. The current date, September 18, is now appearing in reports by outlets such as the Denver Post, but attorney Jessica Hale, whose law firm, McCarthy Holthus, LLP, represents the bank, doesn't sound confident it will stick.

"Unfortunately, we cannot provide any detail as to why the sale has been postponed," writes Hale, corresponding via email. She adds, "I predict the sale will not be taking place 9/18/2019 and do not have a new sale date scheduled."

This potential change doesn't surprise Weld County Public Trustee Susie Velasquez, who will be handling the proceedings whenever they take place. "Some foreclosures are continued several times, and we usually don't know why," Velasquez says. "We just receive information from the attorney for the lender, and they don't give us a reason."

Nonetheless, Velasquez confirms that interest in the house remains high: "We've gotten a lot of calls on this one."

It's not hard to figure out why. Watts's horrific act was one of many from Colorado to capture the nation's attention, in part because the story unfolds in a manner seemingly made for a true-crime series of the sort that have become streaming-service staples.

Christopher Watts's arrest affidavit lays out the case in chillingly neutral prose. At around 1:40 p.m. on August 13, 2018, the report begins, a Frederick police officer was dispatched to the home at the behest of Nicole Utoft, a friend of Shanann Watts, Christopher's wife. Utoft was concerned that Shanann, who was fifteen weeks pregnant and hadn't been feeling well after returning from a business trip to Arizona, wasn't answering phone calls or text messages and had missed a doctor's appointment earlier that morning. Moreover, Utoft's attempt to enter the Saratoga Trail residence via the front door was prevented by a latch that wouldn't open more than a few inches.

At first the officer couldn't gain entry, but he was able to reach Christopher, who came over within minutes and let him inside. However, Shanann and the kids — three-year-old Celeste and four-year-old Bella — weren't there.

The Watts family before the tragedy in August 2018.
The Watts family before the tragedy in August 2018.
Family photo via crimeonline.com

In conversation with the officer, the document notes, Christopher said that earlier that morning, he and Shanann had talked about "marital separation," with him informing her that "he wanted to initiate" the split. Still, he insisted that their conversation was "civil... . They were not arguing but were emotional."

Over the next couple of days, the tale told by Christopher — who had made public appearances calling for his family's safe return in the interim — started to shift, in part because an investigation had turned up evidence that he "was actively involved in an affair with a co-worker [Nichol Kessinger], which he denied in previous interviews."

Following nearly three lines blotted out in the version of the affidavit released to the public, the narrative picks up with Christopher promising to tell the truth of what happened if he was allowed to chat with his father. Once that conversation was completed, he told investigators that after informing Shanann he wanted a separation, he walked out of their bedroom — but upon his return, he saw in a baby monitor on her nightstand an image of Bella "'sprawled' out on her bed and blue, and Shanann actively strangling Celeste," the affidavit recounts.

At that point, Christopher said he "went into a rage and ultimately strangled Shanann to death" before loading all three bodies onto the back seat of his work truck and heading to an area near two oil tanks. He revealed that he buried Shanann near the tanks and dumped the girls inside them. Their remains were subsequently recovered.

As is clear from the charges pressed against Christopher by the Weld County District Attorney's Office, detectives didn't buy the assertion that Shanann actually killed her daughters, and he eventually took responsibility for doing so. Nonetheless, Christopher's claims provided the media with yet another element with which to enthrall cable-news watchers from coast to coast.

Following Christopher's conviction for the crime, Shanann's parents, Sandra and Frank Rzucek, and brother, Frank Jr., filed a civil suit on behalf of her estate to ensure that his name recognition didn't turn into cash — and he won't profit from the sale of the house, which was purchased in May 2013 for $392,709 but still has an outstanding balance of $349,938.09. The property is currently assessed at $484,339, but Redfin estimates its value at $543,545.

Of course, the latter prediction doesn't take into account what happened at the home — and there's a widely varied record related to attempted sales of residences where terrible things have happened. Take the Boulder home where JonBenét Ramsey was murdered in December 1996. Carol Schuler Milner and her husband bought it in 2004 with the idea of infusing it with happier memories, then tried to sell it several times without success after circumstances required them to move to California. Now, however, the Milners are living there again and are very happy to be doing so.

Velasquez can't predict whether something similar could happen with the Watts home, but the sale will take place in her office either on September 18, as currently scheduled, or possibly a future time should it be delayed again, as attorney Hale anticipates.

"We have a sale every Wednesday at 10 a.m., and usually, we don't really know anything about the properties," Velasquez points out. "But we know about this one."

Click to read the Christopher Watts arrest affidavit and public documents about 2825 Saratoga Trail.

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