On October 8 2020, Netflix’s American Murder documentary was popular enough that it generated a whole slew of viral claims. Among them was a Facebook rumor that subject Chris Watts received a flood of new “fan mail” (including money) in prison — owing entirely to interest generated by the new film:
Talk about crazy, since the Netflix love letters have been pouring for Chris Watts, including marriage proposals and money added to his books. #americanmurder
American Murder: The Family Next Door began streaming on Netflix on September 30 2020, a little more than a week before Baxter’s post appeared on Facebook.
By October 1 2020, the Watts murders documentary was in Netflix’s top spot — and as of October 19 2020, had already led to two separate viral rumors about its content and the aftermath of the killings. One popular rumor involved a purported “ghost” spotted in the first few moments of the film:
Nickole Atkinson, Shannan Watts’ friend seen at the start of American Murder, confirmed that the “ghost” in that scene was in fact her daughter Madison. A second rumor was slightly more accurate; it revolved around an eerie coincidence (also from the beginning of the film) in which neighbor Nate Trinastich shares his Ring doorbell footage with police and Watts, then switches to broadcast television after displaying the recordings. Immediately after that, a series of disturbingly relevant images including a fetus, a skull, and a pool of oil appeared on the screen — clearly making Watts uncomfortable:
It made sense that both rumors followed on the heels of American Murder, as Netflix viewers were watching the documentary en masse for the first time and observing its details.
The third rumor about Netflix driving fan mail and money to Watts was less intuitive; it was shared on October 8 2020 and heavily implied that Watts was receiving love letters and money thanks to the attention generated by the documentary.
Fan Mail for Chris Watts, and Prolific Murderers in General
Claims about Chris Watts receiving fan mail came before the documentary appeared, although the source of such claims was almost always a tabloid, or at least tabloid-adjacent:
— Nancy Grace (@NancyGrace) December 3, 2018
That tweet was published in December 2018, well before American Murder came to Netflix. In January 2019, a poster on r/ChrisWatts asked about writing to Watts in general (not as a fan), and a user on r/TrueCrime subsequently addressed the matter of Watts’ fan mail.
Both of the Reddit posts above linked to a Daily Mail item about Watts and his correspondence on December 19 2018. However, “DOZENS” in the headline led to a very specific number — “close to sixty.” The article did not specify how many of the sixty mail pieces were “fan mail,” and how many were the opposite:
In just a few weeks in prison, Chris Watts received close to 60 letters from complete strangers that expressed both love and hatred for the murderer.
A majority of the letters were from women, and many of these included photos that the sender purported to be of them as well as promises to send more images or add money to Watts’ commissary account.
Other letters, which were obtained by DailyMail.com after filing a request under the Colorado Open Records Act, were from individuals wishing death on Watts, and expressing a desire that he be both physically and sexually assaulted behind bars.
“Greetings from New York, Chris!” a Brooklyn-based woman wrote to Christopher Watts on Aug. 23 , days after he admitted to murdering his pregnant wife and young daughters, loading the bodies into his truck and dumping them at an oil work site.
“I found myself thinking a lot about you,” Tatiana confessed to the now-convicted killer, “I figured life is too short to hold back … so here I am!”
The 29-year-old enclosed a bikini-clad photo of herself on a beach. “So you can place a face to the words. I know what you look like so I thought I’d make it fair,” she flirted. “I hope I’ve put a smile on your face.”
Candace, a 39-year-old mother of two, wrote multiple times; her second letter ended with #TEAMCHRIS #LOVEHIM and a doodled heart. “I’ve been watching your interview and I just became attracted to you (don’t ask me why),” she said in one missive, adding that if he wrote back she would “be the happiest girl alive.”
Another woman named Christan began by “addressing the elephant in the room. No, I’m not a creeper or crazy.” She was drawn to Watts when she watched him take a deep breath as the judge read out his murder charges.
However, the article explained that Watts was not the first (nor likely the last) individual charged with or convicted of a high-profile crime to receive fan mail; it further explored what might drive a relatively small number of people to seek out perpetrators of vicious acts:
How a woman could fall for a man jailed for killing his family might seem perplexing, but this decades-old phenomenon is far from unusual. Front-page offenders — like Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson and the Menendez brothers — have also been pursued behind bars by countless women.
“It’s a way of flirting with danger while risking nothing,” said Pier, who has worked with felons. “The women writing killers are often victims of abuse and gravitate toward aggressors. Getting involved with a man behind bars puts them in positions of control. These women will most likely never have the chance to meet the man they’re pursuing. And if they did, they’d be protected by the prison system.”
In part, [author Sheila Isenberg] said, the women who write to killers like Watts want to be famous and well-known also. It is more a case of “Hey I want to be famous; pick me … It makes domestic murderers like Watts public figures. They become notorious,” said Isenberg, who is working on a follow-up book, “More Women Who Love Men Who Kill.”
Did American Murder Create a Spike in Fan Mail to Chris Watts?
It is well established that high-profile cases, particularly those with a following in true crime circles, attract correspondence — some flirtatious, some angry.
Baxter’s October 8 2020 Facebook post claimed that the Netflix film drove “fans” to send Watts mail and money, but it didn’t cite any sources. On October 6 2020, People magazine published an article about Watts, Netflix, and fan mail. People ascribed the claims to an unspecified, anonymous “source,” reporting:
Chris Watts, the man who murdered his pregnant wife and two daughters, has found a way to pass the time as he spends his days in prison: He is corresponding with multiple women, PEOPLE confirms.
“He got a lot of letters at first,” says a source who has spoken with Watts in jail. “Many of them are from women who thought he was handsome and felt compassion for him. He had nothing better to do, so he wrote them back. And he started having penpals. A couple of them stood out, and they’ve kept in contact.”
The insider says that Watts has already received more mail in the past few days [between September 30 and October 6 2020] since the release of a new Netflix documentary about his infamous case. The documentary, entitled American Murder: The Family NextDoor, began streaming on Netflix on September 30 .
While the source would not clarify how many letters he has received in the past week, it has been “more than 10.”
“Some of the letters are angry,” the source says. “A lot of them are from people of faith who want to pray for him. But then he gets letters from women who want to connect with him, you know, romantically. He responds because he doesn’t have anything better to do.”
Not only were the claims unverifiable and the source for them unidentified, the same individual did not specify the amount of mail received by Watts. People only said it was “more than ten” pieces of mail, and that some of the letters were “angry.” Others were from religious people offering their prayers to Watts, leaving a handful from admirers.
People‘s “more than ten” letters was far fewer than the Daily Mail‘s “close to 60” letters, although it seemed in both reports, the outlet obfuscated numbers and essentially fluffed them to make it sound like throngs of unstable people (mostly women) were deluging Watts in love letters. In actuality, both reports were not only nebulous, but included information about hate mail and offers to pray for Watts. And neither article provided any sort of ratio for hate mail to fan mail.
An October 8 2020 Facebook post included a photograph of Watts, and a claim that “since the Netflix [documentary aired,] love letters have been pouring for Chris Watts, including marriage proposals and money added to his books.” Two days prior, People magazine cited an unnamed source’s claims Chris Watts received “more than ten” letters since American Murder: The Family Next Door began streaming — some of which were decidedly not “fan mail,” and some from “people of faith.” It was the only report we found about Watts’ post-Netflix mail, and nowhere did it mention money or “marriage proposals.”