Interested buyers from as far away as Germany are calling every week to inquire about the Colorado home where convicted murderer Chris Watts and his wife, Shanann, built their life – before he killed the pregnant mother and their two young daughters, one local attorney tells The Independent.
“It’s hard for me to say what it’s about,” says bankruptcy lawyer Clark Dray. “Some of it is morbid curiosity; some of it is just people having a hard time getting a home in this market – and they’ll do whatever it takes.”
As of now, the home – in a quiet subdivision a half-hour north of Denver – remains in legal limbo. And as potential buyers clamour to move onto the street, residents of the neighbourhood are fed up with the attention.
Some have already sold and left.
“We’re sick of it,” says one neighbor, who only moved in after the infamous 2018 murders.
Another, who’d lived there at the time, says that certain neighbours innocently gave interviews about the case – and were subsequently “hounded,” forcing them to flee. Others are fed up with tragedy tourists constantly driving by and stopping to take pictures; not only is the empty Watts home padlocked and peppered with signs warning that police will be called, but nearby neighbours have also posted similar warnings on their doors or properties.
Watts – who is serving life in a Wisconsin prison after pleading guilty to murdering his family – is still the named owner of the house, according to property records. But his wife’s parents settled a $6m wrongful death suit with him in 2019, prompting a lien to be applied to the Frederick, Colorado house - meaning that proceeds from any sale would be turned over to them. The neighbourhood homeowners’ association also has a lien on the property, which was unsuccessfully put up for auction by the bank last year.
“They started to foreclose, but then they realised – this is me interpreting what they’re doing – they thought this lien was on there and they thought, ‘We don’t want this,’” Mr Dray tells The Independent, describing “HOA maintenance and everything else and also keeping squatters out.
“If they foreclosed, they’d be stuck on this dramatically underwater property.”
He was not personally involved with the Watts case but, after being quoted about bankruptcy and foreclosure processes in connection with the house, found himself constantly fielding phone calls from interested parties. He’s even had to write a memo to his staff explaining why they were getting so many calls, he tells The Independent.
Watts and Shanann bought the newly constructed home in 2013 for just under $400,000; it’s now valued at almost double. The 4,200 square foot house includes five bedrooms and four bathrooms, just around the corner from the local school, playground and, sadly, a monument to drilling. Frederick is dotted with oil wells and Watts not only worked for Anadarko Petroleum but also buried his wife in a shallow grave on the site, stashing his tiny daughters’ bodies in oil tanks.
Watts, who turns 37 next month, killed his wife in August 2018 during a fight when he told her he’d been having an affair and wanted a divorce. After strangling Shanann - who was pregnant with a son they’d named Nico - he smothered daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3.
The oil worker initially tried to pin the girls’ murders on Shanann before confessing to killing his entire family. Shannan’s parents, Sandra and Franklin Rzucek, filed the suit against their son-in-law on the same day he pleaded guilty.
It’s unlikely they’ll see anything close to the $6m, if they even get a dime - though they knew that going in, their lawyer said following the civil suit.
“It’s fairly obvious that Chris Watts doesn’t have money,” Steven Lambert said in 2018. “He’s not OJ Simpson. We’re not going to collect millions out of him.”
Mr Lambert did not immediately return a call for comment from The Independent. But when the suit was filed, he said the family’s goal was to avoid Watts profiting from the brutal murders.
“Just in case 20 years down the line from now he decides to write a book, we could come for that money,” he said.
According to the suit, Shanann’s parents were unable to eat, sleep or even leave the house following the murders - especially after Watts’ initial claims that his wife had killed their daughters sparked conspiracy theories and harassment.
“As Sandy Rzucek puts it, she feels like she dies every day and is always missing and crying for her precious family,” lawsuit filings explained. “Even to this day, it is hard for the Rzucek family to get out of bed, they cry all the time, every day and every night.”
Watts has not written a book, but television specials and the murders’ shocking callousness have kept the case at the forefront of public consciousness - particularly the Netflix documentary American Murder: The Family Next Door, which premiered in 2020.
In it, Watts is pictured pleading for his family to come home before eventually breaking down and confessing to killing them. The details that emerged about how, exactly, he killed all three were hard to digest; the girls watched Watts load his dead wife’s body, wrapped in a sheet, into the car before strapping them in.
Then Bella - old enough at four to realise that something was significantly wrong - watched Watts smother Celeste. She asked him if the same thing would happen to her and, as he killed her, fought back, shouting, “Daddy, no.”
All of those harrowing details were relayed by Watts himself.
As true crime documentaries chronicled the horror, one neighbour went viral when it was revealed he had shown damning security footage to authorities - and seemingly been the first person to flag that Watts was acting suspicious.
According to records, the home of that neighbour, Nathan Trinastich, was sold last year. He could not be reached by The Independent.
Watts, meanwhile, is serving life in Wisconsin for murder and body tampering. Looky-loos keep driving by and even attempting to break in to the family home; anyone approaching the property is warned by multiple signs that police will be called. They’re also warned not to leave anything; one neighbour tells The Independent that the house had been overrun since the murder by people leaving everything from flowers to, inexplicably, food.
“I get calls once a week from people who want to buy that house - calls from people in Germany and people here locally,” says Mr Dray, who has several offices in the wider Denver area.
“People want to buy it, but it can’t be bought ... it’s not on the market.”