(CBS NEWS/48 HOURS) — Friends and family of a Florida woman started receiving text messages from her phone saying that she had a serious case of coronavirus.
When days went by without any responses to calls, police did a welfare check and found signs of a struggle at her home.
Peter Van Sant joins “CBS This Morning” with details on the investigation into the disappearance of Gretchen Anthony for this week’s “48 hours.”
In March of 2020, as the world reeled in shock and fear from COVID-19, friends and family of a devoted mother from wealthy Palm Beach County, Florida, were stunned to receive texts saying she was sick with the coronavirus. But when they followed up on the text messages with unsuccessful calls and attempts to reach 51-year-old Gretchen Anthony, they began to suspect a scenario far more dire than even an acute case of COVID-19: that someone was sending messages from Gretchen Anthony’s phone to cover up for her disappearance.
“The COVID Cover-Up: Searching for Gretchen Anthony,” an all-new “48 Hours” reported by correspondent Peter Van Sant, airs Saturday, May 8 at 10/9c on CBS.
Investigators searching for Gretchen soon realized someone was using the COVID-19 pandemic to cover up her disappearance. Ultimately, clues from cloud storage helped police catch a killer.
The texts from Gretchen Anthony’s phone to friends and family began on March 23, 2020. At the time, Gretchen’s 12-year-old daughter was staying with her ex-husband when she received one of the first messages. “Good morning.” It read, “Tested positive for coronavirus early this morning. That means I have to stay here for at least two weeks …”
At the time, Gretchen was separated from David Anthony, her husband of five years. Anthony, a handsome and popular fitness trainer in Palm Beach County, was living with his mother as the couple finalized their divorce.
Over the next couple of days, the texts described Gretchen’s worsening condition, stating she was on a ventilator and being transferred to a special CDC facility. But Gretchen’s loved ones realized no one had spoken with her. When inquiries to the Jupiter Medical Center revealed that Gretchen Anthony was never admitted there, her loved ones called the Jupiter Police Department to ask for a wellness check.
What investigators learned at Gretchen’s house was disturbing and turned that wellness check into a potential murder investigation. Police body camera footage shows a distraught neighbor approach an officer with alarming information. “I heard a really serious woman’s scream, just screaming, like she was being attacked,” the neighbor told police.
Investigators searched Gretchen’s home where they found evidence suggesting a violent struggle: a broken picture frame, shards of glass on Gretchen’s bed, and a and a stained towel. Assistant State Attorney for Palm Beach County Chrichet Mixon worked on the case and says there were further signs of violence: “There was a piece of cloth that had what is what is referred to as BLS, a blood-like substance on it.” But they didn’t find any signs of Gretchen inside.
Authorities got a huge break when they discovered neighbors had taken photos of a black Nissan pickup truck parked near Gretchen’s home after the terrifying screams. The owner of that truck? “David Anthony,” according to Jupiter Police Detective Jared Kenerson, the lead investigator on the case, “His vehicle was there that morning.”
Police also noticed security cameras had been removed from the walls which led them to write up a search warrant to Gretchen’s service provider to pull the video from the cloud. They hoped there might be video to help determine what happened to Gretchen. They also noticed two Alexa devices and contacted Amazon for any recordings on the morning Gretchen went missing.
When police went searching for David at his mother’s house, she said David told her he was driving to Costa Rica. “So, it’s now, from his perspective, catch me if you can,” Van Sant asked Mixon, who replied, “Yes … Now we’re on the hunt for David Anthony.”
That hunt would span six states and nearly 2,000 miles as investigators followed David and Gretchen’s phones as they pinged together, heading closer and closer to the Mexican border.
Meanwhile, audio retrieved from Gretchen’s Alexa devices revealed her cries for help. And the security camera footage stored in the cloud provided key evidence: the images showed a man lurking on Gretchen Anthony’s patio the morning the neighbor heard that scream. “There comes a point where this person that we see grab Gretchen, muffle her screams and take her into the garage,” says Mixon.
Later, David Anthony can be seen looking straight into a camera. That gave investigators all they needed to arrest him for murder.
You can see excerpts of the video on Saturday night’s “48 Hours.”