Two-year-old Caylee Anthony had been missing from her home in Orlando, Florida, for a month by the time her mom, Casey Anthony, reported her missing. It was her grandmother, Cindy Anthony, who alerted the authorities, and naturally the grandmom was frantic when she dialed 911. “Caylee’s missing,” she told the dispatcher. “It smells like there’s been a dead body in the damn car…”
Caylee’s grandfather, George Anthony, had picked up the car in question earlier after receiving an impounded vehicle notice. He immediately noticed what seemed to be the distinctive smell of decomposing matter coming from the trunk. The car belonged to his daughter, Casey, and her purse was in the vehicle too.
On July 15, 2008 – the day when Caylee was finally reported missing – Cindy had found Casey at the house of her boyfriend. She subsequently brought her daughter back home and confronted her, and it was then that the revelation about Caylee’s disappearance came out. On June 16, said Casey, she’d left Caylee in the care of her nanny, Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez, in Orlando; however, she hadn’t seen either of them since.
But why had Casey waited so long to report her daughter missing to the police? She told the 911 dispatcher, “I’ve been looking for her and just gone through other resources to find her, which was stupid.” But it quickly transpired that Casey was lying – and not just about how Caylee had disappeared.
Indeed, detectives soon ascertained that Caylee’s nanny, Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez – a woman Casey affectionately called “Zanny” – was a figment of Casey’s imagination. Or at least in part. In fact, a woman called Fernandez-Gonzalez did exist, but she had never met, spoken to or had any contact with Casey, Caylee or anyone else in her family.
The next big lie concerned Casey’s supposed employment at the Universal Orlando resort. She actually led detectives around the theme park – before admitting that she didn’t work there. However, perhaps her most disturbing lie concerned a phone call which she claimed to have had with Caylee on the very day that the little girl was reported missing.
“She was excited to talk to me,” Casey told detectives, seemingly recalling how they’d chatted about a book she was reading. However, in reality, Caylee had been dead for weeks by then. This was confirmed on December 11, 2008, when a utility worker found the little girl’s decomposing remains in some woods near the Anthony family home.
By that time, a grand jury had indicted Casey on counts of capital murder. And in April 2009 the prosecution announced that they would press for the death penalty. However, it was not until May 24, 2011, that the trial actually commenced in Orlando. It lasted six weeks and received huge public scrutiny. Indeed, the media branded it “the social media trial of the century.”
Casey pleaded not guilty. Yet while the evidence against her was largely circumstantial, it did include a testimony from her father about the smell of decomposition in the trunk. Moreover, this was a claim backed up by forensic air sample tests, which suggested that the vehicle had indeed been used to transport human remains.
Furthermore, high levels of chloroform had also been detected in the trunk, leading the prosecution to theorize that Casey had suffocated her daughter using chloroform and duct tape. And worst of all, an analysis of Cindy Anthony’s computer indicated that someone had recently searched the internet for articles on “neck breaking,” “foolproof suffocation” and “how to make chloroform.” But if Casey had murdered her daughter, what was the motive?
According to the prosecution, Casey was a reckless party girl who wanted to be free from the responsibilities of single parenthood. Indeed, on July 3, 2008, just days after Caylee died, the mother had got a tattoo reading “La Bella Vita” – Italian for “The Beautiful Life.” However, she told psychiatrist Dr. William Weitz that the tattoo was not a symbol of freedom but rather an expression of “irony in terms of how [her] life [had] turned out.”
Furthermore, Dr. Weitz, who was responsible for determining Casey’s competency to stand trial, claimed that she had been an exemplary student at school. “She wins the citizenship awards. She wins Junior Achievement awards,” Weitz wrote in a 447-page deposition. “Basically, there is no history of violence, aggression, any commitment of any behavior that would be antithetical to rules and regulations of schools, of churches, of the legal system.”
And so the defense dismissed the prosecution’s theory. They claimed that Caylee had, in fact, drowned by accident in the family pool on June 16, 2008. Casey had panicked, they said, and along with her father – an ex-police officer – she had tried to cover up the event by burying her. The prosecution, however, responded by saying “no one makes an accident look like murder.”
Then, in one of the trial’s most disturbing twists, Casey alleged that her father had sexually abused her from the time when she was eight years old. However, George Anthony strongly refuted allegations that he had either abused his daughter or participated in the burial of his granddaughter’s body. And Casey herself never took the stand.
Casey was found guilty of providing false information to law enforcement authorities on four counts; two were later quashed on appeal. She received a four-year prison sentence. She was, however, found not guilty of the charges of first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter or child abuse. So, she walked free on July 17, 2011.
Today, Casey Anthony – who was once branded “the most hated mom in America” – is 30 years old. She resides in South Florida, where she shares her home with an investigator who worked on the O.J. Simpson case, Patrick McKenna. But in March 2017, she chose to break her silence and submitted to an in-depth interview with the Associated Press.
“Based off what was in the media, I understand the reasons people feel about me,” she told AP. “I understand why people have the opinions that they do… [But] my sentence was doled out long before there was a verdict. Sentence first, verdict afterward. People found me guilty long before I had my day in court.”
She added, “Everyone has their theories, I don’t know. As I stand here today I can’t tell you one way or another. The last time I saw my daughter I believed she was alive and was going to be okay, and that’s what was told to me. My father told me she was going to be okay. That she was okay…”
In response, George Anthony has released a statement to People magazine saying that his “heart hurts even more now” as he is “once again forced to relive the hints, rumors, lies and allegations that are being made.” And according to the Orlando Sentinel, he is set to provide “a candid and shocking interview” in a new, three-part documentary called Casey Anthony: An American Murder Mystery.
Meanwhile, the assessment of Belvin Perry, the judge who presided over the trial, is not particularly convincing. “The most logical thing that occurred… was that (Anthony) did not intentionally kill her daughter,” he told WFTV. “The most logical thing that happened was that she tried to knock her daughter out by the use of chloroform and gave her too much chloroform, which caused her daughter to die.”
Sometimes, though, the parents of a deceased child are put away behind bars when there’s an overwhelming lack of evidence against them. Take Lindy Chamberlain’s story, for instance. Her daughter disappeared from their family tent while they were on vacation. And even though it looked like a vicious dingo was to blame, Lindy found herself locked up and trapped in a bizarre legal case that would haunt her family for decades.
It’s August 1980, and the Chamberlain family are camping out in the shadow of Uluru in Australia’s Northern Territory. Then, after darkness has fallen, a terrible shout rings out through the night. Baby Azaria has disappeared, and her mother, Lindy, is pointing the finger at an unlikely suspect. Incredibly, it’s the start of a mystery that will captivate Australia for more than 30 years.
Born Alison Lynne Murchison in March 1948, Lindy acquired her nickname when she was a young girl. In her early 20s, she then left her home in New Zealand and moved with her family to Australia, where she ultimately met and married pastor Michael Chamberlain. And after spending five years living in Tasmania, Lindy and Michael finally settled in Queensland.
By that time, Lindy had given birth to her eldest son, Aidan; and in 1976 another boy, Reagan, arrived. Then, on June 11, 1980, she welcomed the daughter that a friend said she had always longed for: Azaria. However, when the Chamberlains’ baby girl was just a couple of months old, the family took a trip that would end in unthinkable tragedy.
On August 16, 1980, the Chamberlains traveled some 770 miles from their home in Mount Isa to Uluru – the famous rock formation located in the Australian outback. Lindy and Michael had baby Azaria, six-year-old Aidan and four-year-old Regan in tow for what should have been a happy family adventure.
The Chamberlains camped at a site near the rock, and their first evening there passed without incident. However, on the second night of the stay, the family’s neighbors reported hearing the baby cry. And soon, the area descended into chaos. According to Lindy, a dingo had broken into their campsite and made off with Azaria.
Apparently, Lindy had entered the Chamberlains’ tent only to discover Azaria missing and the bedding covered in blood. Then as she rushed out to get assistance, she cried, “Help! A dingo’s got my baby!” Tragically, the bizarre phrase would go on to haunt her for the rest of her life; it would also lend an unfortunate air of humor to the upsetting chain of events.
Soon, both the police and trackers from the local Aboriginal community had arrived at the campsite to hunt for the missing baby. They would go on to find a diaper and a vest that Azaria had been wearing – but that wasn’t all. The infant’s jumpsuit – ripped and marked with bloodstains – was also retrieved, and all of the pieces of clothing were discovered ominously close to a dingo’s den.
Four months later, a coroner launched an inquest into Azaria’s death. Then, in February 1981, Denis Barritt, an Alice Springs magistrate, ruled that the baby had likely been killed in a rare attack by a dingo. And with the witnesses apparently supporting this version of events, it appeared to be an open-and-shut case.
However, this official explanation did not satisfy the Northern Territory Police. And during a second inquest that same year, a forensic scientist from Britain claimed that damage to Azaria’s jumpsuit indicated that someone had cut her throat. Moreover, the specialist alleged that the impression of a human hand had been discovered on the baby’s clothes.
In light of this evidence, prosecutors therefore proposed a different version of events. According to them, Lindy had murdered Azaria and concealed the body before telling the other campers that a dingo had taken her. And when the search for the missing girl had begun, Lindy had, purportedly, got rid of the evidence of her alleged crime.
Additionally, the prosecution suggested that fetal hemoglobin had been discovered inside the Chamberlains’ vehicle – fetal hemoglobin being a substance that is generally found in babies aged no more than six months old. So, with these new claims on the table, police arrested both Lindy and Michael for Azaria’s murder.
However, some experts were less than convinced of the Chamberlains’ supposed guilt. Apparently, it was possible that the hemoglobin could have come from an adult; it could even have been left behind by an innocuous substance such as chocolate-flavored milkshake or mucus. Meanwhile, a dingo researcher pointed to evidence that suggested one of the animals could easily have carried out such an attack.
Despite this, however, Lindy found herself facing life in jail, with Michael sentenced to 18 months for acting as an accessory after the fact. And even though the couple launched an appeal in 1983, the court rejected it. Lindy also gave birth to another daughter, Kahlia, while behind bars.
Then, in 1986, a chance discovery turned the case upside down. That year, David Brett, a tourist from England, suffered a fatal fall while scaling Uluru. And while police were searching for his body, they stumbled across something else: the jacket that Azaria had been wearing on the night that she had disappeared.
That wasn’t all, either; apparently, the jacket had been found in an area renowned for its dingo dens. Immediately, then, Lindy was released, and a new investigation into Azaria’s death began. And finally, on September 15, 1988, the Northern Territory Court of Appeals exonerated the Chamberlains of all charges. In its decision, the court cited both a dismissal of two aspects of the case against the couple and a biased trial as being among its reasons.
Then, a couple of years after the Chamberlains’ legal victory, the court awarded them compensation of $1.3 million. Unfortunately, though, the amount didn’t even cover their legal costs. And the inquiry continued. In 1995 a third inquest ruled that Azaria had died from unknown causes. A fourth inquest, meanwhile, was to announce its findings in 2012.
So it was that over 30 years after Azaria’s death, the coroner acknowledged that the child’s passing had been caused “as a result of [her] being attacked and taken by a dingo.” This verdict did not convince everyone, though. In fact, documents released in 2017 indicated that some officials remained suspicious of the Chamberlains even after the court had cleared them.
“We didn’t believe the dingo story, but we didn’t believe Lindy should be in jail for murder. We thought it was a harsh outcome,” former minister Steve Hatton said in a 2017 interview with ABC News. “There was a natural fairness about that decision, whether you thought her guilty or not.”
In the years since Azaria’s disappearance, however, a number of other cases involving dingoes attacking humans have come to light. Indeed, as many as 400 such incidents have taken place on Fraser Island, off the coast of Queensland. Meanwhile, adding still further to the intrigue surrounding the case, in 2005 a woman came forward claiming that she was the Chamberlains’ missing daughter – although her allegations weren’t substantiated.
Michael and Lindy have each since married other partners, but their tragic story lives on in a number of movies and television programs that dramatize the events of August 1980. And with references to the incident cropping up in everything from The Simpsons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it seems unlikely that people will forget Azaria’s sad fate anytime soon.