Verbal statement analysis of Chris Watts’ interview footage

Zachary Elwood
3 min readOct 5, 2018

I wrote this piece September 5th 2018, for my poker tells blog, but decided to repost it here. I did this analysis in preparation for an interview of Mark McClish, a former US Marshal who wrote two books on statement analysis, for my “People Who Read People” podcast.

Here’s the video with a few thoughts on it below:

At 2:50 of video:
Watts: “
I want those kids back so bad.”

Slightly interesting that he doesn’t say “my kids”. Sometimes pronouns can tell us that a person is distancing themselves from others, or avoiding taking responsibility. But not that meaningful, in my opinion.

At 3:10 of video:
News guy: “Your second thought is that you’re afraid people think you may have done something.”

Watts: “Yeah, I mean, nothing, nothing — Everybody’s gonna have their own opinion on, on anything like this. I just want them, people to know that I want my family back. Like, I want them safe, and I want them here. Like, this house is not the same. Last night was traumatic. I can’t really stay in this house again, with nobody here and. Last night, I wanted that knock on the door. I wanted to see, I wanted to see those kids run in, run in and just barrel rush me and knock me on the ground.”

Given a clear chance to say, “I had nothing to do with this,” he instead says, “everybody’s gonna have their own opinion on anything like this.” An innocent person would likely want to clearly state, “I don’t care what people think, I had nothing to do with this,” in various ways. He avoids that entirely.

And again, he doesn’t say “my kids”. Doing that twice, and never in the interview referring to them as “my kids” is a bit strange.

Update 9/12/18:

When I did the podcast with Mark McClish, we talked about this interview. I didn’t realize McClish had already written about this on his website. A couple things McClish pointed out in the podcast:

00:07 and 00:29 of video:
Watts says, “I have no inclination to where they’re at right now,” and “I have no idea, like, where they went.” McClish points out that it’s rare for innocent people to literally have “no clue” of what has happened, as people usually have an opinion about everything, and that this is a common pattern for guilty people trying to portray innocence. This makes sense, as you would imagine if you were actually confident that non-scary explanations had been ruled out (as Chris claims here), then you would have a theory about what happened (e.g., they were abducted, or that some other foul play had occurred).

McClish also talks about Chris’s statement (apparently not in this video clip) that his daughter “was going to start kindergarten next Monday.” Past-tense statements about missing people are a common pattern for people who know something about what happened. McClish has quite a few examples of this in his books. Innocent people do not know someone is deceased; therefore they will phrase things in the present tense.

I will say I don’t think this is a great example of the pattern because it’s possible he was thinking that, even if his family came home, that his daughter wouldn’t be starting school that soon, that she/they would need some mental recovery time. So in this case, I think it’s a bad example because the “was” could just be referring to starting school, not to his daughter’s existence.

Also, just one other thing that popped out to me watching this again, was his belaboring of the point that his house was empty. The house being empty is not a difficult concept to understand, but he repeats it in various ways, almost as if he wanted to fill the space and had gotten it in his mind that talking about them being gone and the house being empty were safe, understandable things he could talk about. But I think an innocent person wouldn’t have belabored the obvious so much like that, and would have either had other things to talk about (pleas to get them back, guesses where they were, etc.), or been more silent.

If you liked this, you might enjoy my Roy Moore verbal analysis blog post and my People Who Read People podcast.



Zachary Elwood

Host of psych podcast People Who Read People. My research into online deception featured in NYT, WaPo, more. Wrote poker tells books (translated 8 languages).