Suspicious COVID-19 texts lead to arrest of Florida man in estranged wife’s disappearance, murder

JUPITER, Fla. — A Florida man whose estranged wife was supposedly hospitalized with COVID-19 has been arrested and charged with her disappearance and murder, according to police.

David Ethan Anthony, 44, of Jupiter, sits in a New Mexico jail cell awaiting extradition back to Palm Beach County, where he faces charges in the disappearance and killing of his estranged wife, 51-year-old Gretchen Stoughton Anthony.

David Anthony was arrested March 31 about 2,000 miles away in Las Cruces and booked early the following morning into the Doña Ana County Detention Center on a fugitive from justice charge. In Florida, he faces charges of second-degree murder and kidnapping, according to authorities.

Gretchen Anthony’s body had not been found as of Tuesday afternoon.

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The Florida charges are on top of allegations from earlier in March that David Anthony had altered his license plate number and was approaching underage girls in nearby Riviera Beach. David Anthony was charged with resisting an officer with violence in that case.

Jupiter police officials said officers were called to Gretchen Anthony’s home on Sunshine Drive March 26 after her family reported her missing. The couple apparently once shared the home, which David Anthony listed as his address when he was arrested in a separate incident March 15 in Riviera Beach.

A probable cause affidavit obtained by CBS12 in West Palm Beach said officers talked to a neighbor, who asked unprompted if they were investigating “the attack that occurred Saturday morning.”

According to the affidavit, the neighbor told officers she heard “a blood-curdling scream” from either the patio or garage of Gretchen Anthony’s home between 6 and 6:20 a.m. on March 21. The woman said she also heard a woman scream, “No! No, it hurts!”

A second neighbor told detectives he also heard screams, CBS12 reported. The man said he saw David Anthony’s truck, a black Nissan Frontier, parked on the road outside Gretchen Anthony’s home that weekend.

The truck’s bed appeared to be loaded with something covered by a tarp, the affidavit said.

The neighbor told police he noticed the following Monday, March 23, that someone was cleaning inside Gretchen Anthony’s garage, which was closed, but had a stream of water “mixed with an unknown chemical” coming from the door and into the alley.

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A third neighbor provided investigators with security camera footage, which CBS12 reported shows a truck matching David Anthony’s going to and from his estranged wife’s home.

David Anthony was the last person known to have contact with Gretchen Anthony, whom Palm Beach County court records shows filed for divorce in February.

“As the investigation has progressed and further evidence (has been) collected, it is believed David Anthony is responsible for her disappearance and related homicide,” police officials said in a statement.

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The affidavit obtained by CBS12 lays out the case against David Anthony.

According to the document, a witness called police March 25 and told detectives she’d received a suspicious text message from Gretchen Anthony’s cellphone, in which the person sending the text said Anthony had tested positive for COVID-19 at Jupiter Medical Center and was being held by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A second witness told authorities he’d received a text from Gretchen Anthony’s phone on March 24 that claimed she was being taken by a CDC-approved task force to a center in Belle Glade, where they “sedated her,” CBS12 reported.

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The second witness detailed in the affidavit is a friend of David Anthony, the news station reported. According to the document, the man, who had access to Gretchen Anthony’s home, went to check on her and found no sign of her.

He told investigators the language in the text message he received did not sound like Gretchen Anthony, but sounded instead like David Anthony. Other friends also told authorities they’d received odd text messages and feared David Anthony had done something to harm his estranged wife.

An officer knocked on Gretchen Anthony’s door but got no answer, according to the affidavit. The investigator called Jupiter Medical Center, but officials there said they had no Gretchen Anthony in their system.

Authorities also learned there is no CDC center in Belle Glade, which is situated about 60 miles southwest of Jupiter.

“Gretchen’s vehicle, a dark blue Mini Cooper, was recovered in the parking lot of the Jupiter Medical Center; however, Gretchen was not located within this area,” police officials said. “During the investigation, a cadaver dog was utilized and alerted within the residence of Gretchen Anthony.”

When David Anthony was found in Las Cruces on March 31, a cadaver dog similarly alerted on his truck, a black Nissan Frontier, authorities said.

Gretchen Anthony’s purse was found in her abandoned car, CBS12 reported.

Detectives tried but were unable to reach David Anthony for questioning. According to the affidavit, a woman at his home said he’d left March 24 with his dog and said he was moving to Costa Rica.

Update!! Missing Person/Homicide Arrest The Jupiter Police Department is asking for your help with any information...

Posted by The Jupiter Police Department on Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Gretchen Anthony was subsequently listed as an “endangered missing adult,” at which point authorities began trying to “ping” her cellphone. The data showed her phone had been in Pensacola on March 25 -- the same day David Anthony was there trying to sell a bag of women’s jewelry, the court document said.

One of the pieces of jewelry was a distinctive David Yurman ring that authorities believe belonged to Gretchen Anthony, CBS12 reported.

A witness received another text March 26 from Gretchen Anthony’s cellphone. The message claimed Anthony was on a ventilator at Palms West Hospital.

Detectives went to the hospital, where officials again said the missing woman was not there, the news station reported.

Gretchen Anthony’s boss, who said she’d last been at work on March 20, checked with their insurance provider and learned there had been no claims made on her health insurance policy, the affidavit said.

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News Release - Missing Person/Homicide Arrest - On Thursday, March 26, 2020 members of the Jupiter Police Department...

Posted by The Jupiter Police Department on Thursday, April 2, 2020

The court document details what crime scene technicians found inside Gretchen Anthony’s home, CBS12 reported. They found a rag and some cleaners in the kitchen and, in the washing machine, they found towels stained with a “reddish substance” that looked like blood.

A broken glass frame was found upstairs and small drops of what appeared to be blood were on the master bedroom wall, the affidavit said.

The garage door was locked with a key broken off inside the lock, the affidavit said. When officers breached the door, they found moisture on the floor and what appeared to be bleach stains leading to the driveway.

The cadaver dog detected blood on the floor of the garage on March 27, authorities said.

CBS12 reported that the same day, both David Anthony and Gretchen Anthony’s cellphones were “hitting off of cellular towers” in the same geographical area of Texas.

David Anthony was spotted by New Mexico state troopers March 31 in Las Cruces. According to KTSM in El Paso, he was taken into custody while walking his dog on Avenida de Mesilla.

Court records show that David Anthony was arrested a week before Gretchen Anthony’s alleged killing on a charge of resisting a police officer with violence. In that case, a Riviera Beach police officer spotted Anthony “acting suspiciously by approaching young girls (approximately 15 years of age), pacing back and forth and sweating profusely,” an affidavit in the case said.

The officer parked about 10 spaces away from Anthony’s truck, which was parked outside a restaurant, and approached him, observing Anthony’s actions as he did so. The officer wrote that as he was running a check on the license plate of Anthony’s pickup truck, he noticed “black electrical tape placed over the numbers of the tag in such a manner as to alter the number’s appearance (changing the 6 to an 8).”

When the officer confronted Anthony about the altered tag, he told the officer “his stepdaughter probably did it because she’s 12 and likes to play with tape,” the affidavit said.

“He began acting extremely nervous by repeating himself, standing up and down and pulling the tape off,” the officer wrote.

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Anthony walked quickly to the driver’s door of the truck, asking if he was being detained, the affidavit said. He reached into the cab, telling the officer he was getting his license.

When he reached for the floorboard under the driver’s seat, the officer pulled his service weapon on Anthony.

“At this point in time, Anthony exited the vehicle, sat on his buttocks and showed me his hands,” the report said.

As another officer who had arrived as backup tried to handcuff Anthony, he “dove into the car and repeatedly slammed the door on Officer (Jennifer) Jones’ left arm as Jones was trying to pull him out of the vehicle and stop him from reaching around for an unknown object,” the affidavit said.

It took Jones and a third officer to take Anthony into custody. The “unknown object” in Anthony’s hand was never identified, though his arrest report lists a weapon seized as a blunt object.

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