Nov 10 2011 12:00pm
The trial of twenty-five year old Casey Anthony for the death of her daughter Caylee was the most sensational case in America since O.J. Simpson’s—with a verdict every bit as stunning.
After being acquitted in July 2011, Ms. Anthony instantly became one of the most infamous women in the world. Dr. Keith Ablow distills tens of thousands of pages of documents he has obtained, his behind-the-camera, one-on one interviews, and his decades of experience in the world of forensic psychiatry to make sense of a woman whose defense attorney described as an innocent victim of childhood sexual abuse, but the state insisted was a cold-blooded murderer.
On July 15, 2008, Cindy Marie Anthony dialed 911 to report that her granddaughter, Caylee Marie Anthony, a magnificent little girl just shy of her third birthday, was missing—and had not been seen for a month.
According to Caylee’s single mother, twenty-two-year-old Casey Marie Anthony, she had dropped her daughter off at her nanny’s apartment on June 16. When she’d returned there later that day, both the nanny and Caylee had vanished. Casey claimed she had then launched her own month-long search to no avail.
The police investigation that ensued uncovered the unthinkable: Casey Anthony had invented much of her life story. She had no nanny. She didn’t have the job at Universal Studios that she had been telling her parents about for years. She hadn’t, as she had told her family, been traveling around the state of Florida with Caylee during the weeks between June 16 and July 15.
Casey Anthony, it turned out, was a kind of ghost—a woman with no real identity; no connection to her rageful, shattered inner self; and no person on this earth who really knew the truth about her. Caylee was dead. She had been placed in a black plastic trash bag and thrown in the woods near the Anthony home at 4937 Hopespring Drive in Orlando, a cruelly ironic address for a house of horror.
The story you are about to read is about suffocation— psychological suffocation leading to physical suffocation, leading to death.
This is a story about how toxic emotional forces in a family, unfolding over decades, slowly extinguished Casey Anthony psychologically, and then suddenly extinguished her two-year-old daughter, Caylee Anthony, physically.
Caylee Anthony was killed by a person who had never lived anything resembling a genuine life—was never really, truly alive at all— and, therefore, assigned no value to a little girl’s life.
This transmutation of psychological death into physical death usually occurs without anyone taking notice. The victim’s remains are buried and, with them, the true story of why that person was killed. The people who remain behind escape any postmortem examination. Even if one of them is tried for murder, the truth about the lethal psychological makeup of that person, or those surrounding her, may never be known. That shall not be the case here.
Does the link I suggest between psychological death and physical death surprise you? It shouldn’t. One very often causes the other, though it sometimes takes two generations, or three, or even more for it to happen.
Emotional violence snaking its way through a family tree commonly snaps the newest, most innocent, most exquisitely vulnerable limb.
Looking at the corpse of a child, even combing through the physical evidence surrounding her disappearance, can’t reveal her real cause of death. Hair samples, DNA, a skull left in the dirt all fail to tell the tale. But a painstaking examination of the psychological dynamics of those closest to her often will.
Few of us would deny that chronic emotional stress can eventually trigger a cardiac arrest, ending a man’s life. The stress can act on blood vessels, causing them to clamp down, limiting the oxygen carried to the heart muscle, ultimately destroying that muscle. In some cases, the person doesn’t survive.
Well, just as people need oxygen to feed their heart muscle, they need “emotional oxygen” to feed their souls and sustain that core identity we call the self.
Emotional oxygen is anything that reassures a person that she is a real individual, worthy of being treated as a complete human being. It includes all the times when others react to her behavior with genuine praise, concern, or even justifiable anger. It includes all those times when others honor her thoughts and feelings, listening to them with real attention, responding to them with real intention. In short, it includes all the ways she is affirmed as a person, rather than treated as a nonperson.
Emotional oxygen nurtures a person’s developing humanity.
Mental, physical, or sexual abuse can suck all the emotional oxygen out of a home, psychologically suffocating one or more occupants. So, too, can subtle and toxic forms of communication that demand that one or more family members put themselves to sleep or bury themselves alive, suppressing their core identities until they are, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent. It can happen in the dark, under cover of night, as silently as carbon monoxide fills the lungs of children while they sleep.
Without enough emotional oxygen, a person can die spiritually. She can end up despising the truth because she despises the true story of her own psychological destruction. She can become a stranger to her own feelings, then immune to those of others, then hostile to genuine human existence itself. And then she—or, more likely, someone who is dependent on her—can die physically, whether by suicide, murder, or even through carelessness that leads to an avoidable “accident.”
In short, a family can be so devoid of emotional oxygen that it eventually becomes incompatible with sustaining human life.
The family in which Casey Anthony was raised, into which Caylee Anthony was born, and in which she died before her third birthday, would seem to be such a family.
June 15, 2008, was Father’s Day. Casey Anthony’s mother, Cindy, who had just turned fifty, went to see her eighty-seven-year-old father, Alexander Plesea, at the Avante at Mount Dora Nursing Home in Mount Dora, Florida, a lakefront community twenty-nine miles from Orlando. She took her two-year-old granddaughter, Caylee, along.
Alexander Plesea was a first-generation Romanian-American. He had served in the United States Navy during World War II and, then, in the Korean conflict.
Alexander and his wife, Shirley, whom he met before he dropped out of high school, had had four children. Cindy was the youngest and the only girl. Her brothers Rick, Gary, and Daniel were five, ten, and eleven years older than she.
Alexander kept to himself and ran a tight ship while Cindy was growing up. He worked hard as a laborer and was bone tired when he got home. He had rigid expectations as to how his children should behave. He didn’t hesitate to discipline them.
“He was a strange little man and had a hell of a temper,” a close family member, who did not wish to be identified, told me.
“He didn’t like us carrying on,” his son Rick told me.
The Plesea family had little contact with other relatives and few, if any, friends. Their neighbor across the street, Sue Marvin, told me, “They were a very private family. They were in the neighborhood many years before we got to know them a little bit.”
Maybe Alexander’s own history had something to do with his tendency to isolate, and his short fuse. He, his brothers, and his sisters had reportedly grown up in an orphanage after their father placed them there following the sudden death of their mother. He was never adopted. When he finally got out, after psychological stresses one can only guess at, he went to work, then joined the navy. He got married soon after he was discharged.
The sudden severing of Alexander’s bond with his mother (by death) and his father (because he felt he couldn’t work and raise children at the same time), together with his being raised in an orphanage, wouldn’t necessarily be enough to set dominoes falling toward a fatal catastrophe, but it could be. It is interesting to note that the same circumstances figure in multiple stories in which a family member eventually kills a child, including that of Scott Peterson—the Modesto, California, man who killed his wife, Laci, and unborn child, Conner, in 2002. Peterson’s mother had been placed in an orphanage and was raised there.
Although Alexander seemed to be the disciplinarian of the family, his son Rick told me that he more commonly meted out punishments at the direction of his wife, Shirley. “She would just tell him what to do and he would listen. He was quiet around her, because he was totally controlled by her. He could be talkative and laugh one-on-one, but when he was with my mother, he was almost silent.”
That doesn’t seem surprising. Having lost his parents and been sent to an orphanage for his entire childhood, Alexander Plesea must have welcomed a woman who promised to make him part of a family. It makes sense that he wouldn’t want to rock the boat and be thrown overboard again.
For her part, Shirley Plesea wasn’t likely to yield to a man, anyhow. According to a close family member of hers, her father, Stiles, had abandoned the family when the children were quite young. Shirley herself was barely three years old.
Stiles had met another woman, taken off for Chicago, and gone to work in a steel mill. He never paid child support, though, and had almost nothing to do with his children. He left his wife, Velma, struggling to support them as best she could. She went to work, and her own mother—Shirley’s grandmother—stepped in to take care of the kids.
According to Shirley’s close relative, Velma had once said, “Men are all right in their place, but I don’t have any place for one.”
Both Alexander and Shirley, then, were the products of fathers who turned out to be disastrously, catastrophically unreliable. They seem to have agreed that women should wield the power in a family.
“If you were just a few minutes late for dinner,” one of Shirley and Alexander’s children told me, “my mother would be very unhappy and very angry. If you showed up one minute late for an event, you’d hear about it. She made fun of the people she didn’t like, who didn’t suit her—not in front of them, but in front of us, which gave us the idea that you were supposed to fit her mold, or else. She was a control freak. That’s where my sister, Cindy, learned it.”
Even the Pleseas’ neighbor Sue Marvin could tell that Shirley was the one pulling the strings in the family. “The mother was more in control,” she said.
“Probably Shirley yelled at them a lot. They got hollered at a whole lot,” Shirley’s close family member told me.
Because she was the baby of the family and female, her brothers called Cindy “the Princess.” They sometimes resented her because they felt she was doted upon and given material things and opportunities denied to them. Maybe she got screamed at less. It didn’t help any that the family, which started out desperately poor, in a run-down neighborhood, living in a rented house in the projects, had a little more money available and was able to move to a slightly nicer area and buy a modest home when Cindy was about four. Her father eventually got steadier work, and her mother took a part-time job at Trumbull Memorial Hospital.
“My parents got by on the skimpiest budget at the beginning,” one of Cindy’s brothers told me. “If he had twenty or thirty cents at the end of the month, he’d take us down to the Sanitary Dairy in Warren and buy us an ice cream. A cone was a nickel. We were very, very poor for a long time. But it wasn’t quite as bad as that during most of Cindy’s childhood.”
Maybe Cindy suffered because of her older brothers’ jealousy. Maybe she resented her father’s discipline or her mother’s authoritarian style. Maybe she’d been called Princess, or teased in worse ways, one too many times. Maybe kids at school weren’t all that kind about her living in what one of them described to me as a “ramshackle house.” Maybe that explains why one of her classmates told me that she was extraordinarily quiet and shy in grade school. Maybe she did, indeed, gradually learn from her mother that a woman could achieve power by micromanaging those around her. Maybe something more unsettling happened in her family of origin—some painful chaos—when her dad lost his job and things got tougher and money got tighter and nerves were on edge.
Or, maybe, it was even worse than that. Maybe the trauma was severe. When I reached Cindy’s brother Gary, who described himself as the “hermit” of the family, he told me he’d spoken to his sister only a few times over the past twenty years. “I have nothing to say to you,” he told me.
“I just have one question,” I said before he could hang up. “That’s it. Just the one.”
“Fine . . .” he said impatiently.
“A lot of people I’ve spoken with describe your sister, Cindy, as an extremely controlling person. In my experience, people that controlling often lived through things that were completely beyond their control. Sometimes, they suffered a lot because they couldn’t protect themselves—whether emotionally or physically.”
Ten seconds passed in silence—a long time without any words on a phone call between strangers. Then Gary finally spoke: “I’m not giving you that,” he sputtered. He hung up.
I hung up, too, but slowly. I cannot say why, but I felt chills run up my back, as though I was at the heart of some kind of darkness.
Whatever her reasons, once she was old enough, Cindy Plesea made one decision after another that seemed designed—at least unconsciously—to make sure she was never disempowered again.
One of those decisions was to become a nurse. There are many and varied motivations for such a noble career choice, but to some who knew her well, becoming a nurse seemed like a lock-and-key fit with Cindy’s thirst for control.
Nurses are very much needed by the sick patients they tend to. They are, therefore, very powerful in the lives of those individuals and their families. You might be disappointed in the care rendered by a nurse, but you’re unlikely to complain a whole lot while you’re lying down in a hospital bed, wearing a johnny, relying on her for pain medications or sleeping pills—or oxygen. You might think of yourself as smarter than your nurse or prettier or more fit, but you aren’t going to make a point of letting her know that. You might be richer than your nurse, but you aren’t going to flaunt it.
When you’re in the hospital, you’re vulnerable, possibly at your very worst. And you want your nurse to want to help you, certainly not hurt you. The best way to do that is to make her like you, even if that means swallowing some of your pride, turning your complaints into suggestions, smiling now and then, even when you’re suffering. The best way into a nurse’s heart is to give up power to her, convey how much you need her, be careful not to be an irritant, and let her take complete control.
A nurse with lots of reasons to feel weak inside can still feel very powerful working her shift at the hospital. She can certainly still look very strong in today’s hospital-issue scrubs, never mind the starched white uniform—dress, apron, hat, and all—worn by Cindy Plesea at the beginning of her career.
Interestingly enough, Cindy was dressed just that way, working as a nurse, when she met her husband, George Anthony. She was taking care of his sister Ruth, who was hospitalized.
George was still legally married at the time, but Cindy would later deny that fact to her own family.
When a member of the extended family alerted Cindy’s mother to George’s marital status, her mother reportedly replied, “Absolutely not. Cindy told me he’s divorced.”
The truth was already falling victim to Cindy’s habit of controlling what people knew, and when they knew it—to essentially control what they thought.
Even if Cindy hadn’t been in a position of ascendance while tending to George’s sister, she still would have been able to exercise a lot of power over George. He was a very flawed person, in no position to take control of any other adult. His first wife, Terri Rosenberger VanDervort, thought of him as a “mama’s boy and liar.” His former sister-in-law remembers him as a “pussy.”
Having grown up in a family in which both her parents were completely abandoned by their unreliable fathers, Cindy apparently wasn’t about to try her luck yielding any control to a man.
“Cindy sissified him,” VanDervort said.
Another person who knew George well told me that when he looked in his eyes, he saw “nothing there.”
“No one around him knew George that well because there was nothing to know about George,” that person added. “At least there was nothing he’d let you know.”
George joined the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Department at age twenty-two, but, according to a source of mine, he always cared more about the uniform than he did about the work. “His entire interest in law enforcement was in wearing his uniform and driving around in his cruiser. It was like a disguise. I think it hid a lot of his weaknesses.”
A nurse in starched whites. A police officer in starched blues, with a license to carry. Maybe they were both simply wearing uniforms to do their jobs. Lots of people have to. Or maybe they were, psychologically speaking, hiding behind those uniforms.
George had reportedly told his first wife, Terry, whom he married in 1972 after she became pregnant, that he wanted to move away from Ohio and live in Orlando, Florida. When she asked whether he intended to apply for a job with the Orlando Police Department, he supposedly replied, “No, I want to be a character at Disney.” That never happened, but it certainly would have taken the notion of hiding behind a costume to a whole other level.
According to Terry, George once filed for divorce from her secretly, and she learned about it only when friends of hers read a report of court filings published in the local newspaper. She believes he was angry with her because her first pregnancy—which, after all, had prompted him to propose—had ended in a miscarriage, and she hadn’t borne him children. They patched things up that time. But the couple did divorce after Terri came to believe that George was a compulsive liar and compulsive gambler.
“George wanted a mother figure,” a source told me. “He wanted to be babied. He liked hanging around kids more than adults because they were no threat to him and no smarter.”
He and Cindy really hit it off.
All that had happened long before Father’s Day, June 15, 2008, when Cindy took her granddaughter, Caylee, to visit the little girl’s great-grandfather at the Mount Dora Nursing Home.
Caylee had big, wide hazel eyes; straight brown hair; and a smile that could almost disguise all the pain she had already witnessed.
She had lived with her mother, grandfather, and grandmother since
In a stark and chilling example of just how little Caylee’s life story seemed to matter to George or Cindy—not to mention how little their daughter, Casey’s, life experiences apparently mattered to them—neither pressed Casey very hard about who Caylee’s father might be.
The topic didn’t really come up for quite a while after Casey announced she was pregnant.
“I was just so happy of that moment, that day, that time, to be able to look her in the eyes and tell her how happy I was,” George later said.
From George’s deposition with the Florida Assistant State Attorney, given years later:
Q: At that particular point was Casey involved with anyone?
A: Not that I ever knew of. I—I didn’t know anything about—I mean, she had dated some different people over the—different gentlemen over the years, starting, like, her junior year of high school, but not anyone specifically, no.
Q: The who’s-the-father conversation, did that occur at that time or did that occur at some later time?
A: That didn’t occur specifically that day. I didn’t because—I don’t want to say I wasn’t concerned. I was concerned—
A: —but I didn’t—I was just so happy of that moment, that day, that time, to be able to look her in the eyes and tell her how happy I was.
A: You know, and I want her to take care of herself and just— you know, a lot of emotion. Just a lot of great emotion.
Q: Now, when did the—did you have a conversation with her
about who the father was?
A: Oh, we had talked about it probably the next day or it could
have even been later that day. I’m not really specific on that
time. But she just said: Well, Dad, she says, I—she said: I believe
it’s this one guy I saw off and on. And I said: Well, I’d like
to be able to meet the father.
A: I really would. I’d like to know—
A: —know who it is. I mean, that’s—I’d like to know who Caylee’s
Q: Right. And so what did she tell you about this man?
A: We would—we would eventually meet him. She says: Dad, she
says, I just want to try to get through this and I want to try to
just stay on track to, you know, have my daughter, your
granddaughter be born. And I said: Okay. I wasn’t putting
any pressure on her. Because I know one thing about a pregnancy
with a woman, if you put a lot of pressure on them,
that can affect the child. And with Cindy being the nurse and
stuff that she is and different things we talked about, we just
A: —let’s just get her through this thing and we’ll eventually get
into knowing who the father is.
Q: So initially she didn’t tell you who the father was?
A: Not for the first few days. It could have been maybe a few days
after that. It could have been the following week, who she
thought it was. And I just said: Well, God, I’d like to meet this
Q: So who did she eventually tell you she thought the father
A: She told me that the father, she believed, was a fellow by the
name of Jesse Grund.
Q: Okay. And at this point you had not met Jesse?
A: Never had met him.
Q: And you, in fact, didn’t even know he existed at this particular
A: Didn’t know anything about him. No.
Q: How soon after that did you meet Jesse?
A: Not until Caylee was born.
Q: Did that bother you, that you didn’t meet him, you know—?
A: Not specifically, no. It didn’t. Because it—like I said, I was trying
to honor her wishes—
A: —of being the mom that she was, the single mom she was, not
trying to cause her any emotional distress, because I wanted
my granddaughter to be born healthy. And, like I said, I know
that if you put a lot of extra pressure on an expectant mother,
it can affect the child. It can affect when the child is born, a
lot of other things. So—
George was just plain thrilled that his unmarried daughter who,
to his knowledge, hadn’t ever been involved romantically with anyone,
was pregnant. What’s more, she was seven months pregnant!
She had ignored her growing abdomen for thirty weeks, dismissing
it as “female” problems—like water weight gain related to erratic
George was crying “tears of joy,” he said. He was just “so thankful
to be a grandfather.”
“That is just—you can’t put a price tag on that,” he said. “You
can’t talk about the exact emotions. Just—to say that I was higher
than these clouds right now, I was off the charts feeling so happy.”
One thing about George: He always liked the idea of being around
Cindy didn’t show much interest in who the father might be, either.
She would later tell investigators that a young man named Eric could
be the one—someone Cindy says “came into town” around the time
Casey was impregnated and knew Casey from her high school years:
“Um, I believe his first name is Eric and if I heard his last name, I
would know it but I can’t remember, it really didn’t, um, I really
didn’t stand out because from what Casey told me he had come into
town, they were old friends from school, um, they got together, Eric
was going through a tough time, Casey was in between, um, friends,
and they just had a one-night stand.”
Cindy never tried to meet Eric. She seemed to recall he might be
from Tennessee or Kentucky. What she did do was have her attorney
file paperwork stating that if anything happened to Casey, then custody
of Caylee would go to her and George.
When the investigator asked Cindy whether she and George
wanted the father involved, she said no, noting that “he [the possible
father] is not on the birth certificate” and that “the guy has no claim
That wasn’t a complete answer to the question. The question invited
Cindy to talk about whether she or George had reached out to
the man who might have impregnated their daughter to let him know
that a little girl had been born who was his child. But that kind of
question goes to the issue of empathy and humanity, and it passed in
one of Cindy’s ears and out the other.
It so happens that neither George nor Cindy—a registered nurse—
had suspected Casey was pregnant, either. Cindy’s brother Rick had to
point it out to them when the family came to attend his second wedding.
At the time, she was already almost seven months along, with a
round abdomen and protruding belly button. Even when Rick told
them there could be no other explanation than pregnancy for Casey’s
appearance, they still denied it.
Cindy told Rick that Casey couldn’t be pregnant, because she was
“I just thought she was filling out,” Cindy has said.
From her deposition with the Florida Assistant State Attorney:
Q: What made you suspicious that she even was pregnant?
A: I really didn’t know until after she told me. I knew she
wasn’t feeling well. Casey had had some irregular periods
for several months, and I assumed a lot of it was bloating because
I would get the same way, and I went through a lot of
what Casey went—you know, was going through. And I was
concerned more about her having, like, uterine fibroids or
Q: Uh- huh.
A: —like that so—
Q: Did you ask her directly, before she ended up telling you?
Q: You know, like—
A: No. I just asked her—
Q: —are you having female problems, stuff like that?
A: No. I just asked her to go to the doctor’s office to get checked because I know she wasn’t feeling good.
Q: Okay. Did some of your family members ask if Casey was pregnant and—?
A: Yeah. My brother Rick did.
Q: And what did you tell him?
A: And I said no. I said no because that was an honest answer, was no.
A: He asked us if we had news. And I said: What are you talking about?
George never attended Rick’s wedding. He stayed in the hotel room. Maybe he wasn’t up for the roomful of wedding guests who kept asking Rick, “Who’s the pretty pregnant girl?”
Some days later, Casey finally took a pregnancy test and drove to her mother’s workplace to tell her the results. Cindy has said she was shocked, “but excited for her.”
The two of them then shared the news with George.
Casey’s brother, Lee, was left out of the loop—something he would later weep publicly about.
He had asked about Casey being pregnant before Casey ever attended Rick’s wedding:
It would’ve been later at night, I was waiting for her to get out of the bathroom. When she was coming out, I could see her midsection and it was showing. It struck me as odd ’cause I guess I just hadn’t noticed it prior to that. [Smirking] I believe I made some sort of comment towards Casey, like, “Excuse me, what the hell is that?” and she just kind of waved me off. The next time I would’ve seen my mom, I recall asking her, “Is Casey pregnant? It looks that way to me. . . .”
“That’s one of the reasons I was so angry and decided not to go see my sister in the hospital [when she delivered],” he stated. “I was not included on it and when I did ask about it one time early on, it was denied to me and I was told to let it go. That’s what I did. . . . It was something that was hidden from me or I felt I was not being made a part of. I’m not going to go out of my way to invite myself or know everything that’s going on if I’m led to believe I shouldn’t be involved in it.
“I was very angry at my mom,” he cried. “I was also angry at my sister, I was angry at everyone in general that they didn’t want to include me and didn’t find it important enough to tell me, especially after I’d already asked. I was very hurt and I don’t think I wanted to believe it.”
What people in the Anthony family knew and when they were allowed to know it was up to Cindy. And being kept in the dark—when the light of your spirit was already dim—could feel like solitary confinement. It could feel like death itself.
Cindy started planning a baby shower right away.
That must have been fun—for Cindy.
For parents to focus on their own strange “happiness” and “excitement,” while not attending to the obvious psychological problems of a daughter who has denied her pregnancy for seven months and is not certain who the father might be, is to essentially deny that daughter’s existence.
It is as if, for both George and Cindy, their daughter, Casey, was invisible.
Casey’s refusal to admit that life was stirring inside her was, then, understandable. It was not so different from her mother and father’s refusal to admit that she herself was a real person, with real problems—problems that had not been addressed since she was a child.
Now, the same depersonalizing, dehumanizing, psychologically suffocating forces—multiplied by two generations—would be focused on Caylee.
Just think about bringing Caylee to the nursing home that Father’s Day. It had to be a frightening place for a little girl just two years old. Mount Dora is a facility that houses 114 elderly individuals, with 57 on each of two units. There were frail strangers in wheelchairs, some with oxygen tanks nearby. There were elderly people with Alzheimer’s dementia, others with bipolar disorder, a few with psychotic symptoms. Patients with schizophrenia are sometimes accepted as residents.
The place was of good quality, but even the best nursing home doesn’t smell great. Yet Cindy thought that her father, Alexander— though he wasn’t thinking all that clearly and had suffered a stroke that severely limited his ability to speak—would enjoy seeing his great-granddaughter. That, or Cindy wanted to see him with his great-granddaughter.
Maybe the picture-perfect notion of a great-grandfather snuggling his great-granddaughter was more compelling to Cindy than the reality of a vulnerable little girl confined to a traumatizing environment. Maybe she thought of Caylee more like a therapy dog.
Or maybe Cindy was replaying something that had happened in her own life. “There was something very wrong with Cindy’s father,” one of my sources, who had gotten to know many family members, told me. It was simply his impression of Alexander Plesea. “I ended up especially friendly with one of Cindy’s brothers,” he told me. “And I asked him at one point, ‘Why is Cindy the way she is?’ You know, because I got such a bad feeling when I met her father. Well, I never saw him again after asking that.”
Certainly, little Caylee couldn’t benefit very much from spending part of the day at Mount Dora. She wasn’t using words well enough yet to communicate a whole lot with her great-grandfather, even if he could have held an intelligible conversation (which he couldn’t). She was as much a hostage to the scene being directed by Cindy Anthony as her great-grandfather was.
Marc Siegel, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, who works with elderly patients in institutional settings on a daily basis, said that bringing a two-year-old into a nursing facility like the one that held Alexander Plesea would be “sadistic, barbaric, and assaultive to a young child’s sensibilities.”
Perhaps that explains why Caylee was so much in need of comfort that day. A woman named Karen Angel, who worked at Mount Dora, noticed her and stopped to play with her.
“I was playing with her,” Angel later told Detective Kevin Kraubetz. “I ask[ed] her what’s her name. I was like, ‘Hey, cutie. Tell me your name.’ And, uhm, she kind of blushed. And then I said, ‘Can I have a hug?’ And I picked her up and she laid on my shoulder.”
When I shared that scene with one of my sources and asked whether it seemed like a good idea or a bad idea to bring Caylee to Mount Dora, he said, “It had nothing to do with Caylee. Caylee was nothing more than a prop that day. Maybe most people are props to Cindy Anthony.”
Maybe so. Indeed, in a videotape shot by Cindy Anthony that day, Caylee looks paralyzed with fear as she sits on her great-grandfather’s lap while he sings—though unintelligibly—the song, “You Are My Sunshine.” It seems he is singing this at Cindy’s suggestion. He is seated in a wheelchair, with other residents of Mount Dora in wheelchairs< around him. Several seconds later, Cindy tells Caylee, “Give Papa a hug and kiss.” The little girl does not comply. By all accounts, she has, after all, rarely seen her great-grandfather. Hugging and kissing a very elderly man with dementia, seated in a wheelchair after suffering a stroke, struggling through a song he once knew, as he looks off into space, may not be something she wants to do. Cindy waits a few moments, then repeats, “Give Papa a hug and kiss, Cay.” Again, the little girl does not perform. Then Cindy says, more forcefully this time, “Cay, give him a kiss.” Finally, Caylee does as she has been told, then pushes her great-grandfather’s arm away from her and struggles off his lap.
I showed the videotape to a few children who, without prompting, said, nearly in unison, “She’s really scared.”
Keith Ablow, MD is one of America’s leading psychiatrists. He is a graduate of Brown University and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, an assistant professor at Tufts Medical School, and is board certified in adult, adolescent and forensic psychiatry. He is the author of numerous books on overcoming depression, anxiety disorders and other psychological challenges and serves as the FOX NEWS expert on psychiatry and as a contributing editor at Good Housekeeping.