Mom Is Free—but Where's Caylee?

updated 09/08/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/08/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

A fractured family sits down for dinner, somber and silent. George and Cindy Anthony, who own the ranch-style home in Orlando, are there, and so is their daughter Casey, 22, bailed out of jail Aug. 21. But a fourth member is absent—Casey's daughter Caylee, 3, missing now for nearly three months. And, improbably, no one brings her up. "Casey is not talking about Caylee to her parents, and they are not asking," says family spokesman Larry Garrison, who describes life in the home as strained. "This is not a happy time for them."

Without some answers, it can only get worse. The mystery of Caylee's disappearance—she was last seen in mid-June, but her mother didn't report her missing until July 15—got even murkier when California bounty hunter Leonard Padilla posted Casey's $500,000 bail and said he believes her story that Caylee is alive and well. "She's not concerned," said Padilla of Casey, who had been arrested July 15 on suspicion of child neglect and obstructing an investigation. "Her demeanor is that of a parent who knows her child is safe."

While Padilla hopes to crack the case with his own investigation, Florida officials are keeping their focus on Casey. On Aug. 25 prosecutors released her initial statement, in which she claimed a babysitter named Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez took Caylee. "I avoided calling police or even notifying my own family out of fear," said Casey. She also claimed she got a call from Caylee on July 15, "the first day I have heard her voice in over four weeks." But investigators tracked down a Zenaida Gonzalez, who said she never met Casey. Nor could police locate the coworkers Casey said would verify her version of events. "She has told us a lot of lies," says a police source. "She is still our primary person of interest. We believe the answers are with her."

Since getting bailed out, Casey, on her attorney's advice, has not discussed the case with anyone. Her parents "want to talk about Caylee, but they understand," says Garrison. Confined to their home and outfitted with an ankle monitor, Casey spends most of her time talking on the phone, reading and watching TV—careful to avoid coverage of her own case.

So what's next? Results of DNA tests performed on evidence found in Casey's car, which have yet to be made public. For now, "I believe that Caylee is alive," says Cindy Anthony, who is trying her best to keep her family together. "Everyone can put out their theories of what happened, but we are looking for Caylee. We have no other agenda. She is still missing. And we can find her."

From Our Partners