It was March 2020 and the world was waking up to the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Social distancing and wearing masks quickly became commonplace, while the sick were isolated in hospitals as they fought for life on ventilators. It was a time of chaos and fear – and the unknown.
When the loved ones of Gretchen Anthony started to receive text messages from her phone saying she was in hospital with Covid-19, they were understandably worried.
But all wasn’t quite as it seemed, as the 51-year-old wasn’t at the hospital she named. So where was she?
Gretchen lived in Jupiter, Florida, with her fitness coach husband David Anthony, 44, and loved the beach life they enjoyed in the Sunshine State. While she had spent some time working as a teacher, she now had a role in the human resources department at a utility firm.
Gretchen also had a 12-year-old daughter from a past relationship, who she was very close to and said was her greatest accomplishment.
She and Anthony had married in Nevada in 2015 but at the end of February 2020, they had both jointly filed for divorce. It was the start of another new chapter in life.
On Friday 20 March, Gretchen was in good spirits as she left work for the weekend. But on Monday, she didn’t turn up. Her colleagues got texts saying she was unwell with a fever and shortness of breath, and needed to get a Covid-19 test.
And they weren’t the only messages. Another one said she had been diagnosed with an “acute” case of coronavirus and was being held at the Jupiter Medical Center in quarantine for 14 days.
But as well as being worried about her wellbeing, those receiving Gretchen’s messages were suspicious as the wording wasn’t typical of the language she normally used. The police were contacted and an officer was sent to Gretchen’s home for a welfare check – but no one came to the door.
When they contacted the Jupiter Medical Center to enquire about Gretchen’s health, they were told there was no patient there under her name. Another message then said she was being taken to a facility in Belle Glade and was being sedated. But this also turned out to be untrue.
Police “pinged” Gretchen’s mobile and on 25 March. It was placed near the city of Pensacola. Then another friend got a message saying that Gretchen was on a ventilator at Palms West Hospital – but officers couldn’t find her there either.
When police asked Anthony whether he’d heard from Gretchen, he said he thought she was being treated for Covid-19, like the texts suggested.
He also claimed that Gretchen had uncovered tax fraud at her workplace, which she had reported and then become paranoid about – suggesting that someone might come to the house and harm her for being a whistleblower. But that wasn’t true. On 26 March, Gretchen’s family officially reported her missing, as they were convinced something terrible had happened.
Police then found Gretchen’s abandoned blue Mini Cooper at the Jupiter Medical Center and CCTV footage showed it had been parked there on 25 March – by a man. Disturbingly, blood was found on the steering wheel and gear stick.
Officers returned to Gretchen’s home and stepped up their investigation – and there were further troubling discoveries. The security footage from the door of the house showed that on 21 March there was a man on her doorstep at 6.15am.
At around the same time, neighbours heard shouting.
One neighbour told police that on that day, they heard a “blood-curdling scream” coming from the direction of the house.
They also said they heard a woman shouting, “No! No! It hurts,” either from Gretchen’s garage or garden. And they said they could smell a strong chemical odour coming from her garage.
Security footage from the garage showed the head of someone with light hair on the floor, not moving. There was a water jug nearby, which appeared to have blood on it. Then a gloved hand reached up and pulled the camera down.
There were bleach stains in the garage, where someone had tried to clean up, and “red-stained” towels were found in the washing machine in the house.
There were also broken items in the property – and a cadaver dog that was brought in detected the scent of a dead body. With so much security footage, police started to piece together their evidence.
The man in all the images looked the same. He was tall – just like Gretchen’s 6ft 7in estranged husband, Anthony.
A neighbour said Anthony’s pick-up truck had been at the house with a piece of tarpaulin covering a load in the back.
And at the time Gretchen’s phone was pinged in Pensacola, Anthony was also placed in the city trying to pawn some of his missing wife’s jewellery. Then his phone and Gretchen’s phone were both pinged in Texas on 27 March. Police were now confident that Gretchen had been killed on 21 March and Anthony was the prime suspect.
They believed he had sent messages to people using the coronavirus crisis to explain Gretchen’s disappearance.
Detectives were closing in but when they went to take Anthony into custody, he had fled. Finally, on 31 March – 10 days after Gretchen was killed – he was arrested 1,900 miles away in Las Cruces, New Mexico, while out walking his dog.
A cadaver dog found evidence of a dead body having been in his Nissan Frontier pickup. But as Anthony was taken into custody, police had one last missing piece – where was Gretchen? Her devastated family were desperate to know.
Anthony faced first-degree murder charges and in Florida that meant he could potentially get the death penalty – so he made a plea deal.
In December, Anthony pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and kidnapping, which would result in a 38-year sentence. In return, he agreed to tell the police where Gretchen’s body was.
It wasn’t a deal that the prosecution was very happy with – the sentence was short for what Anthony had done and it could not be changed, or upgraded, even if an autopsy revealed further crime.
However, Gretchen’s family were desperate to give her a proper burial and agreed to it.
Once Anthony had revealed the location of Gretchen’s remains in court, police were sent out – and after driving three miles from her home, they found her remains dumped in woodland.
Her grieving family were finally given closure but her cause of death wasn’t revealed publicly.
In January, Anthony was officially sentenced and read out a statement in which he said he knew he was “hated beyond words”.
“What do you say in a situation like this?” he said. “How can my words have any weight, given my crime? When will the pain end, knowing that I’m the cause of it?”
Anthony talked about how his paranoia and drug use had caused a “loss of control”.
He even claimed that the Covid-19 crisis had increased his delusions and mental health problems, making him believe it was an “end of the world prophesy”.
But he also admitted “there is no excuse ever for what I’ve done”.
Gretchen’s sister, Sarah Carey, spoke about how she had a beautiful heart and told Anthony, “You are pure evil, you are a monster.”
She added that he didn’t deserve to “breathe the same air” as everyone else and told about a time when a car fell on top of Anthony in the couple’s garage and Gretchen rescued him. “You killed Gretchen in the same garage where she saved your life,” Sarah said in disbelief.
She also spoke about Gretchen’s love for her daughter – who was staying with her biological father at the time of the killing – and how she would now have to grow up without her amazing mum.
Anthony was given the agreed 38 years in prison and told that he would have to serve at least 85% of the time before being considered for parole. The killer had used the pandemic to try to cover up his crime and there are still unanswered questions over Gretchen’s murder – the true motive and her cause of death remain a mystery.
But the fact still stands that Gretchen and Anthony’s marriage had ended weeks before her death.
And tragically, while her loved ones thought she had been struck by a deadly virus, the threat to her life was far closer to home.