It was March 2020, in the early stages of the generation-defining COVID-19 pandemic. States were shutting down, the economy was cratering, and thousands of people were becoming sick each day.
The life that once tethered him to Palm Beach County was coming undone, and a laundry list of failures and disappointments were propelling the 44-year-old's delusions that the end times were near. His marriage of five years was ending. He'd been fired, again, from his job after a series of disturbing outbursts toward women. His wife had booted him from their Jupiter townhome, and he now lived with his elderly mother.
In the weeks leading up to the shutdowns, David rambled on about the fresh start that awaited him in Costa Rica, inviting friends, former colleagues, and even women he went on dates with to make the 3,500-mile trek. Before the sun rose one morning, he packed up his truck and left town.
While David was spiraling, his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Gretchen, seemed to be moving on. The 51-year-old newly single mother was beginning to date again. She had a job she loved and an adoring young daughter she was co-parenting with her first husband, Jeff.
As the virus upended daily living, Gretchen was just like everyone else trying to figure out how to get by. Her near-daily musings on Facebook echoed the frustrations and fears now familiar to most. She shared informational videos about the virus and how to stay safe. She asked for new TV recommendations after finishing Schitt's Creek and Game of Thrones. She re-posted memes and jokes that poked fun at the absurdity of the "new normal."
"Does anyone else feel like life is being written by a fourth-grader right now? 'There was this virus, and everyone was scared, and the world ran out of toilet paper…and then there was no school…'"
On Thursday, March 19, she posted a quote from a meditation blog: "When chaos is all around you, the wisest choice is to create peace within you."
After that, her profile went dark. Over the next few days, so did most of her communications with loved ones.
Dawn Paris, Gretchen's boss and a close friend, texted with Gretchen briefly on Sunday after learning she was sick. But when Monday came around and Gretchen didn't check in at work, Dawn grew concerned.
Dawn texted her that morning, March 23: "Gretchen are you ok?"
And again at day's end when she didn't write back: "Hi please let me know if you need something. I'm really worried about you."
Finally, on Tuesday morning, she received a response.
In a text, Gretchen said she'd gone to the ER and passed out in the hospital after recording a 102-degree fever and low oxygen levels. Because of her increasingly dire medical condition, she said, she was being transferred to an off-site location in Belle Glade run by the federal government.
"Tested positive for coronavirus early this morning. That's the bad news but I'm at a CDC/Coronavirus treatment facility that only handles COVID cases. The good news is that my blood type has potential to be used in the cure. Not sure if you remember me saying that I have a strain of Mad Cow disease in my blood. Well that strain is significant in gathering more answers to find a cure. For safety purposes Dr. Sinclair and her team are strongly recommending that we maintain contact with immediate family members only. I'm using my mom."
At the time, Gretchen's ex-husband, Jeff Dreier, had their 12-year-old daughter with him in Jupiter. He, too, began receiving texts from Gretchen saying she had been quarantined by the CDC and may be placed in a medically induced coma, rendering her unreachable.
Jeff didn't buy it. He took a hard look at the texts, rife with shoddy grammar and punctuation. They used a lot of abbreviations, which Gretchen never did.
But there was something familiar about the speech pattern. He did, indeed, know someone who talked like that: his ex-wife's now-estranged husband, David Anthony.
When police eventually checked Gretchen's home, the bloodied towels tossed in the washing machine and the overwhelming odor of bleach in the garage signaled to them how the story would likely end.
"You guys fit so perfectly together!" one person commented.
"Such a beautiful way to end the year and start a new one," said another.
After a short engagement, Gretchen and David sealed the deal with a wedding in Las Vegas in 2015. In all, the smiling couple was married for five years.
Gretchen had spent most of her life up north, attending fashion school in New York City and later earning her degree closer to her childhood home of New Jersey, where she eventually worked as a teacher. She moved to Florida sometime in 2006, but after spending eight years working at private schools in Palm Beach County, she made a career change and accepted an HR position with Viking Utility, an electrical contractor. It was a job that allowed her to connect with others, something she absolutely loved.
Growing up with a single mother in Palm Beach Gardens, David had spent most of his childhood and adolescent years adrift. He usually didn't speak unless addressed. He was overweight and had low self-esteem, which made him a constant target for bullies at school. Because he was so much larger than other kids his age, he hadn't even been allowed to join recreational sports leagues. As a teen and young adult, he struggled with severe depression and showed symptoms his family believed to be consistent with bipolar disorder.
Refusing to take medications of any kind, he devoted every bit of himself to his physical wellbeing. After high school, he earned a scholarship to play basketball for Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. He idolized hypermasculine superheroes like Thor and basketball greats like Kobe Bryant, even naming his husky Kobe. In his 30s, and throughout much of his relationship with Gretchen, he worked as a trainer at OrangeTheory and other gyms. In fact, that's how he'd met Gretchen — before they were a couple, he had been her personal trainer.
On paper, David and Gretchen perfectly complemented one another. He was soft-spoken, insecure, and had struggled most of his life to find his voice. She was outgoing, confident, and spent much of her career, first as a teacher and later as a human-resources director, helping others find theirs.
They both led active lifestyles. David was a passionate outdoorsman who enjoyed cycling, deep-sea fishing, and kayaking. Gretchen loved going to the beach, paddle-boarding, and doing yoga.
For the first few years of their marriage, the two appeared happy. But Gretchen spent the remaining three trying to leave. She confided in friends that David was becoming increasingly manic and, at times, verbally abusive. They separated once for at least six months but wound up back together.
On one frightening occasion in 2018, David believed the world was ending. He loaded his truck with three big bags of rice, some pots and pans, and ten pairs of shoes before taking off. His family believed the episode was a symptom of his bipolar and manic-depressive disorders.
Although Gretchen recognized her husband was struggling, she didn't feel equipped to help. Over time, as his mental illness continued to go untreated, her patience waned.
"I wish him well and hope he learns how to deal with his mental issues," Gretchen texted a friend in December 2019. "I feel bad that I couldn't help, but I think he needs to learn how to love himself before he can love anyone. Something he might not experience in his lifetime."
Sometimes, she said, she locked herself in their bedroom just to put distance between them.
"I gleaned a hit of that crazy look in his eyes," she texted Dawn one morning in late December.
David was spiraling, and she didn't know what he was capable of.
"I'm watching him on the cameras and waiting for him to go to bed," she texted Dawn another evening. "Then I'll go downstairs and get a knife to put under my pillow — just in case — and hopefully get some sleep!"
That year on Christmas Eve, Gretchen went through David's backpack and found her wedding ring, her passport, her driver's license, her credit cards, and some cash. The incident worried her enough that she texted Dawn, her boss and friend, that she was afraid of her own husband.
By the end of the month, Gretchen made the decision to leave the turbulent relationship. She had David move out of the townhouse and changed the locks.
Two months later, on February 28, 2020, she filed for divorce.
In the weeks after his separation from Gretchen, his coworkers noticed gradual changes in his behavior. Most days, David would be among the first to arrive at the gym. But after the split, he started coming in later and later and seemed more withdrawn.
David had previously been fired at least twice for aggressive behavior, particularly toward women. He was only allowed to come back after persuading the franchise's owner and operator, Tabitha Hopkins, to meet him for coffee. After he assured her he was working on himself and attending self-improvement workshops, she relented and gave him his job back. There was no denying David was an effective coach — when he was on, he was on, and his clients raved about him.
"He was an excellent OrangeTheory coach, but his moods were up and down, and he wasn't manageable," Tabitha says today. "He was difficult. I cared about him so much because he was so talented, he was great. But it was a constant chess game with him."
At 6'7" with a broad, muscular build, David commanded the attention of most rooms he walked into. When his energy was high, it felt contagious. But when he was feeling off, his mood swings and temper seemed to disrupt everyone around him.
"There's no in between with him," Tabitha says. "Basically, you never knew what David you were going to get."
On January 26, another switch seemed to flip for David. Kobe Bryant, his idol, died in a fiery helicopter crash that also claimed the life of Bryant's 13-year-old daughter. The tragedy sparked nationwide mourning and wall-to-wall news coverage of the devastating deaths.
David was among the throng of grieving fans. In the days that followed, he broke out in hysterics, crying and wailing in front of the classes he led. But when a manager offered to send him home and call in a replacement, he refused. David, imploding in the most visible and visceral manner possible, seemed to want everyone to know he was hurting.
"When Kobe Bryant passed away, something happened," Tabitha recalls. "You would've thought he and Kobe Bryant were best friends. He was traumatized by it."
Despite his emotionally fragile state, David continued going through the motions of his day-to-day life. Now that they were separated, he and Gretchen had begun dating other people. He became heavily involved in a controversial self-improvement program called Gratitude Training, which critics have likened to a "cult." He spent thousands of dollars on the seminars but refused to disclose to his family what it was he did during the sessions.
David continued teaching classes at OrangeTheory, but on February 24, he failed to show up to work, leaving the gym's members locked outside. When Tabitha confronted him, he erupted at her, and once again, she made the decision to terminate his employment, this time for good.
Four days later, Gretchen filed for divorce.
On March 7, the woman he'd been dating made reservations for a paint-and-sip class where they would drink wine while an instructor led them through the process of completing a canvas painting. But when she rebuffed his attempt to feel her up during the session, he burst out of his seat, screamed at her in the middle of the class, and stormed outside.
Later that night as she drove him back to her home to get his truck, she told him he was not welcome to stay. When they reached the house, she was alarmed by what she saw inside: Duffel bags filled with his clothes had been laid out on her bed and dining-room table, and food from his mother's house was stashed inside the freezer. Kobe, David's husky, was in the backyard. David, it appeared, had already attempted to move in.
As she collected the belongings of a man she'd barely known a month, David lurked outside, banging on the windows and screaming at her. He left only after she called her neighborhood's security company.
A week later, David had a similar episode outside Gretchen's home. While she slept in the early-morning hours, he ranted about escaping to Costa Rica. The world, he believed, was coming to an end. She let him go on for a few hours until she relented and invited him inside.
Later that evening, long after David had left Gretchen's house, a police officer on patrol observed him, visibly nervous and sweaty, pacing around outside a Riviera Beach restaurant and, at one point, approaching a group of teenage girls.
When the officer noticed that David's license plate was partially obscured by black electrical tape, he confronted him. David grew defensive, suggesting his 12-year-old stepdaughter was to blame. And he refused to stand still — despite the officer's warning not to move, David yanked open the door of his truck and began rummaging around. Fearing what would come next, the officer trained his gun on David and ordered him onto the ground.
When another officer arrived to provide backup, David leapt from the pavement, dove headfirst into his truck, and reached for the driver-side floorboard. One of the officers grabbed hold of David, but not before he slammed the door on her arm. He was arrested for resisting arrest with violence and posted bail several days later.
When officers looked beneath the driver's seat where he had been reaching, they found a large Bowie knife.
As Florida started locking down amid the spread of the coronavirus, she didn't answer calls or texts. She'd stopped sharing her location with her daughter, something Gretchen was obsessive about. It was as if she'd gone completely off the grid.
But over a span of at least three days beginning March 23, Gretchen's friends, her sister, her mother, and her boss began to receive disturbing and nonsensical text messages from her phone.
In the texts, Gretchen said she'd been detained by the CDC for quarantine after becoming sick and checking herself into the Jupiter Medical Center. The texts said medical staff told her she'd tested positive for COVID and would need to be transferred to an off-site CDC location. Her lungs were beginning to fail, she said, and she had been placed on a ventilator.
Gretchen's ex-husband, Jeff Dreier, showed up at the hospital on March 24 after receiving a similar text. There in the parking lot, Jeff spotted Gretchen's blue Mini Cooper, her purse on the passenger-side floorboard. But when he called the hospital to ask about Gretchen's status, an ER physician told him she hadn't been a patient there since 2008.
Acting on calls from her anxiety-ridden loved ones, police checked for Gretchen at her townhome on March 25. When the cruiser pulled up to Gretchen's residence, a neighbor flagged them down: Were they there to investigate the attack that had taken place on March 21? That was the morning she'd heard a woman screaming frantically for about 15 minutes.
For two days, investigators combed through Gretchen's home. They found a picture frame shattered near the top of the stairs, blood droplets on a comforter in the master bedroom, and red-stained towels in the washer. In the garage, they found bleach footprints, accompanied by the overpowering smell of cleaning products.
The violent scene led police to believe the worst. But Gretchen was still nowhere to be found.
Heidi and David first noticed one another from across the room at a local networking event in Jupiter. Throughout the evening, the two laughed and sipped Champagne.
At the time, Heidi was 22 and fresh out of college, working as a server and an insurance representative. When she first got to know David in 2010, she noticed he had a lot of things she wanted in a partner: He was attractive and charming, and he seemed relentlessly interested in her. He offered her a free personal-training session and then asked her out. Despite their ten-year age difference, they would go on to date for about a year.
During that year, the two constantly reminded each other how in love they were — which is exactly what Heidi would tell herself when red flags popped up over and over again. Like the fact that he would time how long she took to complete errands and return home. Or that he'd ask her what she ate and whether she'd worked out on days he wasn't with her. Or how he'd harp on her for regularly going out with friends.
But in November 2010, David became avoidant and began acting even more strangely. One day after work, Heidi walked in the door of his apartment, where he was waiting for her. He grabbed her hand and got down on one knee.
In a moment of clarity, it dawned on Heidi why his behavior had been so off that week. It was only natural that he had nerves in the days before he would ask her to marry him.
Except this was no proposal.
Instead, David told her that he needed to surround himself with successful people and be with someone who took their health and fitness more seriously — and that Heidi was not that person.
"I'd like to break up with you in order for you to have time to become the person I want you to be," David, still kneeling, told her.
Heidi was stunned and silent, her hand still in his.
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" she demanded.
She tore her hand from David's, even as he insisted this was an opportunity for her to "grow."
"It doesn't have to be like this," he told her.
"What the fuck do you expect?" she remembers saying. "You just broke up with me in the most fucked-up way."
She collected her belongings from his place and slammed the door behind her.
In the weeks and months that followed, Heidi recalls today, David tried multiple times to get back together with her, without success.
The last time he reached out was on February 24, 2020. The better part of a decade had come and gone since they had last spoke.
"Are you single? Wanna get a drink and catch up as friends?" he asked in a Facebook message.
In the next message, he answered his own question, remarking how he'd just seen her profile photo, which featured her and her boyfriend.
Then, he inquired about how much she'd charge for dog-sitting, in the event that he were to go on a trip soon.
From 2,000 miles away, David contacted detectives to put their minds at ease. On the phone, he told Det. Jared Kenerson that Gretchen was alive and not in danger.
But David insisted that Gretchen wasn't comfortable speaking with investigators. Instead, he explained that she'd provided him with a written statement, which he read aloud over the phone.
According to the statement, Gretchen had uncovered financial malfeasance at her job and was fleeing Florida with David because she feared for her life. The statement also implied she was running from her ex-husband, Jeff.
Despite David's assurances, detectives continued to build their case. Notably, they obtained a warrant on March 29 to seize his truck and enlisted the help of Las Cruces police to orchestrate a traffic stop.
Inside the pickup, police found two Amazon Echo devices and some dismounted security cameras.
They held the truck but told David that, for the time being, he was free to go.
The footage provided investigators a window into the last moments of her life. On the morning of March 21, shortly after 6, detectives watched as David lurked silently on the lanai that opened up to the back side of the garage, toying with an elongated object in his hands.
Six minutes later, Gretchen entered the frame. As she opened the door from the garage, David hid behind it in the dark.
"What're you doing?" she demanded.
The video showed David forcing her into the garage. Off camera, she could be heard screaming.
First, Gretchen shouted at the Amazon Alexa device inside the garage.
"Alexa, turn on the garage light!"
The surveillance camera's audio captured a thud and Gretchen's muffled cries. Then, she shouted again for Alexa: "Alexa! Call 911!"
By her third attempt, her suppressed pleas were fading.
"Alexa. Call 911."
As investigators watched and rewatched the videos from Gretchen's surveillance system, they saw David's face enter the frame and his gloved hands take down the cameras. In one shot, Gretchen's blood-soaked head could be seen behind him as he paced around the garage.
The investigators had seen enough. That day, March 30, detectives obtained a warrant for David's arrest.
This was no longer a search for a missing person. This was a homicide investigation.
A little before midnight on March 31, police arrested David outside a convenience store in Las Cruces.
Back in South Florida, an officer knocked on Jeff Dreier's door. It was past 2 a.m., and the officer asked if Jeff could wake up his daughter.
Now that David was in custody, the cop explained, they wanted to use a voice recording of Gretchen's daughter to appeal to David for information. With her dad's permission, she recorded her plea.
"David, it's Ava. I love you. I'm scared. I miss Mom," she told him. "I need to know where my mom is. Please do the right thing and tell me where my mom is. Please. I love you."
Detectives played the recording for David, but he was unmoved. From behind bars, he refused to say anything about what happened to Gretchen. In his typical reticence, he stayed silent for months.
"When he needed somebody in life, he managed to find me, find the comfort he needed, and then disappear again," the relative, Mitch, tells New Times. "And that's fine. I'm not a chaser. I'm not going to chase you to have a relationship with you." (Citing the delicate family situation, the relative asked New Times to use a pseudonym to identify him.)
But for as fickle as David was, Mitch was always willing to be there for him.
The last time the two saw each other was on March 19, 2020, two days before police say David killed Gretchen. When they met for lunch at Colombino Italian Bakery and Deli in West Palm Beach, David was clearly down about something. Unaware of the divorce, Mitch asked how things were with Gretchen.
"Not great," David had told him.
Thinking back to that last conversation and everything that followed, Mitch now says the lack of information offered up by David was par for the course. David, he recalled, had always been exceptionally insecure and reserved, constantly overanalyzing social situations and terrified he would say the wrong thing.
"A closed mouth does not get fed," Mitch always reminded a young David.
Today, Mitch says, it's difficult to reconcile the perception of who he thought David was with the reality of what he did to the woman he married.
"That's not the person I knew," Mitch says.
Reached via an email system for inmates, David declined a request from New Times for a formal interview.
He did say, however, that he has come to think of his nearly four-decade sentence as a "long walk with God." Behind bars, he spends his days studying Bible verses, memorizing scripture, and practicing meditation.
"I pray Gretchen's family can one day offer the spirit of forgiveness to me and my crimes," David wrote. "Not for my sake, but to prove that love and forgiveness are more powerful than hate."
With the exception of David's one relative, members of Gretchen and David's families either did not respond to New Times' requests or declined to be interviewed for this story. Ten months after David ended Gretchen's life, their broken families — donning facemasks — gathered in a Palm Beach County courtroom for his sentencing.
Gretchen's younger sister, 49-year-old Sarah Carey, was the only member of her family to speak. Refusing to say his name, she told David she would never absolve him of his crime. And because Gretchen was a firm believer in karma, she said, neither would the universe.
"You can never be forgiven," she told him. "You are disgusting."
Then it was David's turn to speak. His voice quivering and head bowed, he told the judge and families gathered behind him in the gallery that he hadn't come to offer excuses. Just context.
"Men live by their illusions," he said, "and my illusions saw COVID-19 as an end-of-the-world prophecy — an Armageddon I felt compelled to escape, no matter the cost."
"When actions become detached from consequences," he added, his face and neck flushed, "that's when madness occurs."
David never fully addressed exactly what happened on the last day of Gretchen's life, or the extraordinary efforts he went to in his attempt to cover up his crime.
Instead, he simply read from a piece of paper in front of him.
"Is there anything I can say that will comfort a girl who's lost a mother?" he asked. "Are there any words that will ease the burden of a mother who's lost her daughter?"
A woman's voice shot back from the gallery: "No."
Editor's note: This story is based on interviews with Tabitha Hopkins, Heidi Jaegers, David Anthony's relative "Mitch," and Det. Jared Kenerson, plus a thorough review of hundreds of pages of court records and police reports as well as virtual court proceedings. Family members of both David and Gretchen Anthony, as well as the attorneys involved, declined requests from New Times to participate in this story.