‘American Murder: The Family Next Door’ Treats Audiences to a True Murder Mystery


Mikayla Burns

The opening screen at the beginning of the documentary on Netflix.

On Sep. 30 Netflix released a new documentary called ‘American Murder: The Family Next Door’ and it is about an hour and 22 minutes. It is rated TV-MA because it contains explicit language and inappropriate content. The documentary tells the story of the Watts family, who were a family of four soon to be five, and how the wife, Shannan, and two daughters, Bella and Celeste, went missing one day and later were found deceased.

The documentary begins with the day that Shannan and her two daughters were discovered missing. Shannan had recently gotten home from a business trip early in the morning and her friend Nikole tried to get a hold of her to check on her. After failing to get in contact with Shannan, Nikole decides to call the police. When the police arrive at the Watts’ house Chris, Shannan’s husband and father to Bella and Celeste, shows up and they enter the house. When they enter the house they find that nobody is there. But they found Shannan’s belongings, such as her phone, wedding ring, purse and other belongings. They later discover that the daughter’s blankets are not there.

After they found that the daughter’s blankets were gone people started to believe that either Shannan left with the girls or someone took them, but Shannan’s car was still in the garage untouched. After looking further they found out that the next-door neighbor had cameras on the outside of their house which they could see part of the Watts’ driveway. The cameras showed that nobody had come or gone from the house except for Chris when he left for work that morning.

After the story hit the news that Shannan and her daughters were missing, everyone started looking for them and the police brought Chris in to get investigated. During the investigation, Chris was denying any claim that he was the person who took and killed his wife and kids. He later took a polygraph test and the results came back as a clear fail. One of the main questions asked was if Chris was having or had an affair?

A couple of days before Shannan and the girls had gone missing they had recently returned from a long trip to North Carolina to visit Shannan’s family and Chris’ family. During the visit, Chris did not call or text Shannan very much. This set off a red flag for Shannan but she brushed it off. But when Chris arrived to spend time with them in North Carolina, he became very distant towards Shannan.

When Shannan went on her business trip, days before her disappearance, she saw that Chris was making charges to their bank account from weird restaurants and bars. When she confronted him he said he was out with a few buddies, but he was really out with his mistress. Once Shannan got back from her business trip she confronted Chris about it in the morning and he killed her that day.

While interrogating Chris, he admitted to killing his wife Shannan and claimed that Shannan killed the kids. After Shannan supposedly killed the kids Chris then killed Shannan. But as the investigation continued and the true story came out. The police and investigators found that Chris first killed Shannan and then took the two kids and Shannan’s body to the first job sight that Chris was scheduled to visit that day. He first buried Shannan and then put the girls in the oil tank while they were alive. As the trial went on Chris was found guilty of killing Shannan and his two daughters. Chris was charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and is serving five life sentences.

The documentary contained many home videos that were obtained from Shannan’s Facebook page, which gave the film a very personal feel to it. It gives the viewer a personal look into what the family looked like before the murders. Having actual film from Shannan’s facebook also showed that people only post the good things on social media. All of the videos that were shown during the documentary were all happy and sweet videos of the Watts family, they didn’t show any of the bad things in their lives. The film also included real body camera footage from the police and footage from the interrogation with Chris. This also brought a sense of realness to the documentary.

One thing that stuck out was that the story was mainly told to show that Chris was the bad guy and it did not show Chris’s side to the story. The story never really shows how Chris was being treated in the family. Only seeing one side to this story automatically makes us assume that Chris is the only bad guy when really it could have been both sides.

It was kinda confusing only seeing home videos, police video, investigation video and text messages between Shannan and her friends. It would have been nice to have sit down interviews with either police and investigators involved or family and friends who were involved. It would have helped connect more of the ideas present and help show how each part connects to each other.

During the interrogation with Chris, whenever an event was mentioned that took place before Shannan and the girls went missing the documentary would flashback to videos or texts from that event. For example, when they mentioned how Chris had recently been working out the scene would change to be a video that Shannan took of him working out. Having the home videos added in shows how real this family was.

The documentary was set up in a way that it would go day by day. For example, when they were interrogating Chris a title screen would come over and show how many days it had been since Shannan and the kids were missing. It also had this when it was flashing back to events that took place before the day they went missing. Having these added title screens really helps the viewer understand the timeline of the events that took place and how long they took.

Overall this documentary tugged on the viewers heart strings. Mainly when we hear about family murders we do not get a deep look into their life before the tragedy and with this tragedy we see what their life was before everything happened. It showed that they were real people who had real lives.

I would recommend this film to anyone who likes murder mysteries, especially if they are real stories. But I would only recommend it to audiences who feel comfortable with explicit language and inappropriate conflict.