Monday, January 5, 2009

Learning from Caylee?

by Kathryn Casey

Lately, I find myself wondering about two-year-old Caylee Anthony. I ponder what her final moments were like, what she thought when the duct tape was fastened across her mouth. Was she still conscious? Did she understand what was happening to her? Did she wonder why anyone, perhaps her own mother, would hurt her? Or was her child's mind so crowded with fear, she could do nothing but cry?

Thinking about those final moments is horrifying. Put in a larger context, it's even more unsettling. The truth is that the toddler's death has led me to reconsider one of society's great quandaries. Since Caylee's body was discovered last month (photo of scene below left), I've chewed on a single question: What could have been done to save her?

To be clear: We don't yet know all the evidence in the case. No jury has announced a verdict. Perhaps it will turn out that there are other explanations for Caylee's death. Perhaps another suspect will emerge or prosecutors will fail to present strong evidence to wipe out reasonable doubt, the standard that requires a jury return a verdict of not guilty. That acknowledged, for the duration of this post, I'm going to take a leap and assume prosecutors are correct, that Casey is responsible for Caylee's death and that her actions fit the legal definition of murder.

Assuming that's the case, let's look at this in the larger context and ask: What could society have been done to save Caylee's life?

First, we have to look at the situation as part of the whole. We need to remember that within our culture, parental rights, at least in theory, are nearly absolute. Authorities aren't supposed to interfere in families or take children away from a parent without evidence of neglect or abuse. I'm not claiming or even implying that there aren't mistakes made, that good parents don't through misjudgements lose their children. Sadly, I'm sure that happens. But our society places a high value on the sanctity of family. Our laws are intended to protect children but also the rights of parents.

In our democracy, families aren't supposed to be interfered with without cause. When it comes to the Anthony case, prior to Cindy Anthony's
911 call ("It smells like there's been a dead body in the damn car"), we've been told of no prior evidence of anything amiss in the Anthony household.

In fact, those who have come forward to describe Casey's relationship with Caylee include friends who refer to Casey as "an amazing mom," "a great mom," and someone who was "really into her child." Over the past six months, Casey's parents have both repeatedly described their daughter as "a great mother." If I'm wrong about this, and there were reports of neglect or abuse prior to Caylee's disappearance, please feel free to correct me, but I haven't read anywhere that Casey was, at any time, the target of any official reports or investigations.

So, what could government have done to save the toddler? Sadly, without evidence of some kind of abuse, the truth is probably nothing.

I know that's not what many of you want to believe. It's so much more satisfying to think that some vast organization manned by faceless bureaucrats should have saved that precious toddler. But that's not true. Not under these circumstances.

For the protection of our society, we don't want CPS or any branch of law enforcement insinuating itself into our families without ample cause. Any policy that would allow government to enter our homes on a fishing expedition, looking for neglect or abuse without prior evidence, is terrifying. The simple truth is that in this case, and in many others where a child dies, no investigation was justified.

Still, as I'm writing this, I have to admit that doubt nags at me. Not about the big picture but the small one. If Casey Anthony murdered her daughter, she didn't just snap, not when she researched neck-breaking and chloroform on the Internet. Certainly this case appears to smack of considerable premeditation. So, shouldn't someone have witnessed something? Shouldn't those close to Casey have seen something foreboding in Casey's relationship with little Caylee? I mean, could that young mother really have fooled everyone?

I don't believe it.

At the very least, we know that some who knew the family are saying Casey didn't want Caylee. There are reports that Casey wanted to put her daughter up for adoption. If that's true, Casey had options. Many states, including Florida, have laws that allow parents unwilling or unable to care for a child the right to take the child to a "safe harbor." A mother and/or father can drop off a child at a designated place, including fire stations and hospitals, and, without explanation, walk away. It's difficult not to look at the photos of Caylee and think about how many families would have loved to offer her a home and a future. But someone, perhaps her own mother, apparently decided the toddler didn't deserve that chance.

Unfortunately, as a society, we can't do a lot to protect the Caylees of our world, children at risk who appear outwardly to be well cared for in good homes. The protections available only kick in when those close to a child—family, neighbors, friends—watch, notice, and speak out. Perhaps some of Casey's family and friends now, in hindsight, recognize danger signs. But, of course, now is too late.

What can we learn from Caylee's death? Maybe that if we're all more aware, we'll be forewarned. And perhaps then there will be at least hope that some will be saved.


Helen Ginger said...

It is very hard for people to believe that one person could kill another - and certainly difficult to comprehend that a mother could kill a child. If you were a friend of Casey's and saw only the wonderful mother in her, you would now have to be asking yourself, what happened to her? How could I have not seen it? Is it possible she was so totally a different person than what I knew? And, ultimately, what is wrong with me that I didn't see the evil?

Thank you for this informative and well thought out post. This is why I keep coming back to Women in Crime Ink. I learn and feel something each visit. It's also why I'm passing on to Women in Crime Ink the Premio Dardos Award. You can read about the award at:

Anonymous said...

Many people have more than one facet to their personality and you see only what they want you to see. Also, I believe all human beings are capable of many things. It merely takes the precise circumstances to cause an action. Even if everyone knew Casey was capable of murder, DHR couldn't do anything without a cause and even then, there is a process and procedure that have to be followed, which takes time. It is very hard for any parent to believe or even forsee their child murdering their grandchild, even given all the criminal activities Casey committed. There are many parents out there who steal, commit fraud, etc, but that isn't a reflection of their parenting. And, unfortunately, we don't have a crystal ball to predict what the future holds. Sadly, this isn't the last time we will see something like this.

Kathryn Casey said...

Thank you, Helen, for the honor! It's much appreciated.

I agree that it's often difficult to see all the facets of an individual, even one we know well. Based on twenty years of crime reporting, however, I do suspect that there were folks out there close to Casey who knew who she was and that she was capable of violence (assuming prosecutors are correct, which is, again, still unproven).

When I work on a book, I spend months researching the pasts of those involved. I've never covered a case where when I dig I haven't found that there is a history to back up what happened. Diane Fanning is working on a book on the Anthony case. Perhaps she'll have more answers for us.

Anonymous said...

I think our over riding wish that someone we know could not do something like this is also a factor here. How many of us want to admit or even think that a person we know even slightly would kill their own child?

I think many of us tend to deny or make excuses for things we see because the truth might be to over whelming to actually acknowledge.

There is also just true evil in the world. I just read a news article about a father who murdered his 2 year old son because he didn't want to pay child support. He then tried to blame it on an "unknown abductor"

I am sure he has friends and people who love him also. Who would want to believe they know someone like that?

Anonymous said...

Very good!

Anonymous said...

Even if there is a history and people could forsee Casey mudering Caylee, what could be done about it? In our society, nothing unless there was something tangible to substantiate it. There aren't many people qualified to make that determination about a person, aside from a professional. Cindy and George certanily couldn't be obejective enough to do so. If they are feeling any guilt about what has happened, I doubt they will ever admit it.

Anonymous said...

I bet they did see something, like her mistreating the girl or something, you know. And they could have done something. Ms. Cassey is right, in that they had a responsibility to Caylee. They were her grandparents.

Anonymous said...

My sad experience is that a monster can be very successful at hiding behind a smiling face. And no, it would never occur to someone that a mother would suddenly kill her own children. Why would you have that thought about someone? It never enters your mind. My 27-year-old son and both of his little boys were murdered last year, and his wife, the mother of the little guys, is being held for 3 counts of murder with special circumstances. People are constantly asking me if I had any indication that she would suddenly kill them all in their sleep. Of course not! That's crazy. Who would think along those lines? If I had, don't you think I would have done something to help? Wouldn't her own family or her close friends? Wouldn't strangers for that matter? Believe me, I've spent many sleepless hours racking my memory for a word or a look or something that I could point at to say "Ah, yes, there was something wrong there." No. Nothing. The disguise was complete. The mask never slipped even once. Not to me. Not to her parents and siblings. Not even to her closest friends. We look back and second guess, and wonder if any of our life with her was real. It is the ultimate betrayal.

Kathryn Casey said...

So very sorry, Jan. My sympathies and good wishes go out to you. I can't imagine the heartache you've endured. While I understand that you would have stepped in if you'd seen any indication of what your dil was capable of, I'm wondering if you saw other things in her that alarmed you? Or did she appear to be a good wife, and, as friends and family describe Casey Anthony, "a good mother?"

Anonymous said...

There were times that I thought that she was a bit impatient, but I usually saw her right when she got home from work. Everyone can seem a little tense or irritable right when they get home and are trying to unwind from a day at work. I thought that she was insecure and a tiny bit selfish, and I sometimes felt she didn't have the same deep feelings for my son that he had for her. However, that is often the case in marriage, and I thought that perhaps some things could be put down to cultural differences. (Or to mother-in-law/daughter-in-law differences). She broke things in anger once or twice, but, again, some people do. Violent or abusive to the boys? Never. Impatient sometimes, but what mother isn't, especially with active 7 and 3 year old boys? Certainly all within the bounds of "normal".

Kathryn Casey said...

Incredible. I do wonder what her parents saw. I can understand that she'd be on guard around you, putting up a front, but that's harder to maintain long term. Are they continuing to support her?

Again, I am truly, truly sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

She is their daughter. They visit her, but she doesn't really talk to them. They keep asking ME what happened. I think their latest theory is that there was a demon infesting the home. (This is a very real thing in Chinese culture.) They loved the little boys as I did, and in a way have lost their daughter as surely as I have lost my son. So, we all wait and wait and wait, hoping that when the trial finally starts we will finally know a little more about what happened that night. (Not understand - I don't think that is possible.)

Kathryn Casey said...

I am so sincerely sorry, Jan. I truly am. Tragedies like this are impossible, yet they happen. I don't know that we ever truly understand why.

dani MarieBernadette said...

I am so sad for what Jan and her family are going through. My prayers are with all of them.
Kathryn, I wholeheartedly agree with you about Casey Anthony. A sociopath can be whoever they want,whenever they want when it comes to outsiders, but when it comes to family, that fiercely protected image will eventually shatter.
The fact that Cindy used the threat about calling cps while making the 911 call tells me that it was not the first time. She routinely held it over Casey that she was not a good mother(as Casey divulged to Lee)as a means of control. If Jesse Grund is to be believed, Cindy also called herself mommy with Caylee in front of Casey.
I think Casey was jealous with having been replaced as the "family sweetheart" by Caylee.
Casey herself has said that she is a spiteful bitch. I think that during the fight with Cindy over Great Grandma's stolen money, Cindy once again told Casey she was going to go for full custody of Caylee and Casey just blew.
Casey decided then and there that Cindy would never get Caylee.

Kathryn Casey said...

All very interesting points, MarieBernadette. Some I didn't know, since I've been simply following the case in the headlines. I guess we'll have to hang in there and see what comes up at the trial.

Anonymous said...

The Anthonys are very much in denial about everything about their daughter. If Casey was not working during all or most of Caylee's life, who paid for any doctors visits for her (shots, regular checkups etc)? Someone who is pretending to work but isn't can't care for a child materially. If the parents never questioned any of this, no force on earth could have made them question anything about their daughter.

Anonymous said...

Assuming Casey is guilty (and I believe she is) and assuming she has Borderline and Narcissistic Personality Disorder as well as Sociopathic tendencies, as some articles have suggested (I believe she does), I do not find it hard to believe at all that people would say they saw a 'good mother' in Casey. People with BPD/NPD have a 'public' persona that can be sweet, endearing, admirable and at the same time have a 'private' persona that is abusive, manipulative, controlling and neglectful. I know because I have such a parent. I was abused mentally, emotionally and physically for years at the hand of mother. When I told relatives of this abuse they didn't believe me because I was just a child and my mother (public persona) was a 'wonderful' woman. Caylee was just 4 years old and likely didn't have the words yet to describe the abuse (I believe there was abuse/neglect) but Cindy and George are adults. They would have witness Casey's 'private' persona first hand as she lived with them. I also see BPD/NPD traits in Cindy. When authorities begin to unravel Casey's mental illnesses they will see a direct connection to Cindy's. Also worth noting is that close family members are taught/conditioned/manipulated into defending the abusive person. To 'out' them as abusive would crumble the family structure that the abusive one relies upon. The abusive family dynamic is an ongoing cycle of abuses dependent on enmeshed co-dependents, and vice versa. Often the abuse after disclosure is worse than it was before. This just a couple of the reasons why abused children/family members are hesitant to turn in their abusers/parents. For those of you who are writing articles and or books I highly suggest you look into BPD/NPD as it will enlighten you as to how such a 'good mother' can murder her child. One of the best resources is, in particular the message board postings of adult children of BPD parents. Thankyou