In my fifteen years as a forensic psychiatrist, I have learned that many murders have roots reaching back further than most people would imagine. To explain why someone has developed into a killer can take a journey not just back to that person’s childhood, but even further—to early life experiences of their parents and grandparents.
Whether you believe Casey Anthony killed her two-year-old daughter Caylee or not, her bizarre behavior after her daughter went missing (including entering a hot body contest and romancing more than one man) can only be fully understood by journeying back five generations—to Caylee’s great, great grandparents.
That’s what I did to understand the events surrounding Caylee’s murder in my new book Inside the Mind of Casey Anthony.
The story of Caylee’s disappearance really starts with her great grandfather Alexander Plesea being abandoned to an orphanage by his father, after his mother’s sudden death. He later would marry his wife Shirley, whose own father Stiles had abandoned her, her siblings and her mother and left them with no support.
Maybe Alexander and Shirley had both adopted an early guiding principle: that men were unreliable and that taking control was the key to surviving. Certainly, many sources confided in me that Shirley was the one in control of the family—and a woman who tolerated little dissent.
Cindy Anthony (Casey Anthony’s mother) was the youngest child of Alexander and Shirley—and the only girl. Her brothers resented her because they felt she was spoiled. But maybe their jealousy only convinced her even more that men needed to be controlled. She seemed to find one she could control completely.
She married George Anthony, a man whose first wife described him as “nothing” if he weren’t wearing his police uniform, whose own father had fired him from the family business and who reportedly aspired to become a character at Disney World.
When he learned that Casey was lying about having a job at a Sports Authority store, Cindy ordered him to say nothing. When he was alerted to Casey’s car having been taken to a tow yard weeks and reportedly believed it smelled like a corpse, he was, nonetheless, ordered by Cindy to go back to work as a security guard at a movie cinema.
Cindy’s apparent need to control everyone and everything around her—given the lack of control borne by generations before her—led her to ignore her daughter Casey’s personhood almost entirely. It is easy to control a child if the child has been made psychologically weak, even easier if the child has been hobbled psychologically.
This is why Casey never got any real help for her lying: that would have required that her mother see her as a person worthy of help. This is why when Casey was seven months pregnant with Caylee, her own mother didn’t notice. This is why Casey was willing to lie in an obstetrical suite and let her father stand at the foot of the bed, seeing her as she delivered her baby—which was then quickly given to Cindy to hold.
Casey was already obliterated as person. She was absent from that delivery room and her own existence. Her mother had seen to that.
Should we be surprised, then, when Casey failed to report her own daughter Caylee missing? Casey was already a ghost herself. Should we be surprised that her daughter was found in a dead, in a garbage bag? Casey was already spiritually dead and discarded herself.
I am excusing nothing that happened here, and no one who was party to it. I am simply trying to explain everything that happened as I see it.
The lesson is simply this: The roots of a child’s tragic death can always be found, but sometimes they must be traced back many generation - as much as 100 years. Such is the case in the death of Caylee Anthony.
Dr. Ablow is the author of the upcoming book, "Inside the Mind of Casey Anthony." He is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. Dr. Ablow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His team of Life Coaches can be reached at email@example.com.