An October 8 2020 Daily Mail article headlined “Man claims there is a ‘GHOST’ of a little girl in new Netflix documentary about family killer Chris Watts, insisting he can see the spirit in the background of police bodycam footage” reiterated social media rumors that followed the release of Netflix’s American Murder: The Family Next Door:
Arthur Cant posted a one-minute video of the moment on YouTube, claiming it was the ghost of one of Chris and Shanann’s daughters.
‘In this clip you can see in the left corner you can clearly see a little girl,’ he wrote in the caption, later commenting: ‘You can start seeing stuff around the 0:33 mark.’
The footage shows Chris inside his home with several police officers as well as Shanann’s friend Nickole Atkinson and her son, who were the first to report the mother of two missing.
The focus is Shanann’s cellphone, which had just been found turned off inside the home, but one officer’s bodycam catches a child playing in one of the bedrooms.
‘WTF legit looks like a kid,’ one viewer commented.
Background and Social Media Iterations
American Murder: The Family Next Door premiered on Netflix on September 30 2020, with rumors of an unidentified child in police body cam footage following shortly thereafter. Variations on the rumor also appeared on TikTok, where users shared the portion of footage described:
@ayyseebs Part 2 the other “one” Im not agreeing it’s a ghost girl. I’m just giving you what you want…. ##americanmurderghost ##americanmurderthefamilynextdoor♬ original sound – A Sieber
@swit.rslyn a clip taken from the documentary film “American Murder” ##ghost ##scary ##netflix ##ghostgirl ##americanmurder ##americanmurderstory ##americanmurderghost♬ Halloween – Scary Piano Sound Effect – Hollywood Sound Effects
in this documentary about chris watts & him killing his wife shannan & their two daughters bella & celeste. you can CLEARLY see a ghost of a little girl in her room on an officers body cam. i’m shook.
— emmanuel (@MannyBronner) October 6, 2020
seen a tiktok of the Watts daughters ghosts in the fucking documentary on Netflix and I can’t stop thinking about it.
— 𝔣𝔲𝔠𝔨 𝔱𝔥𝔢 𝔭𝔬𝔩𝔦𝔠𝔢 (@madisunemily) October 9, 2020
Blog posts and articles about the clip typically referenced an October 6 2020 YouTube video uploaded by user Arthur Cant titled “Ghost of Daughter — American Murder: The Family Next Door.” Posts often referenced the 0:33 mark of the one-minute long video, and in his description, Cant wrote:
This is from the Netlflix series American Murder: The family Next door. This is captured directly from Netflix around the 6:57 mark into the film. In this clip you can see in the left corner you can clearly see a little girl.
In this clip the man in the gray T-shift Chris Watts, is the father of the missing girls Bella (4 years old) and Celeste (3 years old).
Cant mentioned that timestamp in a comment on his own video:
You can start seeing stuff around the 0:33 mark
This is what viewers saw in the viral video (directly under the “8” in closed captions):
Unsurprisingly, Cant’s video was not the first internet rumor about paranormal activity in the Watts home after the 2018 murders. A June 2019 post to Reddit’s r/ChrisWatts referenced unrelated claims of ghostly voices (electronic voice phenomena, or EVPs) and apparitions caught on video during initial investigations:
Watts ‘Ghost’ Footage: Context and the Early Involvement of Nickole Atkinson
As Cant indicated, the clip he shared to YouTube appeared very early in the documentary, starting at 6:57.
Police body cam footage appeared for several minutes at that portion of the film, as police responded to a request for a welfare check requested by Shannan Watts’ friend Nickole Atkinson:
Nickole Atkinson, Shanann Watts’ close friend and co-worker, was the one who figured out that Shanann and her daughters were missing. At around 2 a.m. on August 13, 2018, she dropped Shannan off at her Frederick, Colorado, home following a weekend business trip they had taken to Arizona. But, just a few hours later, when Nickole tried to get in touch with her friend, she couldn’t get ahold of her. And, after Shanann missed an important ob-gyn appointment set for 9 a.m., she grew seriously worried. Nickole decided to take matters into her own hands and visit her home to see if everything was okay, and when she saw no sign of anyone, she called Shanann’s husband, Chris, her parents, and also the police.
After American Murder aired, Atkinson was widely hailed as instrumental in ensuring that the murder of her friend and friend’s daughters was solved promptly. An October 6 2020 Facebook post describing Atkinson as the “real MVP” of the investigation was shared nearly 300,000 times in three days:
Text above a still image of the body cam footage read:
The MVP of #AmericanMurder. [Nickole Atkinson] knew something was wrong within a few hours. She is the reason Chris Watts didn’t have a window of time to do ANYTHING.
In an appended status update, the poster wrote:
[Nickole Atkinson] knew something was wrong! She called the police & Shanann’s mom! She said my friend ain’t answering my calls! She said she always answers my calls! She dropped Shanann off at 2 in the morning & less than 7 hours later she knew something was wrong with her friend! She said my friend wouldn’t go anywhere without her kid’s car seats! She said my friend wouldn’t go anywhere without her medication! Chris Watts might have planned the murder of his wife & kids but one thing he didn’t plan on was his wife having A LOYAL ASS FRIEND who knew his wife better than he did! Girls get you a Nickole Atkinson!
Nickole Atkinson and the ‘Ghost Footage’
Atkinson’s call to police the morning Watts disappeared led to the body cam footage seen in the first few minutes of American Murder.
However, that footage was truncated and not shown in full. A video uploaded to YouTube in January 2019 showed raw footage with timestamps.
Just after 23:18 in the unedited body camera footage — not condensed for the Netflix film — a man at the Watts’ house can be heard saying “she’s in the playroom.” Atkinson then walked to the playroom, but the child is largely off-screen.
Although a number of outlets covered the Watts house “ghost” rumor after it went viral, none seemed to look at Atkinson’s Facebook page. On it, the “mystery” was solved conclusively:
In that October 6 2020 post (archived), Atkinson wrote:
For the love God people. It’s not a ghost. It is my daughter Madison. She was with me that day!
An October 6 2020 viral video titled “Ghost of Daughter — American Murder: The Family Next Door” prompted blog posts and tabloid articles, speculating on whether body cam footage after Atkinson called police revealed the presence of a ghost of one of Watts’ daughters. On the same day the video was published by Cant, Atkinson explained that the “apparition” was not a ghost — it was her daughter Madison. Clearer footage of Madison playing in the Watts girls’ playroom can be seen in hours-long extended body cam footage, but the concise version in the Netflix documentary made her presence less of a focal point, prompting unfounded rumors about paranormal activity.