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Cherlyn Cadle didn’t know what to expect when she received a letter from Chris Watts.
The author spoke out in Lifetime’s new docuseries titled “Cellmate Secrets,” which explores famous true-crime cases from the perspective of former friends, prison guards, cellmates and lovers. Narrated by Angie Harmon, Friday’s episode focuses on the Watts family murders, which took place in 2018.
The show features new interviews with Cadle, who went on to become Watts’ prison pen-pal, along with cellmate Dylan Tallman and others associated with the case.
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Chris Watts was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his pregnant wife and daughters.
( Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
“When I saw his first interview, I don’t know, I looked at him that morning and I just felt something really spoke to me,” the married grandmother of 12 told Fox News. “It was like a calling for me to contact him and see if he would share his story with me. I knew he was guilty. You could tell by the way he was talking, the body language. But it was just one of those things where I really felt like I was supposed to do it.”
The suburban Denver crime began with the disappearance of a pregnant Shanann Watts and the couple’s two children, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3. Despite her husband making televised pleas for their safe return, he was arrested within days. In exchange for pleading guilty, prosecutors agreed not to pursue the death penalty. Watts, now 36, didn’t provide a full account at the time on the killings or his motives.
Cadle said that Watts replied to her third letter at the beginning of 2019.
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Lifetime’s docuseries ‘Cellmates Secrets’ is narrated by Angie Harmon.
“He was receptive from the very beginning,” she recalled. “He said that God told him to respond. I think because I was a mother and grandmother, he didn’t feel any kind of threat. He was already getting a lot of fan mail from women who were sending him pictures of themselves in bikinis and saying they loved him. I told him I simply wanted to talk to him.”
“He also wanted to take the opportunity to clear Shanann’s name because people were still blaming her for killing the girls,” Cadle continued. “He said he felt bad about that. He also felt hurt for being called a monster. He wrote, ‘I have a really hard time hearing that about myself because I’m really not a monster.’ He also knew that I practiced a Christian religion. I told him I’m not his judge.”
Watts previously told police he killed his wife after she strangled their daughters. He then acknowledged in an interview that was a lie and he was solely responsible for the killings. Watts said detectives were the first to mention that Shanann may have killed their children and he “just went with it.”
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Cheryln Cadle has written two books based on her correspondence with Chris Watts.
According to Watts, after he told Shanann their marriage was over, she said he would then never see their children again. His wife correctly suspected that he was having an affair, but Watts did not tell her about his ongoing relationship with a co-worker before strangling her in their bed.
Authorities speculated that Watts wanted a fresh start with his mistress. He told investigators that the woman “never asked him to get rid of his family” but their relationship may have “contributed” to his actions.
Cadle said that after exchanging several lengthy letters and speaking to him on the phone several times a week, it didn’t take long for her to meet him in prison. Cadle was stunned by what she witnessed.
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Chris and Shanann Watts with their daughters.
“I hate to even admit this because he is a murderer and what he did is so horrendous, but when I first met him, he had this boyish demeanor,” she said. “He was gentle, soft-spoken and just appeared as a nice guy. And he remained that way throughout our communications. That changed when he started talking about the murders.”
Watts told investigators that after he strangled Shanann, Bella came into their bedroom clutching a blanket. When she asked what was wrong with her mother, Watts replied Shanann wasn’t feeling well. Their daughter continued watching as Watts wrapped the body in a bedsheet and began crying when he pulled it down the stairs of their home. Watts put Shanann’s body on the floor of his truck’s backseat. When he went back inside the home, Celeste was also awake.
Watts said he put the girls into the backseat of the truck, where they occasionally napped on each other’s laps as he drove. Each child had a blanket and Celeste brought a stuffed animal. While Watts claimed he had no plan for his daughters, he drove to an oil work site where he worked as an operator for an oil and gas producer. He told police he pulled Shanann’s body from the truck as the girls asked, “What are you doing to mommy?” Watts then went back to the truck and used Celeste’s blanket to smother her as Bella watched beside her sister.
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The body of Shanann Watts, 34, was found in a shallow grave near an oil tank on property owned by the oil and gas company where her husband had worked.
(Colorado Bureau of Investigation)
Watts then put Celeste’s body inside an oil tank before returning to the truck and smothering Bella using the same blanket. He told police that the child’s last words were “Daddy, no!” as she struggled under the blanket. He then put her body inside another oil tank and buried Shanann’s body nearby.
Cadle said Watts told her she would be receiving “a very important letter,” one that was about 12 pages. And its contents horrified her.
“I just broke down and started bawling,” she admitted. “I cried and cried. I just couldn’t believe what he did to those girls… It was a real shock to read his letter. I knew in my heart right then and there that this was the real and true confession. He said it was planned right away. It was premeditated. And he wanted to clear the slate. He wanted to start over. He didn’t want to bring any baggage into the new relationship. And there was a good-sized insurance policy… It changed everything for me.”
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Cheryln Cadle has written two books based on her letters from Chris Watts.
(Weld County Sheriff’s Office)
“Christopher did not snap,” she continued. “He planned the murders… [his affair] had such a hold on him… He was so obsessed with her. She never asked him to kill his family, I do want to make that clear. I believe there was something already inside of him. He told me he would daydream about killing Shanann. She would be yelling at him or be upset about something and he wouldn’t fight back, but he would just stand there and just daydream about what it would be like to kill her.”
And at one point, Cadle claimed Watts made the unthinkable request during one of their phone calls.
“My family and I were at a pizza place,” she said. “When he called, I stepped outside to talk to him and he was telling me how he believed that someday, he would be out of prison. He knew I had a granddaughter the same age as ‘Cece.’ He then said, ‘If I was out of prison, would you allow me to watch your granddaughter?’ I couldn’t believe what he had just told me. I said, ‘Christopher, you really have to be kidding me. There is no way you would ever be with my granddaughter.’ He said, ’People will realize that I will never do anything like this again.’ I was just blown away by that question.”
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Nichol Kessinger said Chris Watts told her he was finishing up divorce proceedings with his wife and that a month into their relationship he told her the divorce was final. She reportedly changed her name and disappeared from the public eye after Watts was charged.
(Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
After publishing two books based on their letters, Cadle doesn’t believe she’ll hear from Watts again.
“I think he realized he couldn’t control the narrative,” she said.
Watts insisted to investigators he didn’t plan to kill his wife or children. He told them that he pleaded guilty to avoid a lengthy trial playing out before family and didn’t feel pressured by his attorneys to make an agreement with prosecutors.
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According to court documents released Shanann Watts’ body was found in a shallow grave near this oil tank on August 21, 2018, near Roggen, Colorado. Both of her daughter’s bodies, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste, were submerged for days in the same oil tanks in rural eastern Colorado, prosecutors said.
(Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
According to Watts, he read the Bible for the first time in prison and he writes down scriptures daily for his parents. He also keeps photos of his wife and daughters in his cell and talks to them “every morning and every night.”
As for Cadle, she said the letters still haunt her.
“There is no doubt in my mind he is guilty,” she said. “And he didn’t have help from anyone. It was just him. He did this and he did it alone. No one wants to think that a nice guy, who could be your husband, would do such horrific things. But this was brewing inside of him.”
"Cellmate Secrets: Chris Watts" will air on Friday, June 25 at 10 p.m. ET following the enhanced encore of the original Lifetime movie "Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer." The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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