ORLANDO — Caylee Marie Anthony played with her ponytail in the video. She cooed to herself — in her own 2-year-old language — as she flipped through a children’s book, “Suppertime for Frieda Fuzzypaws.”
These are among the images George and Cindy Anthony remember about their granddaughter. They’re also the last known ones captured of the toddler’s life.
The video was taken on the last day Cindy Anthony saw her granddaughter alive. The next day, June 16, 2008, Caylee told her grandpa George goodbye and left their east Orange County, Fla., home with her mother, Casey Anthony.
Casey was to drop her daughter off with a baby sitter before going to work at Universal Studios.
It was another month — a bizarre, confusing and agonizing month — before George and Cindy learned the truth. Caylee was missing.
What has happened in the year since thrust the Anthonys and Central Florida law enforcement into a national spotlight —and into a national obsession.
What started as a search for a little girl turned into a hunt for a body. What started as a routine missing-person case evolved into a bizarre mix of cops, private investigators, child hunters.
Once a sympathetic mother, Casey is now in jail, charged with killing her little girl, shrouded with a reputation as a promiscuous young woman who often had too little regard for being a single mother.
In the backdrop, we wonder: Will we ever know what really happened?
For weeks, then 22-year-old Casey Anthony dodged her parents, Cindy and George Anthony.
Casey and Caylee lived with the Anthonys so the grandparents were used to seeing the toddler nearly every day.
But they hadn’t seen or heard from their only granddaughter in weeks.
A few times Cindy Anthony reached Casey by phone or text. But Casey always had an explanation. Take your pick: Caylee is with the nanny. Caylee is taking a nap. Caylee is at the beach.
On July 15, Casey ran out of excuses.
The grandparents were notified about Casey’s Pontiac Grand Prix, which had been towed to Johnson’s Towing after being abandoned two weeks earlier.
The couple went to Johnson’s to get the car and were overcome by the stench of something dead coming from inside the car.
“When I first went there to pick up that vehicle I got within three feet of it I could smell something,” George Anthony later told investigators. “I think I whispered out to myself, ‘Please don’t let this by my Caylee.’ “
It sent Cindy Anthony into a panic.
She called one of Casey’s friends who helped track down Casey at her boyfriend’s apartment. Cindy Anthony drove Casey home where she demanded to know Caylee’s whereabouts.
Casey again: Caylee is with the nanny.
Angry, scared and frustrated, Cindy drove Casey to a police substation, hoping Casey would talk under fear of arrest. The substation was closed.
Finally, Casey revealed to her older brother, Lee Anthony, the unthinkable: Caylee has been missing for 31 days.
Cindy Anthony calls 911. She begs dispatchers for help: “I told you my daughter was missing for a month,” she frantically tells the operator. “I just found her today, but I can’t find my granddaughter. There’s something wrong. I found my daughter’s car today and it smelled like there’s been a dead body in the damn car.”
Investigators respond. Through the Anthonys, they release the June 15 video of Caylee playfully looking through her book.
They also struggle to work through the slew of lies told by Casey.
Casey tells them she worked at Universal Studios: lie.
She describes how she dropped Caylee off at an apartment at Sawgrass Apartments: lie.
And the biggest lie: She tells investigators she left her child with a nanny named Zenaida Fernandez Gonzalez.
Detectives look for Gonzalez, and they determine the nanny doesn’t exist.