How Caylee Anthony Died At Just Two Years Old — And Her Mother Became ‘The Most Hated Woman In America’

Published November 27, 2022
Updated November 28, 2022

After Caylee Anthony's disappearance and death in 2008, Casey Anthony became the prime suspect in one of the most infamous murder cases in recent history.

Caylee Anthony was just a toddler when she met a horrific death in 2008. The young girl had vanished in June of that year — when her mother Casey Anthony reportedly drove off with her from the family home in Orlando, Florida. Then, in December, the two-year-old’s remains were found in the woods near the house. Her tragic death was ruled a homicide and America began asking “who killed Caylee Anthony?”

Since Casey was the last person verifiably seen with Caylee before she disappeared, many people thought that Casey was responsible for her daughter’s death. Although Casey initially claimed that the girl’s nanny had kidnapped her back in June, Casey’s story quickly proved to be filled with holes.

Furthermore, Casey was not the one who reported Caylee’s disappearance. That was Casey’s mother Cindy Anthony, who called 911 in mid-July when she realized that her granddaughter was supposedly missing for 31 days.

Casey was quickly arrested and deemed a person of interest in the case. The 22-year-old single mother was caught telling numerous lies to the police, including one about a fake job she claimed to have, and it was instantly clear that there was more to the story than the alleged nanny who was supposedly responsible. Soon enough, Casey Anthony was charged with murder before her daughter’s remains were even found.

What followed in 2011 was one of the most infamous trials in recent American history, which ended in Casey Anthony’s surprise acquittal. Nevertheless, many are still convinced that Casey Anthony was responsible for Caylee Anthony’s death. And sadly, in the midst of all the controversy, the tragic story of the little girl herself often goes overlooked.

The Disappearance Of Caylee Anthony

Caylee Anthony

APTwo-year-old Caylee Anthony vanished in June 2008.

Caylee Marie Anthony was born on August 9, 2005, in Orlando, Florida. Her mother Casey, who was 19 at the time, reportedly denied her pregnancy for several months, and the identity of the girl’s father remains uncertain.

Still, Caylee appeared to have a relatively pleasant start to life. She resided with her mother and her grandparents, Cindy and George, in a nice house.

But then, on June 16, 2008, Casey reportedly drove off with Caylee from the Anthony home after some kind of family argument, according to Biography. At first, Cindy and George held out hope that their daughter would come back home soon to make up after the dust settled from the fight.

Worryingly, weeks began to pass with no sign of Casey or Caylee. By July 15th, Cindy and George found out that the car Casey was driving had been impounded. When they picked the vehicle up, they were horrified by the terrible smell inside. That same day, Cindy was finally able to locate her daughter, and she was furious that her granddaughter was not with her.

Cindy then placed multiple 911 calls, reporting the disappearance of Caylee and also claiming that Casey needed to be arrested “for stealing an auto and stealing money.” Cindy’s calls became increasingly desperate as she spoke with Casey, who revealed that Caylee had been missing for 31 days.

According to 10 News, during one of these frantic calls, Cindy told the 911 operator, “There is something wrong. I found my daughter’s car today and it smells like there’s been a dead body in the damn car.”

Just one day later, Casey Anthony would be arrested.

How Casey Anthony Became The Prime Suspect In Caylee Anthony’s Death

Casey Anthony

Wikimedia CommonsCasey Anthony’s mugshot, taken on July 16, 2008.

As it turned out, the Anthonys’ car wasn’t the only thing that smelled. Authorities were suspicious of Casey Anthony from the start. Not only did she fail to report Caylee missing for a month, but she also told an eyebrow-raising story about her nanny, Zenaida “Zanny” Fernandez-Gonzalez.

According to Casey, Fernandez-Gonzalez was the last person with Caylee, so she must have taken her. But according to The Palm Beach Post, the apartment where the nanny allegedly lived had been vacant for months. And Casey was not recognized as someone who’d visited that apartment. It was later learned that Fernandez-Gonzalez was a real person, but she denied ever babysitting Caylee or meeting anyone in the Anthony family.

And yet, Casey had led the cops on a goose chase to that apartment and other places in the supposed hopes of finding clues about Caylee’s whereabouts. In addition to Casey’s lies about the nanny, police found out that she had also been lying about holding a job at Universal Studios.

On July 16, 2008, she was arrested for lying to police, interfering with an investigation, and child neglect. And a few days later, Casey was deemed a person of interest in Caylee Anthony’s vanishing, according to ABC News.

Investigators said that they found “evidence of decomposition” in the car that Casey reportedly drove Caylee away in — the same car that was later abandoned and impounded. By this point, the case had started to spread in the news media, and many were quick to point out how Casey seemingly appeared unconcerned about the investigation and her missing daughter.

According to CNN, Casey Anthony was charged with murder on October 14, 2008. She was also charged with manslaughter, child abuse, and lying to the police. However, Caylee Anthony’s body hadn’t been found yet.

The tragic discovery of Caylee’s remains happened on December 11, 2008. That day, a utility worker came across her bones in the woods near the Anthony family home. A little over a week later, the remains were confirmed to be the missing two-year-old’s. The cause of death was soon declared a homicide by a medical examiner, but by “undetermined means.”

As prosecutors and ordinary citizens alike continued to point the finger at Casey Anthony, many seemed confident that the young mother would be found guilty of killing Caylee Anthony. But that’s not what happened.

The Trial Of Casey Anthony And The Media Sensation It Sparked

Who Killed Caylee Anthony

Joe Burbank-Pool/Getty ImagesCasey Anthony was found not guilty of killing her daughter Caylee, but she was found guilty of lying to police.

Casey Anthony’s murder trial began on May 24, 2011. It seemed like the whole nation was following the case as numerous bombshells were dropped.

The prosecution quickly painted Casey as a party girl who had no interest in being a mother, saying that she had spent the month that Caylee was supposedly “missing” out on the town, drinking and living it up.

As reported by The Daily Mail, she partied at nightclubs, bar-hopped, and even participated in a “hot body” contest at one point. She also got a new tattoo that said “Bella Vita,” which is Italian for “Beautiful Life.”

As for the defense, they made a truly shocking claim: Caylee had tragically drowned in the Anthony family’s swimming pool, and Casey’s father George had tried to cover up the young girl’s death. According to CNN, the defense also alleged that George had sexually abused Casey from a young age, which explained why Casey lied so often, to hide her internal anguish.

George denied the accusations of sexual abuse, and he also denied knowing anything about his granddaughter’s alleged drowning death.

The trial lasted for six weeks, with twists and turns every step of the way. For instance, authorities revealed that someone in the Anthony home had searched for “chloroform” on the computer shortly before Caylee vanished. At first, this seemed like a win for the prosecutors, since they believed Casey had used chloroform to knock her daughter out before suffocating her.

But to the relief of the defense, Cindy came forward during the trial and said that it was she who had searched for “chloroform” — while intending to look up “chlorophyll” — according to The Christian Science Monitor.

Near the end of the trial, it was apparent that the prosecutors had relied on emphasizing Casey Anthony’s supposed lack of morals to connect her to the killing of Caylee Anthony. Though they had tried to find more hard evidence of her guilt, they were not able to uncover any forensics or witnesses connecting her to Caylee Anthony’s remains, according to E! News.

They also couldn’t definitively place the toddler’s body in the trunk of Casey’s car, where they believed she stashed the remains before dumping them. And perhaps most crucially, it was still unclear exactly how Caylee Anthony died.

Still, prosecutors felt confident that Casey’s habit of lying, her disturbing behavior after her daughter supposedly vanished, and the circumstantial evidence would be enough to convince the jury of her guilt.

But they were wrong. On July 5, 2011, Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murder, child abuse, and manslaughter of a child. She was only found guilty of four counts of lying to police, all misdemeanors. Though she was fined and sentenced to four years in jail, she got credit for time already served, and she was released on July 17th, to the outrage of many Americans.

Did Casey Anthony Really Kill Caylee?

Roadside Memorial

Wikimedia CommonsA roadside memorial for Caylee Anthony, erected after her death.

According to a USA Today/Gallup poll, 64 percent of Americans think that Casey Anthony “definitely” or “probably” killed her daughter Caylee.

Women were more than twice as likely as men to say that Casey was “definitely” guilty of murder, and 27 percent of women were angry about Casey’s not-guilty verdict, in comparison to just 9 percent of men.

But ultimately, the jury didn’t feel certain enough about her guilt. After the trial ended, one male juror spoke anonymously to People about the verdict: “Generally, none of us liked Casey Anthony at all. She seems like a horrible person. But the prosecutors did not give us enough evidence to convict.”

However, 10 years later, that same juror expressed regret for his decision, saying that it “haunts” him, especially when he thinks of Caylee Anthony, the tragic victim in the case who never made it to her third birthday.

He admitted, “Every time I see her face or hear her name, I get a pit in my stomach. It all comes flooding back. I think about those pictures of the baby’s remains that they showed us in court. I remember Casey. I even remember the smell of the courtroom.”

As for Casey Anthony, she doesn’t appear to be haunted at all. Though she’s aware that most people still think she’s the one who killed Caylee Anthony, she insisted that she “didn’t do what I was accused of” in a 2017 interview with The Associated Press, her first since the infamous trial.

“I don’t give a sh-t about what anyone thinks about me. I never will,” she added. “I’m okay with myself. I sleep pretty good at night.”

After learning about the death of Caylee Anthony, read about Diane Downs, the killer mom who shot her kids so that she could be with her lover. Then, read about the mysterious disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the three-year-old who vanished from her family’s hotel room in Portugal.

Neil Patmore
A true crime specialist, Neil Patmore served as a police officer in the UK for nine years, and a private investigator for three years before becoming a writer.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Patmore, Neil. "How Caylee Anthony Died At Just Two Years Old — And Her Mother Became ‘The Most Hated Woman In America’.", November 27, 2022, Accessed May 17, 2024.