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The most famous current crime that has been caught on camera has to be the case of Chris and Shannan Watts and their two daughters.
Shanann lived a lot of her life on social media – she worked for Thrive which is a MLM company and as such, she worked hard to engage people via her social channels. And her social media activity, combined with the CCTV and body cam footage made this case one of the most engaging and horrifying ones that we can think of.
We have picked out the most interesting and relevant footage of the Watts’ family to discuss in this blog.
On June 11, 2018, Shanann revealed to Chris that she was pregnant for a third time. She filmed the reveal and was wearing a shirt that said ‘ Oops we did it again.”
There is footage from June 14 of their daughter Bella singing a song about how her Daddy is her hero. Ugh.
We now know during this time that Chris started having an affair with a coworker of his, Nichol Kessinger. We believe that this affair was the catalyst for Chris murdering his whole family.
On June 27, Shanann left for a vacation in North Carolina with the kids. She was gone for around 5 weeks, leaving Chris free to carry on his affair with Nichole. Chris joined the family for the final week of their trip.
During this time, Shannan sent a lot of messages to friends where she expressed her worry over the state of her marriage.
In regards to being caught on camera, on July 18, Nichol sent Chris semi nude photos of herself that he kept hidden within an app on his phone.
We won’t go into full details about the Watts’ marriage troubles but everything is online – texts between the two, texts between Shannan and her friends, Nichol’s browser history which included searching for hours for wedding dresses – assumedly for her wedding to Chris?
The family returned home to Colorado and later that same week, Shannan flew to Arizona for a work trip. We know that while she was away, Chris hired a babysitter so the could go on a date with Nichol.
Shanann left her trip to return home on the night of August 12, 2018. Her flight was slightly delayed and she was dropped off to her home at 1.48am on August 13. This was all captured on CCTV. You can see Shanann getting out of the vehicle and going up to the front door and going inside. This was the last time Shannan was known to be alive.
Shanann’s friend Nickole Atkinson was the one who raised the alarm with police when she couldnt get in touch with Shannan and nobody was at the Watts home. She called police on August 13. Things started moving quickly.
Neighbors of the Watts family started coming forward with their own CCTV of the neighborhood. There is police bodycam footage of Chris and the neighbors viewing the CCTV, and you can see the exact moment that Chris knows he has fucked up. He puts his head in his hands in disbelief and can be seen to be visibly nervous. A neighbour has CCTV of Chris’ truck pulling out of his driveway.
The same neighbor also spoke to police about his concerns about Chris and the way he was acting.
Chris continued to be caught on camera over the next few days, while the search for his family was going on.
Chris crumbled under pressure very quickly. On August 15, after he failed a polygraph, Chris admitted to killing his wife. His story at the time was that Shanann killed the kids and he then took her life in a rage.
He told law enforcement where the three bodies could be found, and horrifyingly, he told police that he put Shanann’s body in his truck on the floor and drove for over an hour with his two daughters sitting in the backseat, cuddling each other. He said that he killed Celeste first and that Bella’s final words were ‘Daddy, no!’
In February 2019, Chris changed his story again and said that he “snapped” the morning his wife returned home from a business trip and accused him, correctly, of cheating. He is now serving three consecutive life sentences, without the possibility of parole.
The CCTV element of this case is just the tip of the iceberg. We have thousands and thousands of comments and information posts on the Watts case in our group – come join us!
In our ‘Caught on Camera’ podcast episode, we also discuss the case of missing mom Leila Cavett, who was last seen in Miramar, Florida in July 2020. You can read our whole blog on Leila here –
Also in this episode, we talk about Texas woman Elizabeth Barraza. Elizabeth was setting up for a garage sale in her driveway on the morning of January 25, 2019. An unknown assailant drove up to the house, got out and shot Elizabeth at close range. Elizabeth later died in hospital and her killer remains on the loose to this day. You can read our pal Amie’s blog on Elizabeth here –
Amie’s Facebook group is called Missing and Unidentified – you can join here.
The final case that we discuss in the podcast is that of Elisa Lam.
- Elisa was a 21-year-old Canadian student studying at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Sometimes she went by her Cantonese name Lam Ho Yi.
- Elisa struggled with bi-polar disorder and depression, which she documented on various blogs she kept.
- On January 13, 2013, Elisa booked a flight to explore San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco on what she called her “West Coast Tour.”
- Her family was worried, as Elisa struggled with depression and bipolar disorder, but she told them she would call every day to check in.
- She embarked on her trip on January 22, 2013.
- For her trip to California, she traveled alone via Amtrak and intercity buses. She visited the San Diego Zoo and posted photos taken there on social media.
- On January 26, she arrived in Los Angeles. After two days, she checked into the Cecil Hotel, near Skid Row. Elisa was initially assigned a shared room on the hotel’s fifth floor; however, her roommates complained about what the hotel’s lawyer would later describe as “certain odd behavior,” and she was moved to a room of her own after two days.
- Elisa contacted her parents in British Columbia every day while traveling. On January 31, 2013, the day she was scheduled to check out of the Cecil and leave for Santa Cruz, they did not hear from her and called the Los Angeles Police Department; her family flew to Los Angeles to help search for her.
- Leading up to her disappearance, Elisa made a few strange blog posts. She mentioned she lost her phone at The Speakeasy, and strange men pursued her aggressively. Elisa was using public transportation to get around LA, which is not the safest mode of travel for a single girl unfamiliar with the neighborhood.
- Hotel staff who saw Elisa the day before she disappeared remembered her being alone.
- Outside the hotel, the manager of a nearby bookstore recalled seeing her that day. “She was outgoing, very lively, very friendly,” while getting gifts to take home to her family. The manager said she was “talking about what book she was getting and whether or not what she was getting would be too heavy for her to carry around as she traveled.”
- Police searched the hotel to the extent that they legally could. They searched Elisa’s room and had dogs go through the building, including the rooftop, but the canines were unsuccessful in detecting her scent. “But we didn’t search every room,” Sgt. Rudy Lopez said later, “we could only do that if we had probable cause” to believe a crime had been committed.
- On February 6, a week after Elisa had last been seen, the LAPD decided more help was needed. Flyers with her image were posted in the neighborhood and online. It brought the case to the public’s attention through the media.
- On February 15, after another week with no sign of Elisa, the LAPD released a video of the last known sighting of her taken in one of the Cecil’s elevators on February 1. The video drew worldwide interest in the case due to her strange behavior, and has been extensively analyzed and discussed.
- The elevator camera is at one of the back corners and looks down from the ceiling – offering a view of its interior and the hallway outside.
- The footage shows Elisa in what appears to be a distressed state. The video goes on for over 5 minutes. At times, she seems unbalanced. The elevator door wouldn’t close which prompted Elisa to frantically press all of the elevator buttons.
- She would peek into the hall from the open elevator doors and exit and enter the elevator several times. When she was in the elevator she pressed her back against the elevator control panel as if she were hiding from an unseen person in the hall.
- Towards the end of the video, she reenters the hall and makes some strange gestures with her hands before walking off. The door then finally closes.
- While the search for Elisa continued, guests at the hotel began complaining about low water pressure and some said their water was discolored and tasted strange.
- On the morning of February 19, Elisa’s body was found in one of the four 1,000-gallon tanks providing water to guest rooms, a kitchen, and a coffee shop. The tank was drained and cut open since its maintenance hatch was too small to accommodate equipment needed to remove Elisa’s body.
- On February 21, the Los Angeles county coroner’s office issued a finding of accidental drowning, with bipolar disorder as a significant factor. The full coroner’s report stated that Elisa’s body had been found naked and that clothing similar to what she was seen wearing in the elevator was floating in the water, coated with a “sand-like particulate”.
- Her watch and room key were also found with her.
You can read Elisa’s autopsy report here:
- Elisa’s body was moderately decomposed and bloated. It was mostly greenish, with some marbling evident on the abdomen and skin separation evident.
- There was no evidence of physical trauma, sexual assault or suicide.
- Toxicology tests were incomplete because not enough of her blood was preserved. But from what they could tell, there were traces consistent with prescription medication found among her belongings, plus nonprescription drugs such as Sinutab and ibuprofen, and a very small quantity of alcohol (about 0.02 g%) was present. There were no recreational drugs in her system.
Relevant background information on Elisa:
- Elisa had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression. She had been prescribed four medications—Wellbutrin, Lamictal, Seroquel and Effexor.
- According to her family, who supposedly kept her history of mental illness a secret, Elisa had no history of suicidal ideations or attempts, although one report claimed she had previously gone missing for a brief period.
- In a January 2012 blog post, Elisa lamented that a “relapse” at the start of the current school term had forced her to drop several classes, leaving her feeling “so utterly directionless and lost.”
- She titled her post, “You’re always haunted by the idea you’re wasting your life” after a quotation from novelist Chuck Palahniuk. She used that quote as an epigraph for her blog.
- Elisa worried that her transcript would look suspicious with so many withdrawals and that it would result in her being unable to continue her studies and attend graduate school.
You can view Elisa’s blog here.
Theories for Elisa’s case:
- Several theories evolved to explain her actions. One was that Elisa was trying to get the elevator car to move in order to escape from someone who was pursuing her – but, if an unknown killer followed her to the rooftop, that killer managed to evade security cameras as well as hotel staff. Plus, Elisa’s body showed no evidence of trauma or sexual assault.
- Some speculated that Elisa was communicating with an invisible presence in the hall. In light of the hotel’s sinister history, some concluded the presence was a ghost. At times, when Elisa moved her hands, they appeared to bend at the wrist unnaturally. –
- People question how Elisa got to the water tanks at all. Access to the roof meant walking through a locked door and tripping a security alarm, but there were actually 4 routes Elisa could have taken and wouldn’t have set off an alarm if she used one of the fire escapes.
- Others suggested that she might be under the influence of ecstasy or some other party drug, but none was detected in her body.
- When her bipolar disorder became publicly known, the theory that she was having a psychotic episode emerged.
We cannot end this blog without talking about the history of the Cecil Hotel.
The Cecil Hotel was built as a business hotel in the 1920s. The hotel fell on hard times during the Great Depression of the 1930s and never recaptured its original market as downtown decayed around it in the late 20th century.
Due to its close proximity to Skid Row, the hotel was unable to charge higher rates and attracted those who could only afford the cheapest place to stay.
- On top of that, several of Los Angeles’s more notable murders have happened at or have connections to the hotel:
- In 1964, Goldie Osgood, the “Pigeon Lady of Pershing Square,” was raped and murdered in her room at the Cecil, a crime that has never been solved.
- Serial killers Jack Unterweger and Richard Ramirez both resided at the Cecil while active.
- There have also been suicides, one of which also killed a pedestrian outside the front entrance of the hotel.
In 2018 after attending CrimeCon in Nashville, Olivia went to visit the Cecil Hotel and was saddened to find that it was closed for renovation.
The building still remains closed but locals have said there are now signs offering apartments in the complex for rent for $900 per month.