Gretchen Anthony's estranged husband had allegedly sent texts from her phone claiming she was hospitalized with COVID-19

By Jeff Truesdell
December 23, 2020 03:12 PM
David Anthony, at left, and Gretchen Anthony

Nine months ago, with his wife missing, David Anthony tried to throw off people looking for her by sending texts from her phone saying she was in the hospital with COVID-19. On Monday, Anthony pleaded guilty to murdering her — and at least told police where they could find her body.

Gretchen Anthony's family "wanted a proper memorial and burial. They did not know where their daughter was," Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg said at a news conference Monday after the body was recovered.

“We hope that this will bring closure to family now that Gretchen has been located,” said Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr.

Authorities still do not know how Gretchen died, but offered to charge David with only second-degree murder and kidnapping if he agreed to point them toward his estranged wife's remains.

In accepting the plea and admitting his guilt Monday in front of Circuit Judge Jeffrey Gillen, David agreed to be sentenced to 38 years in prison, reports The Palm Beach Post.

Gretchen, 51, reportedly was last seen March 20 at her home in Jupiter. At the time, the couple was in the midst of a divorce they jointly sought with a court filing on February 28.

On March 26 members of Gretchen’s family reported her missing.

David Anthony
| Credit: Jupiter Police Department

In the interim, "suspicious" text messages purporting to be sent from Gretchen on March 23 and 24 were received by at least five people, according to an arrest report obtained by WPTV. The sender claimed Gretchen had been infected with an "acute case" of COVID-19 and, after being checked out at Jupiter Medical Center, had checked in to a “CDC-approved task force.” At least one of the messages said she was being "quarantined" for 14 days.

Authorities located Gretchen’s abandoned Mini Cooper in the parking lot of the medical center, and a surveillance video indicated that David was the one who parked it there.

David, 43, was arrested March 31 in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Police said a cadaver dog trained to detect the smell of decomposition picked up a scent inside Gretchen’s home after she vanished. When David was located and arrested, a second cadaver dog also alerted on David’s 2016 black Nissan Frontier pickup.

Security-camera footage from Gretchen's residence, along with neighbors' statements, further linked David to Gretchen's death and disappearance, "which was determined to have occurred on March 21," police said in a previous statement.

Around 6:15 a.m. on that date, according to the arrest report, Gretchen's door-video device captured a man on her home's porch as Gretchen stepped out. Muffled shouting followed. A neighbor subsequently reported hearing a "blood-curdling scream" coming from Gretchen's home.

Separate video, recorded by a camera placed in the home's garage, showed the head of someone with light hair who was not moving — Gretchen was blonde — and a nearby water jug with what appeared to be blood on it, police said. That garage video then showed David reaching with a gloved hand to pull the camera down.

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The next day, neighbors reported they smelled what appeared to be a mix of water and chemicals coming from the garage. Police later found bleach stains in the garage and, in a washing machine inside the house, "towels that had a reddish substance on them that appeared to be blood," according to the arrest report.

Surveillance video at the medical center appeared to show David there on March 24 parking Gretchen's vehicle, which tested positive for blood on the steering wheel and gearshift.

On March 25 Gretchen's cell phone "pinged" at 12:15 p.m. near Pensacola, shortly before he tried to pawn women's jewelry at a jewelry store, reports WPTV. Her phone later pinged in Texas.

The plea deal to which David and prosecutors agreed prevents him from being charged with any additional or upgraded crimes that might be revealed by an autopsy on Gretchen's body. A second-degree murder conviction carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

But the prosecutor said he considered the outcome a success. "We were able to find her body, which we didn't have that information before," Aronberg said.

David will be formally sentenced on Jan. 14.