The Messed Up Truth About Casey Anthony

In 2011, the United States was gripped by the salacious court case surrounding Caylee Anthony's tragic death. Her pretty, young Florida mother, Casey Anthony, stood accused of murdering her doe-eyed toddler. Her defense became increasingly outlandish, and as far as the general public was concerned, Casey Anthony was a cold-blooded killer, sacrificing her child so that she could seize back the party girl life that was taken from her when she became a mother before she was 20. Those following the trial were simply waiting for Casey to be convicted and put on death row.

The full story wasn't that simple, though. It involved a series of car accidents, a reeking trunk, a reality TV bounty hunter, an allegedly shady meter reader, and even a member of the El Chapo gang. Casey, too, was not the caricature Myspace and Twitter told us. Here's the messed up truth about Casey Anthony.

The death of Caylee Anthony

In December 2008, two-and-a-half-year-old Caylee Anthony's body was found in a plastic bag in the trees between two houses in an Orlando suburb, less than half a mile from her grandparents' home. There was duct tape on or near her face, on which was the adhesive of a heart sticker, according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal. By the time Caylee was officially found — which was half a year after the last person had seen her alive and four months after someone called the tip line to say that they had found her body — her remains had substantially decomposed, greatly reducing the amount of evidence investigators could find. Near her body was a Gatorade bottle containing chloroform, according to Criminal Brief.

Reuters reported that when Caylee's grandfather, George Anthony, had picked up Casey's car from an impound lot, he noted an overwhelming odor of decay in the trunk. Having spent decades as a police detective, he recognized what this meant. The impound lot owner and later the police, smelling the trunk and seeing the stain in there the size of a small body, made some unsavory assumptions.

Who is Casey Anthony?

According to the book "Presumed Guilty" by her attorney Jose Baez, though Casey Anthony depended on her parents to take on most of the work of caring for Caylee — and despite her supposed job at Universal Studios — Cindy Anthony accused her daughter of stealing money from them.

Caylee's paternity is an open question, according to International Business Times. Casey said it was a man named Eric Baker, who had died in a car accident, or another man, Jesus Ortiz — who also died in a car accident. CNN was unable to confirm that Baker had any connection to Anthony. She had dated Ortiz briefly, but his family never heard her claim, according to People. A woman named Donna Maclean claimed that her son, Michael Duggan, who also died in a car accident, was Caylee's father. Jesse Grund, Casey's fiancé and the man who had acted as Caylee's de facto father, was eliminated by a paternity test.

Casey had told friends that she wanted to give Caylee up for adoption. She didn't feel ready to be a mother, according to USA Today. Her friend, Kiomare Torres Cruz, offered to adopt Caylee. Cindy Anthony, Caylee's grandmother, refused. Still, Casey Anthony was described as a good mother, given the circumstances. She and Caylee seemed to love one another, Caylee was never abused, and Casey was adamant that no one smoked or drank around her daughter.

Yet, she did not tell anyone that Caylee was missing for a month.

Casey Anthony's version of events

Between the time they'd last seen their granddaughter and when she was reported missing, Caylee Anthony's grandparents would ask Casey about her. Casey would say she had dropped Caylee off with her babysitter, Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez, aka "Zanny." Later, she would say Zanny had kidnapped the child. Casey told police she had said nothing because she was embarrassed. No. Not embarrassed – scared, according to USA Today. Zanny might hurt Caylee if Casey went to the police, so she didn't tell anyone.

During the trial, Casey found another version of the truth, according to Time. Caylee had climbed the ladder that had been left against her grandparents' aboveground pool and drowned. When George Anthony saw this, he shoved his granddaughter into a garbage bag, duct-taped it as he had with deceased family pets (via Central Florida News 13), and dropped it in the woods to prevent people from thinking that Casey was an unfit mother.

Casey Anthony's lies

Casey Anthony had a poor relationship with the truth, according to Biography. In high school, she'd lied about having enough credits to graduate — which she kept up until graduation day. During a significant portion of her pregnancy, she maintained that she was a virgin. To querying family members, Cindy said that her daughter had just put on weight even after she knew the truth.

The investigation showed that Casey Anthony had no job. Central Florida News 13 reported that she brought the police to Universal Studios and even led them around before she admitted the truth. There was no Zanny the Nanny, either. Casey brought the police to "Zanny's" door — an apartment that had been vacant for months, as Anthony later explained in an interview. There was a Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez, but she had never met Casey and did not work as a nanny.

Anthony said in an interview with the Associated Press, "Cops lie to people every day. I'm just one of the unfortunate idiots who admitted they lied."

After Caylee disappeared

According to Biography, the last time anyone saw Caylee alive was in June 2008 when Casey Anthony stormed out of her parents' home after a fight, pulling her daughter along with her.

Casey soon after turned up at the home of Tony Lazzaro, an Orlando DJ she had recently begun dating. She did not have Caylee with her. The Orlando Sentinel noted that Casey and Tony rented movies at Blockbuster that night. When anyone asked where Caylee was, Anthony said that she was with Zanny at Universal Studios, Disneyworld, or Sea World. When Cindy demanded to see her granddaughter, "Zanny" had a car accident and couldn't bring her.

The details that the prosecution brought up in the trial were designed to make Casey seem like a restless party girl. According to ABC News, Anthony got a cheap tattoo reading "Bella Vita," Italian for "Beautiful Life," and Reuters notes that she participated in a nightclub's "hot body contest"  while her daughter was missing.

Chloroform and the smell of decay

ABC News reported that Dr. Arpad Vass, who worked at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory on their body farm, analyzed the trunk of Casey Anthony's car. "I essentially jumped back a foot or two ... I would recognize it as human decomposition," he said. Where chloroform is usually found in parts per trillion in the environment, the car sample had parts per million. (Michael Sigman, a chemist at the National Center for Forensic Science, said the sample was mainly gasoline.) Chloroform was also found on Caylee's favorite doll in the car, but at insufficient levels for further testing.

Though the prosecution intended them to, according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the jury was not permitted to smell these samples — for which they were likely relieved.

Near Caylee's body, investigators found a Gatorade bottle containing a "whitish, murky liquid" that turned out to be a cleaning solution mixed with testosterone. ABC News reported that hair found in the trunk of the car had come from a dead body because of post-mortem banding. During the trial, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported, the prosecution played an animation superimposing Caylee's decomposed skull over a picture of her and Casey Anthony to demonstrate how the duct tape could have been placed. Jose Baez, Casey Anthony's lead defense lawyer, said, "This disgusting superimposition is nothing more than a fantasy."

Roy Kronk: Good Samaritan or child murderer?

In August, meter reader Roy Kronk saw a suspicious black garbage bag while relieving himself in the woods. According to Criminal Brief, after calling the police for days, he received no response. Finally, Deputy Richard Cain came but did not wish to check because the ground was wet, and he had a fear of snakes. It was not until December that Kronk called again.

Reportedly, the police had not investigated the area closely because a psychic told them the body would not be there. Once Caylee Anthony's body was recovered, the psychic implied that Kronk was involved in her death.

Casey Anthony's defense later leaped on the suggestion, finding Kronk's several ex-wives, who affirmed that he was inappropriate with children. His ex-wife Jill Kerley stated, "Roy probably was the one who murdered Caylee Anthony, or had something to do with it." In her bankruptcy filing, private investigator Dominic Casey stated that Anthony noted that the back gate had been ajar and that "we could say that Roy Kronk kidnapped Caylee."

On July 29, 2009, Kronk received a reward of $5,000 for finding Caylee's body. An Anthony spokesman paid him another $5,000. That same day, Orange County commissioners voted to pay up to $15,000 of Kronk's legal fees, which, by this point, had exceeded the reward.

Casey Anthony's family: complicit?

Time reported that Jose Baez gave an opening statement meant to excuse his client's lack of credibility. He announced that George Anthony and his son Lee had, since Casey was eight, molested her regularly. This alleged abuse caused Casey to lie frequently and appear unbothered by the tragedy. Both men were tested to see if they could have fathered Caylee and were cleared.

After dropping this bomb, Baez didn't mention it again. The prosecution called George to the stand and asked him if he had molested his daughter. He, of course, denied it, but it was enough to have affected the jury. According to ABC News, Judge Perry said, "There's absolutely no evidence the defendant was sexually molested by her father or her brother."

Then came the prosecution's search of the Anthonys' computer. Someone had looked up "how to make chloroform" on Internet Explorer near Caylee's death. Cindy said that she had looked this up accidentally because their dog seemed sleepy after eating some bamboo, and she wanted to know how to make chlorophyll, according to Criminal Brief. Had the prosecution looked at the Firefox history, Click Orlando reported, they would have seen a search for "foolproof suffocation."

A media circus

Casey Anthony's trial is widely considered to be the first social media case, started by Cindy Anthony posting on MySpace about her missing granddaughter, according to Criminal Brief. Time noted that, during the trial, reporters depended on a Twitter account, "NinthCircuitFL," for their information for the first time.

Nancy Grace, an HLN host, did more than anyone to elevate this case to the media circus it became, as New York Magazine noted. Spitting vitriol about Casey, damning and executing her in the court of public opinion, brought Grace further into the public eye. The case became so intensely covered that CNN and NBC built a two-story, air-conditioned building outside the court to house reporters. At times, there were hundreds of news vehicles outside the court. People lined up every morning to try to score tickets to watch the trial live.

According to Dominic Casey's affidavit, Anthony was bailed out by bounty hunter Tony Padilla, nephew of reality TV bondsman Leonard Padilla. After Tony Padilla revoked her bond when Casey Anthony was arrested again on other charges, Peter Beneviedes, a convicted drug dealer and money launderer for El Chapo, put up money for her defense and $500,000 for her second bail bond.

Verdict: not guilty ... on some charges

On July 5, 2011, Casey Anthony was acquitted of every charge having to do with killing or abusing Caylee, having never testified. She was still convicted on four charges of lying to the police, CNN reported, each with the sentence of a year in prison. With the time she had already spent awaiting trial and her good behavior, however, she was a free woman in under two weeks.

It was too late for her reputation, though. The media had called her America's Most Hated Mother, a role that would be tattooed on her more deeply than "Bella Vita." According to New York Magazine, when Anthony was released, Nancy Grace said, "the devil is dancing tonight."

According to the Orlando Sentinel, some in the jury suspected that Casey was involved in her daughter's death, but the prosecution only had circumstantial evidence. They had proven Anthony a liar, but they hadn't given a story of how Caylee had died. The Associated Press reported that, despite this, the Florida Department of Children and Families did conclude that she was responsible for Caylee's death due to her inaction. Years later, trial judge Belvin Perry Jr. speculated that Anthony had accidentally killed Caylee by using chloroform to calm her.

Anthony equated herself to Alice in Wonderland and the public as the Red Queen: "The queen is proclaiming: 'No, no, sentence first, verdict afterward.' ... People found me guilty long before I had my day in court."

Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez: not Zanny the Nanny

According to ABC News, Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez filed a civil suit against Casey Anthony. Gonzalez had lost her job as a housekeeper at a resort, was evicted, and received a barrage of death threats, all because of Anthony's lie. Click Orlando quoted Linda Kenney Baden, a former member of Anthony's defense team, about "Zanny": "[Anthony] lied. Sure. I think everyone knows that was a lie," — a lie that she began during her 911 call.

Gonzalez's lawyer, John Morgan, intended to ask Anthony to explain when last she had been her daughter alive and when she knew that she was dead. Anthony's lawyers requested that the hearings be canceled because of the "trauma" Anthony experienced in being tried for her daughter's death, then stated that having these depositions made public would put their client in further danger, and finally said that Anthony would plead the Fifth Amendment on all questions.

Morgan maintains that Anthony became aware of Gonzalez's name when they both visited the same apartment complex. Gonzalez filled out an information card with the names of two of her children and the make and color of her car, all information that Anthony told police.

Casey Anthony's crimes

Two of Casey Anthony's charges of lying to police were overturned on appeal, according to ABC News. These were not the only crimes of which Anthony was convicted, though. By the time Caylee's trial began, Anthony was already serving probation for check fraud, having forged her friend Amy Huizenga's checks, according to Dominic Casey's affidavit. She also used the routing number on a birthday check her grandmother had mailed her to steal from her, according to Criminal Brief, adding identity theft to her rap sheet.

ABC News reported that EquuSearch, the volunteer search organization that had taken up the hunt for Caylee when Casey assured them that her daughter was alive (which, according to her story about the drowning, she would have known to be false), filed a $100,000 suit to recoup their losses.

Dominic Casey attested that he had first suggested that Caylee might have drowned in the Anthonys' pool, and it "snowballed out of control." ABC News noted that a woman in a cell next to Anthony's for five days, April Whalen, was in prison because her 15-month-old son drowned in the family pool, a story that's eerily familiar.

Aftermath: Caylee's Law

Owing to the outrage surrounding this case, Biography noted, Florida passed Caylee's Law, making it a crime for a parent not to report a missing child. According to 10 Tampa Bay, Larry Flynt repeatedly offered Casey Anthony half a million dollars and 10% of the magazine profits to pose naked for Hustler, with a portion of the proceeds going to child abuse charities. She never took him up on it. Meanwhile, when Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was asked if he would want Anthony to pose, he said, "I wouldn't reward someone like that for what has happened."

The Miami Herald reported that Roy Kronk lost his appeal in his defamation suit against Casey Anthony, even though, as Central Florida News 13 noted, defense attorney Jose Baez had accused Kronk of stealing and hiding the body to collect the reward for "finding" it, if not murdering Caylee in the first place.

A decade later

The Associated Press reported in 2017 that Casey Anthony lives with and works for Patrick McKenna, one of the private investigators for her defense. According to Fox News, she opened up Case Research & Consulting Services, LLC in 2021. In May 2021, she found herself in the news again after an altercation with another woman at a bar in West Palm Beach, as reported by Click Orlando. Apparently, the two had been dating the same man at the same time.

Jose Baez had to deny reports of a sexual relationship with Anthony as payment for services, according to USA Today. This is reiterated by Dominic Casey's affidavit, which states that, after getting a TV interview canceled for her, Baez told Anthony, "You now owe me 3 b*** jobs." Dominic stated that, on July 26, 2008, Baez told him that Casey Anthony had killed her daughter and "dumped the body somewhere and, he needed all the help he could get to find the body before anyone else did." Baez asked Dominic to check the swamp where Caylee's body would be found. When Dominic discontinued his services for Baez, the lawyer tried to implicate Casey Anthony in disposing of Caylee's body in a conspiracy with George and Cindy Anthony, as well as Roy Kronk.

The Associated Press reported in 2017 that Casey Anthony said that, had Caylee lived, "Caylee would be 12 right now. And would be a total badass." She stated, "I don't give a sh** about what anyone thinks about me, I never will. I'm OK with myself, I sleep pretty good at night." People reported in 2019 that she was considering having another child.