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For eight weeks in the summer of 2011, the world was glued to the “social media trial of the century.” Facing the death penalty was Casey Anthony, then 25, accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, and dumping the body in a wooded area near her parents’ home in Orlando, Florida.
The circumstantial evidence against her was compelling — including a 911 call made by her mother in which she described the smell of a decomposing body in Anthony’s car — but Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her daughter.
She was sentenced to four years, one year for each lie she told police; with three years time served, she had only 10 days left in custody before walking free.
No one was more outraged by that turn of events than Nancy Grace, the prosecutor turned TV pundit who dubbed Anthony the “Tot Mom” and who covered the case exhaustively on her HLN legal analysis show.
So it’s not surprising, then, that producers of Casey Anthony: Where the Truth Lies — a three-part series debuting today on Peacock, in which Casey accuses her father, George, of molesting and killing her daughter (her father denied the sexual abuse claims in court) — approached Grace for an interview.
Grace turned them down. But she did not turn down The Hollywood Reporter, as the Crime Stories With Nancy Grace podcast host called in to discuss Where the Truth Lies, offer insights into the shocking University of Idaho murders currently under investigation and weigh in on the rise of true crime as Hollywood’s most consistently bankable genre.
Hi, Nancy. Let’s start with this Casey Anthony documentary. I understand you’ve already come out against it.
Number one, why are you calling it a documentary? Because when I hear the word “documentary,” I think of something that’s truthful, like something I might see on PBS, maybe, or BBC. This is just Tot Mom talking about herself and her airbrushed version of what happened to her daughter that she should have been taking care of. I don’t call that a documentary.
Why do you think this is happening now, out of the blue, that Casey Anthony wants to talk?
Well, it’s not out of the blue. I think this is the first time somebody offered her the right deal to talk.
So this is a money situation, is what you’re saying.
There’s probably, in her mind, a very good reason — being fame, notoriety, self-aggrandizement, putting yourself in a better light to the world. Or, money. Now the interviewers may very well say, “Oh, we don’t pay for interviews.” Anybody in this business knows there are a million ways to get around that. “We’re not paying for the interview, but we did have a photo licensing fee of 20 or 30 grand for a photo of Caylee.” You can call it whatever you want, but a rose by any other name smells as sweet.
So what I’m saying is, she’s getting something out of this. Maybe it’s her attempt to rehabilitate her persona to the public. But in my mind, this is not the time to talk. The time to talk was when she was on trial for Caylee’s murder. And there’s no doubt Caylee was murdered. She did not die in a swimming pool — because she had duct tape wrapped three times around her head, including over her nose and mouth. That is not consistent with a swimming pool death.
Why didn’t she testify at the trial?
Because she could not undergo a withering cross-examination. She could not answer the questions. She couldn’t even keep her own story straight at the trial. Her defense advanced the theory that Caylee died accidentally in the family pool. According to what has been leaked [from Casey Anthony: Where the Truth Lies], she is saying, “No, it was not an accident. I was home at the time, but I don’t know what happened. But it was no accident.”
So if it’s not accident and not suicide, that means it was homicide. So once again, she’s blaming her father, George Anthony. And I have to tell you something. I’ve met with George Anthony and Cindy Anthony, and from what I could tell, they were good people. They’ve been portrayed in the media as anything but. I mean, think about it: Your daughter is suspected of murder; your grandchild, which is the love of your life, you know, in your heart is dead. And you have the media camped out in your front yard.
So I can understand how they may have been frustrated and angry at the time and were portrayed that way, but the George Anthony and Cindy Anthony that I met were decent, very decent people caught up in the most horrific scenario I can even imagine. For them, Caylee was their daughter. Why? Because Tot Mom did not feed, clothe or nurture her daughter.
They fed her, they paid for her, they gave her a home. They did everything. And just before Tot Mom stormed out of the home the night before Caylee went missing, Cindy had confronted her about her responsibility — that she needed to take care of the baby, feed the baby, bathe the baby. You know — take some responsibility for the child that they’re supporting. [THR was unable to reach George and Cindy Anthony for comment.]
Can you think of a suspect who behaved appropriately and was cleared of wrongdoing?
I always hold up Marc Klaas as the gold standard. When he was told his daughter Polly Klaas was missing, he said, “Search my place. Search my car. Go to my office. Take my blood, take my fingerprints. Do whatever you want — so you can start finding the person that took Polly.”
What did Tot Mom do? Lie. She insisted she worked at Universal and went so far as to take the police investigators all the way to Universal, got through security, got all the way to the door where she claimed her office was. And then she went, “Ha ha ha! You got me. I don’t really work here.”
Why is she lying during the search for her child? And I had found another witness who was on the bail bonds team that bonded her out the first time she was in jail on a lesser charge, when she got out of jail and went back home. Now remember, this was all against the backdrop of her daughter being missing, the love of her life. She walks in the house, and doesn’t say, “Guys, let’s get with it. Let’s go find Caylee.” She walked in and said, and I quote, “What’s for dinner?”
There was just so much damning evidence. In fact, now members of the jury say, “We made a horrible mistake. I feel bad.” You know what? You should feel bad.
How did she get off? Was it all circumstantial evidence, or what happened there?
Under the black-and-white letter of the law, circumstantial evidence is treated with the same weight as direct evidence, such as DNA or fingerprints. I mean, come on. If you leave your place right now and you go out, and it was perfectly sunny when you went inside, and now there’s snow on the ground and people are running around in coats, you can assume it snowed while you were inside. You don’t need a confession from a snowflake to tell you that.
So why did they acquit her? I think they got confused by the forensic evidence from the medical examiner. And that’s easy to do because doctors speak in doctor terms and Latin phrases that nobody understands.
But it’s real simple. She was found about 12 houses down from the Anthony home with a blanket from the home, in garbage bags from the home, thrown into a swampy area. If you go there now, it’s covered with old tires and liquor bottles and trash. Now — what killer would take the child and go 12 houses down and throw her in the trees? That is a disposal of convenience.
Now Tot Mom is pointing the finger at everybody but herself [instead of] demanding justice for the murder of her child.
Instead she’s blaming her father, from what has been reported about the program.
Again. Baseless claims that he did it, that he got rid of the body. I guess she’s blaming him about the duct tape around Caylee’s head. She’s also claiming that he molested her when she was younger. There’s no support for that. But I would like to point out that if he did molest his daughter, which I do not believe, then am I supposed to accept that she allowed her little girl to be alone with a child molester? So now, in addition to the killing of her child, she’s dragging her family through the mud. Anything to throw blame on someone other than herself.
You were approached to appear in Casey Anthony: Where the Truth Lies, right?
Yes, I was. I immediately refused. I declined participation in the Peacock so-called “documentary” because in my mind it would be condoning her lies and somehow excusing the murder of this little girl. We’re all — what? — going to stand by and listen to her pack of lies, like somehow that’s OK? Like she deserves hair and makeup and a spot in front of the camera under the lights to tell her so-called truth? There is only one truth, and her truth is not it.
Let’s move on to a more recent case — the University of Idaho killings, for which the authorities don’t seem to have any clues or leads.
Right now police are not giving the media very much information. And the media is having a fit. Let me remind everyone: It’s not the police’s duty to spoon-feed the media what’s happening in their investigation. Their duty is to solve the case.
Now, with that said, I do believe they should be in constant contact with the victims’ families — because they are dealing with a huge loss, anger and frustration. And we don’t want that compounded.
The victims’ families helped a great deal in handing over passwords, in breaking into cellphones and helping establish timeline. I believe they are to be trusted and I think police, as best as they can, should be in constant contact with the families. Other than that, they don’t owe us anything.
From what you’re seeing reported on the case, what is your intuition?
This is what I can deduce: I believe the killer is a white male in the orbit of at least one of the victims. That does not mean it’s the current boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, lover, husband. It could be the grocery delivery boy, it could be the pizza guy. It could be a guy in one of their classes. Someone that they know, not necessarily intimately, but someone within their sphere.
I find it very interesting that police continue to reiterate that this was a targeted attack. You’ve got four victims. So what does that mean? Were four victims targets? Doubtful. One of these victims was the likely target. Statistically, it’s going to be one of the women.
You’ve got three women, one man victim. One of these women was the target, the others likely collateral damage. Some discussion has been made of, “It is an incel?” Possible. Incel murders are on the rise. Even so, they are few and far between. So it is possible that this is an incel killing.
It’s going to be one killer, one male killer.
Why do I say that? Because there’s use of one weapon. We’ve been told that there’s a common weapon. The same knife was used on each victim. How do they know that? I’m going out on a limb and saying that there was hilt marks on the victims. The perpendicular part of a fixed-handle knife — not a switch blade or a jack knife. You can’t fold it up. Like a hunting or a camping or military knife that you put in a sheath because you can’t fold it up.
That perpendicular part of the knife will leave a mark on the victim’s flesh around the stab wound. So I’m guessing that they have got hilt marks that are telling them [the victims were killed with] the same weapon. If it’s all the same weapon, it’s all the same killer — one male killer within their orbit.
I don’t believe this was somebody that came in from out of town and happened upon them. Although the day of the murders, there had been a huge football game at a 16,000-seat stadium. And their home was just two blocks away from campus. That means we’ve got a huge suspect pool.
But — if it’s a targeted killing, that means the killer had nothing to do with the stadium being full.
A “targeted” killing — what does that imply, exactly?
I’m predicting that one body was treated differently than the other bodies and that that is who the target was. Were they stabbed more than the others? Were they staged? Did they move the crime scene in any way? Even pulling a blanket over the face constitutes staging. So there’s something about one of these victims that tells police that’s the victim and this was targeted.
You said a white male. What leads you to that conclusion?
Statistics, because people normally kill within their own race. And because knife violence is typically a male crime. That’s all. Yes. It could be male of another race, but statistically, killers kill within their own race.
And you mentioned incels earlier. Could you explain that a little more?
Involuntary celibates. They see the world through a lens of misogyny. To the point where incels get rejected by women and then they get angry — then they go kill other women, either that particular woman or other women in general.
We see it quite a bit, but even though incel murders are on the rise, they’re still infrequent. So, is it possible? Yes. Some comments had been suggesting it was an incel-targeted sorority. I’m not buying into that, only because incel murders are infrequent. They do happen, but they’re infrequent.
Looking at the victims and the violence involved, it’s hard not to suspect there was misogyny behind it.
Yes. I also think he came in through the second floor, through that sliding glass door. I don’t believe he came in through the front door.
I hope they find who did this, because it’s very unsettling.
It’s really upsetting. I mean, these four were just scrubbed with sunshine. They’re just really nice, sweet, hard-working, fun, you know? And it’s upsetting everybody because to be told there’s not a threat? Well, he already killed four people and we don’t know who he is.
Finally, I’m wondering if you watched Netflix’s Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story and how you feel about turning these cases into entertainment?
I did not watch Dahmer. I do watch documentaries and murder exposés quite often, because I can learn something from them. If it’s a dramatization, I don’t watch it because it teaches me nothing. If it’s something that’s based in fact and I’m learning about modus operandi, course of conduct scheme, frame of mind, I definitely will watch because I feel like I learned something. Everything else is just gratuitous.
There’s been quite an explosion of true crime since you came on the scene. Do you feel like you had a hand in that?
Did I have a hand in true crime? No, I did not have a hand in true crime. I typically go on air to solve unsolved homicides, to recount the true facts of a crime scene, or to find missing people — particularly children.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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