The last year has been a hard one for Steve Esdale. Since his father's passing in 2003, the Broward man has been riding through stormy emotional weather as he faces still unanswered questions about the death — a seemingly normal passing that only gets more questionable the more you dig, he believes. But in July 2014, Esdale threw one last Hail Mary, asking the U.S. Attorney's Office to look into the circumstances surrounding the death. Since then, Esdale has been waiting. And waiting. Now a year later, Esdale still hasn't received a response.
"This is the last place where a person like me can get any justice," Esdale told New Times this week.
The case dates back to January 2003, when Murray Cohen, a 71-year-old successful businessman from the North who had retired in Sarasota's Siesta Key, died at his home. Cohen had reportedly laid down to nap around 4:30 p.m. His new wife of three weeks, a Bolivian woman named Maria Amurrio, called 911 an hour later. She reported Cohen wouldn't wake up.
But there were reasons to believe there was more at work here than a retiree collapsing from a bad heart. As we reported last year:
An autopsy was never performed. At the scene of the crime, the Sarasota Sheriff's Office deputies bagged a number of Cohen's medications, including something called Corazol. Authorities wrongly assumed it was something prescribed by Cohen's doctor in New Jersey. It wasn't. In fact, Corazol is a rare drug made in Bulgaria for the treatment of seizures and epilepsy. It's not approved by the FDA, and no one could explain why Cohen had it in his bathroom. By the time the drug's significance was discovered, the body had already been buried. Since Amurrio was the legal next of kin, Esdale couldn't have his father disinterred.
But the discovery was enough to make Dr. William Anderson, the Sarasota medical examiner who signed Cohen's death certificate, change his mind about the need for an autopsy.
"I believe there is a need to undertake the autopsy in this case because there are issues which have come to my attention after the embalming and burial of Murray B. Cohen, give rise to an issue whether or not the death was a result of natural cause [sic]," Anderson wrote in an 2005 affidavit. "Corazol being a stimulant, can affect the function of the heart and, would have represented a health hazard in a patient such as Mr. Cohen. An autopsy, in my opinion, would allow drug analysis to determine whether or not Corazol is present and how it might have contributed to Mr. Cohen's death."
The presence of Corazol — and Anderson's reversal — weren't the only red flag flapping in the case. Again, from our report last year:
There were other major inconsistencies regarding the timing of Cohen's death and when a 911 call was made. Cohen's stockbroker called the house at 5:30 pm on the day of his death; later he would tell investigators he heard an argument when he called between a man and a woman on the other end, then called back and was told Cohen was sleeping. The 911 call, which was made at 5:38 pm, on first listen details a frantic Amurrio trying to get help for her husband who is unresponsive. Esdale, however, had audio experts examine the tape who claim Cohen was still alive at the time of the call and pleading for an ambulance. Esdale's experts have also questioned whether Amurrio is screaming "mi amor," on the take or telling Cohen to "give up."
Despite these issues involving Cohen's death, law enforcement in Sarasota showed zero interest in reopening the death and reexamining the original findings — much to the consternation and anguish of Esdale. The cherry on top of this mess is that between 2003 and 2013, Esdale and Amurrio squared off in a long probate battle over Murray's estate — a fight the widow eventually won. But Esdale has always maintained that his fight for answers regarding Cohen's death has nothing to do with money. There are gaping holes in this situation that need to be filled in, he says.
Again, Esdale isn't the only one drawing that conclusion. In 2013, Esdale hired James Casey, former head of FBI's Jacksonville field office, to look into the case. "Based on my training and experience, as well as my nearly seven-month investigation concerning the death of Murray B. Cohen, I have concluded that there is probable cause to believe Maria A. Cohen caused the death of Mr. Cohen for the purpose of obtaining his assets," Casey wrote in his final report.
Esdale has been relentless megaphoning his suspicions and concerns. His website — cohenmurder.com — is stocked with every scrap of video and paper that's accumulated through the probate case and death investigation. Much of that information was in the package Esdale and his attorney sent off to the U.S. attorney last year. In November 2014, the office indicated that the case had been assigned to an attorney to review. Since then, radio silence. This week, Esdale said his attorney again contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office to check in. In the meantime, Esdale isn't pocketing his suspicions or staying quiet on the case. In June, he gave a long interview with an AM call-in show called Talk Legal with Jeff Van Treese (embedded below).
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"We're just getting jerked around," a frustrated Esdale says. "We're in a holding pattern. They said someone has been assigned, but there's been no follow-ups, no communication."
In previous reports, Amurrio has flatly denied any involvement in Cohen's death.
On Wednesday afternoon, New Times reached out to Amurrio to discuss the case and Esdale's accusations. After answering the phone and hearing why we were calling, Amurrio replied: "Listen, I am a sick lady. I don't have time to bullshit, you know?" She then handed the phone to a man. Again, New Times explained why we were calling. "She's not interested," the man stated before hanging up.