Steve Esdale has zero options left. For more than a decade, the stocky Weston contractor has been trying to drum up interest in the mysterious death of his father; for more than a decade, people have been ignoring him. Now, Esdale is banking on one last move: asking the US Attorney's office to step in on an old case outside their normal jurisdiction. The odds are long, but that's the only available avenue for Esdale. "I've turned over every pebble and gone to every mountain top," he says. "To me, this is the last place in our country where I can get help."
At first glance, Esdale's father's death was a typical Florida story. On January 13, 2003, 71-year-old Murray Cohen died in his Siesta Key home near Sarasota, only weeks after marrying his new wife, a Bolivian woman 25-years younger. According to reports, Maria Amurrio and Cohen took a nap at 4:30 pm. When the Amurrio was woken up by a phone call an hour later, she found her husband dead.
But, as Esdale has vocally told anyone who would listen for the last ten years, he believes Amurrio had a hand in his father's death.
Between 2003 and 2013, the parties fought a knotty probate case over the Cohen estate. Throughout the proceedings, judges continually denied Esdale's efforts to introduce evidence of a possible murder into the proceedings. "I have never experienced a case in which, on multiple occasions I actually expected an adverse judicial ruling because of my belief that the hearing outcome was 'pre-ordained',' Esdale's attorney Mark Lord wrote in a recent letter.
But there are definitely red flags in Cohen's death.
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."
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."
Esdale's found no takers for his concerns, despite the stack of experts who have dug up issues. The Sarasota Sheriff's Office has not helped. The probate court wasn't interested. He's written to the governor's office, even President Obama. Nothing. His only outlet for his developments on the case has been to keep a web site fully stocked with documents and updates.
In 2013, he hired James Casey, the former special agent in charge at the FBI's Jacksonville field office and the former Director of Intelligence on President George W. Bush's National Security Council, to investigate 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. But despite the findings, Sarasota authorities declined to re-examine Cohen's death.
This year, Esdale was pretty desperate for a next move when he caught a CNN story about the 2013 death of Kendrick Johnson. After the Georgia teen was found dead at his high school, authorities ruled the death was accidental. Pressure, however, from Johnson's family forced the U.S. Attorney to open its own investigation. Esdale is hoping the US Attorney step in similarly on his father's case.
In late June, his attorney mailed a packaged to US Attorney Lee Bentley in the Tampa asking for an investigation. He's still waiting for a reply.
New Times could not reach Amurrio for comment. Phone numbers listed to her name were no longer working, and an email did not get a response.