The Perfect Father by John Glatt (St. Martin’s Press, 2020)
John Glatt, a New York Times best-selling author, has penned a new book about a crime that shocked our nation with its haunting details. The Perfect Father served as the foundation for the original t.v. show, American Murder:The Family Next Door, which is streaming currently on Netflix. As a journalist, Glatt is familiar with digging into the puzzle of a crime and then putting together the jagged pieces to create the whole of a story that never seems to make sense.
Glatt is straightforward in presenting the timeline and details of the crime; nothing is withheld from the reader early in the story. The mystery of the book is not to reveal “whodunnit,” but to try to understand the why of the crime.
Reminiscent of the Laci Peterson case, in which an adorable, pregnant wife was murdered by her husband, Scott, just days before their son, Connor, was due to be born, Chris Glatt’s motive for obliterating his family, was so that he could marry his new love, Nikki Kessenger, one of his co-workers. Scott Peterson had killed Laci under the assumption that once he was free of her, he would start a new life with his girlfriend, Amber Frey, just as Glatt dreamt of doing with Nikki. Neither girlfriend had been aware of the plans of their newly devoted partner, and readily testified in court about their relationships with cheating husbands.
What is particularly gruesome about The Perfect Father is that the perpetrator of the killings of a beautiful, devoted wife, Shanann Watts, turns out to be her seemingly mild-mannered husband, Chris Watts. Adding to the horror of the crime is the fact that Shanann was pregnant with the couple’s first son, whom they had planned to name Nico. But, not only did Watts strangle his wife, he smothered his two little girls, Bella (4 years old) and Celeste (3 years old), and dumped their bodies into the mammoth oil tanks on the property of the company for which he worked. The coldness with which he murdered his daughters and disposed of their little bodies is unfathomable.
Growing up, Watts had been unassuming and quiet, while Shanann had overcome her adolescent shyness and become a bubbly extrovert. Shanann knew the meaning of hard work to get what she wanted out of life, and by her early 20s had saved enough money to purchase a large home worth $300,000.
However, once Chris and Shanann were married, they enjoyed a lifestyle far above their means, forcing them into bankruptcy in 2015. Not one to stay down for long, Shanann signed on as a promoter for a life-style supplement company called Thrive. Due to her spectacular drive, Shanann rose rapidly through the ranks of the company, making new friends, developing a powerful social media life-line, and making lots of money.
At that time, Chris had been overweight and fairly lethargic. He began to take the Thrive supplements which his wife sold, watch his diet, and exercise. In a short time he raved that his energy level had risen significantly, and his body was transformed into that of a young stud. Shanann’s success in the company allowed them to live the kind of lifestyle that had put them into debt before. They were able to travel, drive hot cars (Shanann had a Lexus and Chris drove a classic Mustang). Shanann became busier than ever, continuing to recruit members for her growing team, traveling the country, continuing to be a wonderful wife and mother. She was living the dream and posting frequently on social media about how idyllic her life was.
However, not everything was rosy in the Watts family; Chris and Shanann had a rocky relationship with Chris’s parents and siblings. From the beginning of their marriage, Shanann continually drove a wedge between Chris and his close relatives, isolating him from a support system that he needed as a positive outlet for his issues. Her new life and success in Thrive left Chris alone for many hours, and with his sleek, recontoured body, he apparently sought adoration outside the marriage since he could not get it from his family.
The real mystery arises when one sees pictures of Nikki Kessenger, which are included in Glatt’s book, as well as the Netflix film. Nikki was a pretty lady, but one who looked uncannily like Shanann. Herein lies the quandary of the crime; what would drive a man to erase his family only to start again with another woman? In no way can a murder like this make sense, and yet, it happens over and over again.
The investigators who worked on the case suffered profoundly after the case was solved. Lead Detective Dave Bauhover began suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was compelled to take a leave from the police force. Weld County DA, Michael Rourke, has recurring nightmares about oil tanks. Every time he drives past oil fields, he remembers the details of what Watts did to his babies. “I see those little girls,” Rourke states, “their faces. And their names. And then every time I think about them, the next thought in my mind is about my own daughter. This changed all of us.”
Not only did Watts’ act destroy law enforcers, it ruined the lives of all of his family as well as Shanann’s. Although Watts agreed to pay the Rzucek family millions of dollars, the likelihood that they will ever receive a penny is unlikely. In a motion to the court filed by Shanann’s family, their attorney wrote, “The Rzucek family has not been the same since August 13, 2018. They have suffered with anger, loneliness, sadness, and depression. Following the discovery of their daughter and grandchildren’s murders, they were unable to work, leave the house, or even eat.”
As disturbing a book as The Perfect Father is, the read is compelling and forces the reader to contemplate the unspeakable acts that seemingly normal and happy people commit. Glatt is the author of more than 25 books and has over 30 years of experience as an investigative journalist. Other works of his include The Lost Girls and My Sweet Angels.