I drove down to spend Labor Day weekend with my best friend, Stewart Bacheler, and his wife, An. They live south of Sarasota, on the west coast of Florida. I arrived late Friday afternoon and early in the evening, An started to ask me about the top mom. Top mom, I wondered. “Who is the top mom?” I asked her over and over again.
“You must know about the top mom. It’s all over the news and you live there. You can’t tell me you don’t know about the top mom!”
“No, I’ve never heard of the top mom.”
“That’s all that’s been on Nancy Grace.”
“I never watch Nancy Grace.” I sensed she was getting exasperated. “I guess that means we’re going to watch her tonight?”
Stewart butted in. “Oh, yeah. That’s all she ever watches at night. She’s obsessed.”
Later that evening, she put CNN on to watch the show. Right from the start, it was like a cross between the New York Post and the National Enquirer, but there it was plastered in a banner across the bottom of the screen: TOT MOM CASEY ANTHONY!!!
“Oh. You mean the Casey Anthony story. Sure, I know all about it. I thought you were saying top mom.”
“No! No! TOT MOM!”
I don’t think there’s a person in the country, let alone the entire world, who doesn’t know about Caylee Anthony, her mother, Casey, and her grandparents, George and Cindy. Poor George. Poor us. In the Orlando area, for months, that’s all we ever heard on the news until the presidential election kicked into high gear. Then, all we heard about was the election and Casey, Caylee, George & Cindy.
Years ago, I used to go to Jay Blanchard Park with my girlfriend, Susan, and her young daughter, Hannah, to find minnows to take home for her fish tank. Hannah might have been 10 or 11 then and it was before she became obsessed with horses. Blanchard Park is a nice, peaceful place along the Little Econlockhatchee River. Or, at least it was until recently. In June of this year, a young woman with a very bright future was raped and murdered there. Nicole Ganguzza, a newlywed and just 26, loved to jog along the trails. Her murder has not been solved.
When the police were informed that Caylee Anthony hadn’t been seen in a month, they focused on where her mother traveled during a crucial date right after Caylee’s last contact with other family members. Investigators looked into pings off cell phone towers that gave important information regarding Casey’s approximate whereabouts on that day. A cell phone is always emitting a signal and as it bounces from tower to tower, it’s telling a computer its location, within the range of that tower. Phone companies keep logs on pings from all cell phones and certainly, she didn’t know that.
Blanchard Park became an area of interest when Casey initially told police she often took Caylee there and sometimes her “babysitter” would meet them or take Caylee herself when Casey was “working” at Universal Studios. Suspicion arose about the park because it’s right on the river and rivers have been known to swallow bodies in the past. It’s not too far from where Casey lived with her parents and she often mentioned the park when interviewed by police.
When bond was set at $500,000 for Casey’s release after her initial arrest for filing a false report and child neglect, a bail bondsman from California, Leonard Padilla, came to her rescue. He felt she would open up if given a chance. She didn’t. She was eventually charged with first degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and four counts of providing false information to law enforcement. Her bond was revoked, she went back to jail, and Leonard Padilla disowned her. She has been sitting in the Orange County jail since and he is now convinced she did it. No one visits her but her lawyers.
Recently, Padilla organized a search party and zeroed in on Blanchard Park and the Little Econ River, in particular, because of a cross found attached to a nearby tree with beads wrapped around it. He said the beads matched some the family owned. Casey later changed her story about dropping her daughter off with the babysitter at a nearby apartment complex when she told authorities that the park was where Caylee went missing when she left her there with her nanny. He hired professional divers to search the river and they have been searching since Tuesday. This morning, I decided to take a ride down there to take a look around. I figured if I can get close enough to get a few pictures to send to An, she would be totally elated. Not only did I get close, I had a chance to talk to good old Leonard and the owner of the dive company, Blackwater Divers, along with some of his men. I told them my story about the top mom to break the ice. I said that it would make An’s day if I e-mailed pictures to her, hot off the press. She’d never believe it.
Please forgive the quality of the photos. I had the camera on the wrong setting and the images were way over exposed and when that happens, the pictures are very red/pink. I did my best in Photoshop to fix them, but, as the old saying goes; you can put perfume on a turd but it’s still a turd.
Todd Bosinski, the owner of Blackwater Divers, was very friendly. So was his dive team. He told me I could ask him anything at all, anytime I wanted. He even gave me his business card. They had been in the water earlier and were taking a break. He said if I could wait for a while until after he did his press conference, he would set up a group picture. I said, sure, that would be nice, but I couldn’t hang around too long. I did ask about how bad the water was to see anything. One of the divers held his hand up to his nose and said, “This is as far as you can see. The water is pitch black.”
“How do you look for anything?”
“We don’t look, we feel.”
“Feel for what?”
“Plastic bags. Anything that doesn’t feel like the river bottom.”
I turned to Leonard Padilla and asked if I could take his picture.
Leonard Padilla was nice enough. He didn’t say much, but he didn’t give off any signals like I was bothering him, either. When a woman wearing a Caylee T-shirt walked up, and I assume she is someone he knows, he invited us to grab a bite to eat.
“C’mon, everybody, there’s plenty of food. We’ll never eat it all. Join in.” Darn. I had just eaten, too, but the table was filled with platters of subs and, probably, a few other things. Then, he walked away to talk on his cell phone.
A few minutes later, I took a chance. I called An and told her where I was. “No way!”
“Yes, I am, and I’m walking over to Leonard Padilla right now.” He was off his phone. “Excuse me, Mr. Padilla, will you say hello to my friend, the one I was telling you about?”
“Sure,” and he took the phone. I know she didn’t believe it was him because I overheard him say that, yes, this is Leonard Padilla. A minute later, he handed the phone back to me. “Here, your friend wants to talk to you.”
“Oh my God!” she exclaimed.
Leonard Padilla talking to An
I thanked him and walked back to the area where the others were. I looked at the river and asked one of the other divers how much of an area had they already searched. He pointed at two orange traffic cones and said, 50 yards, down to the blue buoy in the water. I wondered why there, though, since it was so near the playground where Caylee played. Wouldn’t her body have drifted downstream? I mean, my grandparents lost a foster child years ago who drowned. I said they found his body a mile away.
“This water is only moving at about 1 knot per hour. That’s not much at all.” He was right. Ralph Armstrong drowned in the Raritan River, after a nasty rain storm. The water was treacherous. Another guy died that day trying to rescue him. Meanwhile, Todd was being interviewed by local TV stations…
The following three photos show the orange traffic cones, the divers getting ready to go back in the water, and the area where a bag was found later in the day, after I was gone. I took the final picture of the river because I knew that was going to be their next place to look.
If you look closely, you can see the little orange cones on the bank, in the distance
I was getting ready to leave as the divers were readying themselves to continue their search
Note the blue buoy in the river
The area where the bag of toys was found today
When I was leaving the park this morning, Leonard Padilla was walking to his truck. I asked him when he was going back to California. He mumbled something I didn’t hear. I asked him if he would stick around as long as it takes. He said, “I already said too much. I don’t need to be saying much more right now.”
Later in the day, I heard about a bag with toys and little bones that was found in the water. No way, I thought. I was there earlier and now this. How could I miss such a scoop. Heck, I could have been rich and famous, just like a particular bounty hunter I know! It turns out the bag held no bones. Now the police and FBI want to question Leonard Padilla and give him a lie detector test. I guess they are wondering whether the whole thing was an attempt to make him a little more rich and famous. Was it a plant? One thing that was allegedly found was a shamrock. Casey has a tattoo of a shamrock. Caylee loved shamrocks. Police were very upset he contacted the press with the find and not them first, plus the time and money wasted on a false alarm when local and federal officials showed up at the scene. My guess is the press remained there all day and were readily available when the false alarm surfaced. Padilla is going back out in the morning to continue his search. Earlier, rumor had it that he suddenly left the area and headed back to Sacramento. Tim Miller, founder of Texas Equusearch, told Nancy Grace that Padilla asked him to help with some of their divers, that big news was about to happen that would make them both rich. Miller said he didn’t want any part of it. Of course, Padilla denied the charge. Do I think he planted that evidence? He would be a fool to pull a stunt like that. Why would he jeopardize his career by baiting the authorities? No doubt, he enjoys the press attention, but I don’t think he’s stupid. Besides, from the time I spent with him, I didn’t sense any anticipation. He didn’t act like a man waiting to reel in the cops and media. It could have been a sad joke placed there by someone else looking for a big fish to fry.
When Cindy Anthony was asked about the cross and beads attached to the tree, she told reporters that they have been there for months, placed there soon after Nicole Ganguzza was found dead. That’s rather funny, because I had never heard that news before. Funnier yet, because it’s not close to where her body was found.
The Anthony home looks very peaceful compared to a few months ago
The front door