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Colorado home where Chris Watts killed his family sits abandoned in legal limbo

Posted at 8:50 AM, Nov 25, 2020

FREDERICK, Colo. — When Chris Watts murdered his wife, his two daughters and unborn child in August 2018, it captured headlines around the world.

Two years later, the Watts home still sits vacant.

Driving by, it looks like the all-American home — two stories, five bedrooms and more than 4,000 square feet in the cookie-cutter suburbs of northern Colorado. But when buyers realize what happened inside, everything changes.

"There's no mystery about what happened there. The neighborhood knows what happened there. Potential buyers know what happened there," Denver-based bankruptcy attorney Clark Dray said.

Chris Watts strangled his wife, Shanann, inside their home after an early-morning fight. Watts told her he was having an affair with a co-worker and wanted out of the marriage. That same morning, Watts smothered his two daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3. He then tried to cover up the murders by placing his wife's body in a shallow grave and his daughters in crude oil tanks on the property where Chris worked.

As Watts lied to investigators, he also went before news cameras begging for his family to return. He later confessed to police after failing a polygraph test.

Watts is now serving multiple life sentences in prison.

Interest in the murder home

The fate of 2825 Saratoga Trail, where the family lived, currently sits in legal limbo.

"It's a beautiful home. I would hate to see them just take it down," said a next-door neighbor who asked not to be identified.

Neighbors are scarred by what happened. In fact, all the neighbors interviewed said they did not want to be identified. They all said they didn't want to bring any more attention to themselves or the neighborhood.

"For the neighborhood, it's just kind of difficult," the next-door neighbor said.

She said a recent Netflix documentary about the murders — "American Murder: The Family Next Door" — has spurred new interest in the home, and not the kind anyone in the neighborhood wants.

"Literally hundreds of cars have come by. They're curious; they've been coming from out of state," the next-door neighbor said.

The area has seen so much activity since the documentary aired that neighbors put up "no trespassing" signs out front of the Watts house and are urging people not to leave any more memorials on the front porch.

"I totally understand everyone's interest in the home. I just would ask that people just be respectful because you are coming into the neighborhood of, you know, other people that live here," the next-door neighbor said.

She said cars speed in out of the neighborhood to see the home often, and she worries about the safety of children playing.

"People come late at night," she said.

Home is deteriorating

Currently, the grass outside the Watts house is dead, and vacancy notes are plastered to the door.

Around back, memories of the family home are frozen in time. The girls' swing set blows in the wind, and a stuffed animal lies in the grass.

"There's a fascination with it," said the next-door neighbor.

"It would be a great home for a traditional family," Dray said.

But Dray, the Denver-based bankruptcy attorney, said it's very difficult for a buyer to overcome the stigma associated with the home.

"At this point in time, there's no financial incentive to anyone involved to pursue this home," he said.

Shortly after the murders, the lender that owns the mortgage foreclosed on it and put the house up for auction. But nobody wanted it, so Weld County took it out of foreclosure.

"It's a strategic decision that the bank has made — 'this doesn't have to be our problem. We're OK not getting paid on this property for the foreseeable future,'" Dray said.

Real estate appraiser says price is 'way too high'

The couple bought the home brand new for $399,954 in 2013, and according to Zillow, it's now valued at close to $600,000. Real estate appraiser Orell Anderson said the price is way off-base.

"It's way too high — as if this never occurred," he said. "I think that the property has been mismanaged."

Anderson said for the home to sell, it needs to be discounted heavily. He believes they should cut the price by at least 40%.

"You see a pattern that tells you that when there are children involved in the murder, the discounts go higher," Anderson said.

On top of that, Anderson said the seller needs to make the house look different. He suggests repainting it, changing the addresses or adding new plants — anything to wipe away the memories that are kept alive through photographs and videos of the home in the media.

"That's been exacerbated because it's been vacant for so long," he said.

Several creditors have also placed liens on the home; the largest is from Shanann's parents. They placed a $6 million dollar lien on the house after they won a wrongful death suit against Watts.

"That would make it very difficult to sell the home at a reasonable price," Dray said.

He said for a sale to make sense, a potential buyer would have to make a deal with the lien holders and have enough money to cover the original mortgage.

Neighbors have mixed opinions on what should happen

Michelle Pate lives near the Watts home and says she would like to see it torn down.

"Who would want to start their life in that house?" she said. "I don't understand why they haven't just knocked it down and maybe made a little park out of it or something."

Meanwhile, next-door neighbors said they are hoping for new energy and a new beginning for the home with a story that shocked the world.

"Once enough time has gone by, I think probably another family will move in," the neighbor said.

This story was originally published by Jennifer Kovaleski on KMGH in Denver.