Casey Anthony Case Latest in Florida's History of Unusual News

Florida may be leader in peculiar crimes per capita.

Oct. 20, 2008 — -- When 22-year-old Orlando resident Casey Anthony, mother of 3-year-old Caylee Anthony, reported on July 15 that her daughter had been missing for a month, officer Carlos Padilla of the Orange Co. Sheriff's Department knew something was off.

"We knew then that we were met with something," Padilla told ABC News. "Of course, we didn't know the magnitude of the case at the time."

In the weeks and months that followed, Padilla watched the case ramble through the unusual to the absurd and eventually towards tragedy when, on Tuesday, Casey Anthony was formally charged with the little girl's murder.

Through its course, the meandering and unwieldy investigation soon racked up a cast of characters that would seem more at home on the silver screen than in Florida's suburbia.

There was Pete Benevides, the Orlando exotic car rental company owner, who put up $100,000 of a $125,000 reward for information leading to Caylee's rescue simply because, as he told ABC News, "It's sad."

There was Leonard Padilla, the mustached bounty hunter out of California, who appeared on the scene in a cowboy hat and paid half a million dollars to bail Casey out of jail when she was being held on charges including child neglect. When Casey failed to be as helpful to the investigation as Padilla hoped, he publicly changed his mind three times as to whether his company would revoke the bail.

And playing the lead was the most befuddling character of them all, Casey Anthony.

In an interview with ABC News on July 25, officer Carlos Padilla said Casey Anthony "has shown no emotion."

"That's unusual," he said. "At the time of the interviews ... she didn't seem concerned and that made this case this much stranger. She spoke to deputies like she was talking about baseball."

Padilla told ABC News that, early in the investigation, when Casey took police officers to Universal Studios, where she claimed to work, she waited until they got there, walked in "like she owned the place" and then suddenly turned and said, "You got me. I don't work here."

But while Padilla said the Anthony case is the most bizarre he has ever seen in his 18-year career at the Sheriff's Department, the rest of Florida cannot boast the same.

Florida's Bizarre News, From Comic to Tragic

For Florida, odd and sometimes grievous news just seems to be part of daily life.

Just last week there was a story about peacocks going on "the pill," one about police unsuccessfully attempting to tase a 450-pound boar into submission and another about a mother and son who allegedly tried to put a "hit" on two men and offered to pay the would-be killer in anti-anxiety pills.

"Florida is messed up," Drew Curtis wrote in his 2007 book "It's Not News, It's Fark." "Whatever the reason, Florida is without a doubt the No. 1 state for weird news."

Though there is hardly a way to quantify the "weirdness" of a state, the fact that the oddities of the Florida news have inspired multiple books, at least one daily blog and the only state-related tag on Fark -- a site dedicated to absurd news -- seems to support Curtis' claim.

When Tom Scherburger, Metro editor and 16-year employee of the St. Petersburg Times, decided to take all the weird news he had seen over the years and begin a blog called "Bizarre Florida," he knew it would be quite an undertaking.

"We knew when we started Bizarre Florida near the end of November [in 2007] that the challenge wouldn't be finding strange stories," the blog states. "Rather, it simply would be keeping up with all the bizarre events -- large and small -- that occur daily in the Sunshine State."

"We're a content provider for the rest of the country, if not the world," the 28-year Florida resident told ABC News. "The material's there."

That material is sometimes a sort of oddball humor -- like when a Tampa man was arrested for riding his bike in a batman costume -- and other times intensely grotesque -- like when a man from Winter Haven allegedly beat his baby daughter to death for not being a boy.

For Scherberger, knowing the difference between the comic and tragic can be difficult.

"There's a fine line there," he said. "Some tragedies are funny, to anyone it's not happening to. It's on a case-by-case basis. It's a gut feeling."

By walking that fine line, a gaggle of comedy writers who make their home in Florida have become successful by looking to the day's headlines for inspiration.

"For a novelist, it's such fertile ground," said Paul Levine, a best-selling fiction author who came to Florida originally in 1969 and has reported for the Miami Herald. "In my books... people think that the main story I'm writing about is true and all the odd cases that form the subplot, people think I made those up."

Levine said that the opposite is usually true.

Blame It on the Heat, or the People, or the Newspapers, or Nothing at All

While some, like Levine, are quick to say stories out of Florida are "undoubtedly" more bizarre than other states, few claim to know exactly why.

"The heat leading to sunstroke and leading to dementia among so many people creates a weirder, wacky environment," Levine theorized.

Drew Curtis wrote in "It's Not News, It's FARK," that the Florida "weirdness" was "diverse, and seems to be endemic of the population."

"Part of the reason Florida is such a magnet for bizarre stories is that so many people are rootless," Sherburger agreed. "It's a land of refugees. People will literally get on a bus with no job, no money and land in Florida looking for something to do. This is a good place to start over."

In the "land of refugees," nearly half of Florida's residents were born out of state, according to the 2000 Census.

"Sometimes I think that Florida, being sort of the end of the road, is where all these cracked marbles kind of roll and now they come to a stop in the sand," Levine said. "When you're there, there's no place left to go."

For others, like Clifton Bryant, author of the "Encyclopedia of Criminology and Deviant Behavior," there is a far simpler reason Florida seems more bizarre than other states: people are paying more attention there.

"I don't think it's just Florida," Bryant told ABC News. "Sometimes the press and law enforcement are more attentive to certain kinds of things and certain kinds of places. Maybe living in Florida is like living under a microscope. Maybe this extra scrutiny may reveal more warts than would otherwise be seen."

According to Scherberger, the fact that Florida's books are more open than most also helps.

"There's a lot of aggressive newspapers and we have access to virtually every arrest record," he said. "They say that in New York they'll tell you anything, but they won't give you records. In Florida, they won't tell you anything, but we have all the records."

Thus stories like the one about a woman stealing guitars from a dead man and then going on a "sex rampage" are reported more regularly than they might be elsewhere.

"We are a blessed people, but nevertheless, ours is a complex society," Bryant said.

Or, maybe, it is not so complex after all.

"These are all theories though," Scherberger said. "I don't know why Florida is weird. It must have something to do with the heat."