When two-year-old Caylee Anthony was reported missing by her grandparents more than a month after she’d disappeared, award-winning NBC investigative reporter Kerry Sanders knew their story didn’t add up. Over the next three years Sanders would dog this story—and now, in the wake of one of the strangest, most surreal trials ever to be conducted on American soil, he gives us an exclusive, behinds-the-scenes look at this epic true story of an all-American family gone bad. Here's an excerpt.
Chapter 1. Where Is Caylee?
July 2008. Orlando, Florida
It was breathtakingly hot, sun-battered, and steamy as only Orlando can be in July. Inside their modestly pristine—and air-conditioned—ranch home on tree-lined Hopespring Drive, Cindy and George Anthony were telling a story that didn’t make any sense.
Cindy, smiling, wearing pale lipstick, a hint of brown eye shadow, and a sleeveless top studded with tiny pink pearls, offered sweetened iced tea in nubby glass tumblers. She was a veteran nurse, looked too young to be a grandmother, and even today, with her world exploding, allowed her nurturing instinct to come through. George, an ex-cop gone gray, sat silent on the gold damask couch beside his wife, stiff-backed in shorts and a knit polo shirt.
Cindy related the tale, manicured hands clutched in her lap, her words tumbling out as if she couldn’t tell it quickly enough.
Their beloved granddaughter, two-year-old Caylee Marie Anthony, was missing. And she’d been missing for more than a month.
Since the moment Caylee was born August 9, 2005, at Florida Hospital, Cindy said, her granddaughter had been part of their daily lives: Looking at picture books. Learning to count. Watching "Dora the Explorer." Splashing in the backyard swimming pool. Cindy would scoop her up in her arms when she got home each evening, an adorable child, a darling child; Cindy couldn’t get enough of her.
Then, suddenly, she was gone. Gone for one day, then two. Then a week. Cindy’s sapphire blue eyes welled with tears of anxiety as she remembered.
Again and again, she said, she’d asked Caylee’s mother, their twenty-two-year-old daughter Casey, to see their beloved granddaughter. Where is she, where is our Caylee?
Casey always had an answer, always offering a new reason why Caylee was unavailable to the rest of her family. Over the phone, Casey first told Cindy that Caylee was with her in Jacksonville on vacation. Then the little girl was supposedly in Tampa. Then at a pal’s apartment right here in Orlando. With her nanny, Zenaida. It isn’t a good time for you to see her, daughter Casey insisted. Don’t worry about it.
But Cindy had started to worry. Weeks went by. Weeks! Casey ignored her calls, didn’t come home sometimes. Then a whole month passed.
Where was Caylee?
George sipped his tea, taking it all in, shooing away one of the pesky Yorkies, at one point reaching out to touch his wife on the arm. He’d been a deputy sheriff back in Ohio. After ten years on the job, he knew all too well about domestic problems. And this was potentially a messy one. In fact, it had all the makings of a disaster. But he let Cindy talk.
Yes, she admitted, she and Casey had their problems. Casey was not like her older brother, Lee, a good boy who had a steady girlfriend and worked a responsible job at an event parking company. Casey was headstrong. Manipulative. Demanding. Didn’t manage to get enough credits to graduate from Orlando’s Colonial High School. Hadn’t even told them she wasn’t going to walk with her classmates on graduation day—they only found out when they had to cancel her party.
Cindy picked up a small silver-framed photo. Casey Marie Anthony. Slim, hazel-eyed, pouting glossed lips and a clinging v-neck sweater. “Now she drives her Pontiac Sunfire to work every day at Universal Studios,” Cindy said. “Doing something in the event planning department. She lives at home, here, where she grew up. She loves Caylee, I know she does. And Caylee loves her.”
Cindy’s soft voice caught, as if she’d just remembered. “Little Caylee was born almost three years ago,” she began again, “and now Caylee lives here, too.”
But where was she?
Cindy opened a leather-bound album to a photo of Caylee, one of the most recent they’d taken. Her darling granddaughter, wide-eyed, honey hair and tiny teeth, was clutching a purple crayon, a coloring book of baby animals on a table in front of her. Caylee was too young, it was clear, to know you were supposed to stay in the lines.
But now—where was she?
Little Caylee’s bedroom, at the end of the off-white carpeted hallway, was fit for a Florida princess. Plush white carpeting. White walls. Immaculate. Tiffany lamp of sparkling leaded glass. A menagerie of smiling stuffed bears crowded on the pink-blanketed daybed. A tiny pink picnic table, ready for a pretend tea party. Rows of perfectly aligned Golden books. Four happy Tiggers lined along one wall.
On a side table, a snow globe, with the words in lavender lettering: Mom, I hold you close to my heart.
The only thing missing was the little girl who lived there.
“We’re happy,” Cindy insisted. “A happy family.” George shifted on the couch. “What could have happened? Where is our granddaughter?” Cindy’s eyes filled with tears again, and she clutched her husband’s tanned hand. “Casey insists she’s with the nanny,” she said, “insists that everything is fine. But I think something is very wrong. Please, please help us.”
* * *
From the very beginning of the very first conversation, hearing Cindy tell the story, it didn’t feel right. How could Casey be in Jacksonville? Why? How could she be on vacation for a whole month? Who has the money as a twenty-two-year-old to just take off for weeks on end? How does a single mother afford this carefree lifestyle? She and her daughter lived in Orlando. How could her daughter be missing? It didn’t fit. None of it fit.
And who was this nanny? Cindy and George had never met this “Zenaida,” a woman who they said Caylee called “Zanny.” Why hadn’t they ever seen her?
It wasn’t only the story. It was the tenor of Cindy’s voice. I sensed that Cindy was simply repeating something that didn’t make sense to her. She was just repeating the story of what her daughter told her, and trying, desperately, to believe it.
You wonder, why didn’t someone in the family turn to Casey, confront her, and say, “This is ridiculous, you’re making stuff up, it’s a lie?” But this is a family that didn’t do that.
I also wondered: Who is Caylee’s father?
I decided—as I have for the past thirty years as a reporter—to present the story exactly as it is. There’s a child missing. I work for network television. There’s nothing better than getting on TV, and with the reach of the Internet…we have the power to show her picture, instantly, to the entire country. Maybe we can help, I thought. Maybe she’s out there somewhere.
But even then, I was thinking to myself…This story is bound to take a detour. And when it does? Things around here are going to change very quickly.
* * *
The enhanced e-book edition will include exclusive videos, photos, recordings, and insights from Kerry Sanders as well as interviews with NBC producers on the scene. What Happened to Caylee Anthony? will be Available wherever eBooks are sold on 7/20!.
Excerpted from "What Happened to Caylee Anthony?" by Kerry Sanders with Hank Phillipi Ryan. Copyright © Adams Media 2011. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Adams Media.