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Florida mother goes missing after friends, family get texts from her phone that she has COVID-19

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Friends and family of a Florida woman started receiving text messages from her phone saying that she had a serious case of coronavirus. When days went by without any responses to calls, police did a welfare check and found signs of a struggle at her home. Peter Van Sant joins "CBS This Morning" with details on the investigation into the disappearance of Gretchen Anthony for this week's "48 hours."

Video Transcript

- This week's "48 Hours" investigates the disappearance of a Florida woman, after a text from her cell phone raised suspicions early in the pandemic. Friends and family of Gretchen Anthony were stunned after receiving messages claiming that she had a serious case of the coronavirus, and was at a local hospital. But when they tried to call her, she never responded. Police went to her home for a wellness check and found signs of a struggle there. "48 Hours" correspondent Peter Van Sant takes us inside the search for Gretchen Anthony.

PETER VAN SANT: On the morning of March 23, 2020, friends and family of Gretchen Anthony started receiving disturbing texts.

CHRICHET MIXON: Gretchen Anthony starts to send text messages, stating that she has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

PETER VAN SANT: Chrichet Mixon, an assistant state's attorney for Palm Beach County, says the texts described Gretchen's worsening symptoms. "I'm really sick," says one. And in another, "I am on a ventilator."

CHRICHET MIXON: The family finds the text messages that they're getting from Gretchen to be worrisome, alarming.

PETER VAN SANT: But Kelly Hanna says her friend Gretchen was the picture of good health.

KELLY HANNA: She worked out at the gym very hard. She took her health very seriously.

PETER VAN SANT: Mixon says friends and family became distraught when they couldn't reach her.

CHRICHET MIXON: She never answered her phone.

PETER VAN SANT: It would go to voicemail.

CHRICHET MIXON: Yes.

PETER VAN SANT: So they asked police to do a check on Gretchen's home, where a neighbor told them she heard something terrifying.

- I heard a really serious woman scream. Like, just screaming, like she was being attacked.

PETER VAN SANT: Investigators became even more alarmed when they couldn't reach her estranged husband, fitness trainer David Anthony.

CHRICHET MIXON: Neither one can be found.

PETER VAN SANT: Police learned Gretchen wasn't in the hospital with COVID. So they searched her home for clues and found signs of a struggle. And they noticed security cameras had been removed from the walls. They asked Gretchen's service provider to pull the video from the cloud. The images showed a man lurking on Gretchen's patio the morning the neighbor heard the screams.

CHRICHET MIXON: There comes a point where this person that we see grabbed Gretchen, muffle her screams and take her into the garage. This person looks up at the camera--

PETER VAN SANT: And what do you see?

CHRICHET MIXON: We see David Anthony looking up into the camera.

- Oh boy. Peter Van Sant joins us now. Peter, who do police believe was sending those text messages from Gretchen's phone?

PETER VAN SANT: Well since Gretchen was missing, and she wasn't making any calls, particularly to her daughter, they immediately looked toward the estranged husband David Anthony, who also couldn't be found, and was presumed to be on the run.

- The home security camera footage seems like a pretty big deal to me, but I'm not a lawyer. How crucial was that to the police and their investigation?

PETER VAN SANT: Absolutely crucial. It puts David Anthony in that house the day of her death. You see the two of them on video together, so it's absolutely crucial. And in all my years at "48 Hours," I have never had so much police and security camera video in an hour. We take viewers, moment by moment, through this investigation. You see questioning of people, and you see the arrest. And, of course, you see video from the victim's home, which is something that's extremely rare.

- But just the fact though, Peter, that he was using COVID as an excuse-- allegedly, if it is the husband-- a lot of thought goes into that. And March 23, 2020, that's when the epidemic was-- that's when the shutdown was really just beginning.

PETER VAN SANT: Yes, I was sick myself with COVID back then. I was a bit frightened by what was going on. And the idea was, I'm sending a text. We were all confused by this mysterious disease. I'm going to be in this facility. I won't be able to see anyone for two weeks. Police believe that gave David Anthony time to make his run. He was headed for Costa Rica.

- Oh boy. All right. Peter Van Sant, thank you very much. And you can see Peter's report, "The COVID Cover-Up: Searching for Gretchen Anthony" on "48 Hours" tomorrow night at 10:00/9:00 Central, right here on CBS.