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Rosie Essa thought she’d catch a last-minute movie with her sister when she hopped into her SUV and headed down the Gates Mills, Ohio streets to the theater.
Rosie — a nurse married to a successful emergency room doctor — had what some might consider the ideal life: financial security, a large family home, two beautiful children, and plans for a third baby.
But Rosie would never make it to the movies that day.
The 38-year-old mom of two suddenly began driving erratically, hit another car in a minor car accident, and was found behind the driver’s seat vomiting profusely. Rosie was rushed to the hospital, where she died, according to “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered,” airing Wednesdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
The sudden death stunned her tight-knit Italian-American family. It wasn’t until her brother Dominic DiPuccio got an unexpected phone call from one of Rosie’s closest friends, Eva McGregor, that the family began to suspect that Rosie’s February 2005 death may have had sinister roots.
According to Dominic, McGregor became “hysterical” when she learned that Rosie had died and pointed suspicion to a surprising suspect — Rosie’s handsome and successful husband, Yazeed “Yaz” Essa.
“She proceeded to tell me that Rosie was talking to her on her way to the movie and she said Yaz had given her a calcium pill before she left the house and she started to feel queasy,” Dominic told “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.”
Rosie told McGregor she planned to call her husband to see if “maybe this calcium pill is making me sick” but just minutes later she lost control of her vehicle.
Unnerved by the phone call, Dominic sought out his brother Rocky and together, with both of their wives, they sat in the parking lot of their church, away from the hospital and other family members, to try to determine what to do with the new information. Together, the group called McGregor again, who reiterated her story.
“She just kept insisting, ‘Promise me you’ll get a full autopsy, promise me you’ll get a toxicology report. Promise me, promise me, promise me,’” Dominic recalled.
The information put Rosie’s husband, who had always been a welcome and respected addition to the family, under disturbing suspicion. Rocky and his wife wanted to immediately go to the police, but Dominic, a lawyer, wanted to proceed cautiously.
They agreed that the next day Rocky would call the coroner and request a thorough report on his sister’s death.
But Rosie’s family weren’t the only ones who McGregor had shared her fears with. She also spoke with her neighbor Christine DiCillo, who, in a strange coincidence, had once worked at the same hospital with Rosie and Yaz.
“It was odd to me that just prior to leaving for a movie in the middle of the afternoon in a hurry that that was so necessary that he give her the pill,” she told "Dateline" correspondent Dennis Murphy. “As soon as I got off the phone with Eva, I looked to my husband and said, ‘I think he killed her.’”
DiCillo decided to take her concerns directly to Highland Heights Police Detective Gary McKee. McKee wasn’t sure what to make of the story but agreed to bring Yaz in for questioning.
During an interview, Yaz told the detective that he had suggested Rosie take the calcium after he had overheard his mom talking about osteoporosis and thought it might be a good idea for his wife to get more calcium. Yaz agreed to hand over the calcium pills — along with the prenatal vitamins and other medication Rosie had been taking — to the detective that same day, allowing the detective to follow him home after the interview.
The next day, Yaz asked Rosie’s sister to watch the couple’s two young children and later called her back to say he’d need her to watch the children over the weekend because his friend’s brother had died and he needed to go out of town.
However, Yaz never returned and the family soon learned that Yaz’s story about why he needed to go out of town was nothing more than an elaborate lie created to give him time to leave the country. Yaz had gone on the run, eventually making his way to Beruit, Lebannon — a country without an extradition treaty with the United States — leaving the fugitive doctor virtually untouchable.
Back in the United States, detectives discovered that the calcium pills taken from the family’s home had been filled with potassium cyanide, a deadly poison strong enough to kill its intended victim within minutes, according to “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.”
Authorities charged Yaz with aggravated murder, but despite pleas from Rosie’s family to return to the United States, Yaz continued to live on the lam, even assuming a new identity under the name “Maurice Khalife.”
It would take a year and a half before the FBI was able to arrest Yaz when he left Lebanon to go to Cyprus. But even once he was in custody in Cyprus, Yaz spent years fighting extradition and wasn't returned to the United States until January 2009.
Once on trial for killing his wife, proosecutors argued that while Yaz appeared to be the perfect, doting husband and family man, he also had a secret double life. For years, Yaz had cheated on his wife with multiple women and even had a secret “love shack” complete with a bedroom in the basement of a business he owned with his brother. They said he decided to kill his wife after falling in love of one of the women he had been seeing on the side.
The man who had helped Yaz while he was on the run in Lebannon, Jamal Khalife, also took the stand to testify that Yaz had once confessed to killing his wife.
“He told me the whole story, that his wife was leaving the home going, I think, to a movie,” Khalife said on the stand. “He told me he grounded cyanide, refilled the pills, and he give her two pills. Down the street she had a car accident and she died.”
But perhaps the most damaging witness was Yaz’s own brother, Firas Essa, who also testified that his brother had admitted killing Rosie.
“I told him he was a [expletive],” Firas said in court. “Because he took Rosie’s life, and I loved her. It was — he just ruined his whole family.”
Yaz’s defense attorneys had argued that one of Yaz’s mistresses, Marguerita Montanez, who also served as a daytime nanny for the family, had become obsessed with Yaz and placed the cyanide in the pills in an effort to get rid of Rosie, a suggestion she vehemently denied.
Jurors would ultimately side with the prosecution and found Yaz guilty of aggravated murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.
While the verdict brought a legal end to the case, her family remains haunted by her death.
“We lost our Rosie for no reason,” Rosie’s father, Rocco Dipuccio, said during the sentencing hearing. “The only thing I’m hoping that is from on maybe there’ll be less nights that my wife cries herself to sleep.”
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