It wasn’t long before authorities suspected Yaser Said of involvement in the murder of his two teenage daughters, whose bullet-riddled bodies were found in an orange jet taxi on New Year’s Day 2008.
Said, the last person seen with 17-year-old Sarah and 18-year-old Amina, was nowhere near the taxi when it was found outside a Dallas-area hotel – despite an 911 call made by one The two daughters insisted he “shot” her. When officers finally got to Said’s home, authorities were surprised to find that the father of three had vanished into thin air. The next day, Said was charged with double murder, which prosecutors have described as “honor killings”.
But former investigators and witnesses testifying on behalf of prosecutors in Said’s trial in Dallas County Court described how it took a 12-year manhunt before the suspect was actually arrested. Meanwhile, Said has allegedly taken extreme measures to evade police while on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, including enlisting the help of his son and brother and jumping off an apartment patio after being spotted by a maintenance worker was.
He was finally found in 2020, hiding in a house in Justin, Texas about 40 minutes from the grisly crime scene. The home, authorities said, had a hidden room in the back of a converted garage that housed a cot.
“We didn’t know where he was,” former Irving detective Joe Hennig told jurors Friday, explaining that authorities had found new records of him leaving the country. “We don’t know where he’s been for those 12 years.”
Said, 64, has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder for the crime his lawyers have insisted because he is Muslim. However, prosecutors allege Said was “obsessed with possession and control” and murdered his daughters after learning the teens had friends and were trying to run away.
Over the past three days in court, prosecutors and witnesses have detailed the power, control and fear he wielded, including choosing where the family would live and who they would communicate with.
“He controlled what they did, who they talked to, who they could be friends with, whether they could – and who they – dated. And he controlled everything in his household,” prosecutor Lauren Black said during Tuesday’s opening statement.
In the weeks leading up to the killings, Said had reportedly become “more angry” after feeling he had lost that power over his wife and daughters, who were dating non-Muslim men and planning to go to college. But it wasn’t until December 2007, when prosecutors claimed Said held a gun to Amina’s head and threatened to kill her, that the teenagers and their mother began hatching their escape plan just before Christmas.
“With the patio doors and bushes left on the ground, investigators believed someone had “climbed over the balcony.””
Said’s ex-wife Patricia Owens told jurors Friday that she and her daughters fled to Oklahoma on Christmas Day. However, the next day, Said reported her missing to the Lewisville Police Department, prompting Amina and Sarah to eventually return to the Dallas area on New Year’s Eve. Authorities have not disclosed the whereabouts of the teenager’s brother, Islam Said, at the time.
Owens testified that she was told to “stay home” as her husband drove their daughters around to get food and chat. Authorities believe the daughters were shot dead near the Omni Hotel before 7:30 p.m. Around this time, Sarah Said called 911 twice, stressing that she was “dying” after her father shot her.
“She is asking for help and naming her killer, her father, Yaser Said,” Black said of Sarah’s 911 call, which was played before the jury this week.
Authorities later learned that the taxi the girls found wasn’t actually Said’s leased car – but one he had borrowed from another driver, Jihad Tafal. Tafal told jurors Thursday that Said had to borrow his car a few days before Christmas, citing his disdain for the owner of the car, which he normally leased. Former Irving Police Detective John Schingle told jurors that while the orange cab usually had a GPS, it was particularly off on this New Year’s Eve.
“There’s almost 24 hours where we don’t know where the taxi went,” Schingle added.
Randall Johnson, who was Irving’s lead police detective on the case until mid-2008, testified in court Thursday that Owens provided authorities with a box of ammunition when they arrived at Said’s home following the murders. Among the bullets, he said, were 9-millimeter Lugers that matched shell casings retrieved from the cabin.
Hennig also stressed to the jury on Friday that there were no fingerprints in the taxi, but that they quickly learned that Said had been in the car before the murders. Investigators said Said was previously known to be carrying a gun while driving his taxi.
“Hours later, authorities obtained a search warrant for the apartment – but found only an empty unit and an open sliding glass door to the patio. ”
During cross-examination, Said’s defense attorneys argued that the police intentionally ignored the girls’ friends as suspects because it didn’t fit their “narrative” that their father was responsible. Said’s lawyer also pushed for the idea that both friends were not tested for gun residue.
“First we looked at the two friends and then we focused on the defendant,” Johnson said.
But all former investigators admitted that the case had quickly devolved from a murder investigation to a manhunt. Authorities now know that during this time Said enlisted the help of his son Islam and brother Yassein to help go into hiding.
In 2014, authorities added Said to the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list. Three years later, authorities almost caught Said in a North Texas apartment building after a maintenance worker spotted him. Jorge Camacho, who worked for Canyon Apartments in Bedford in 2017, testified in Spanish through a translator that he had received a request to fix a leak in one of the units.
When he knocked on the door and tried to open the door of the apartment rented to Islam Said, the bolt was still on the door.
Camacho pushed the door open as wide as it could go and said he yelled at the apartment that it was an “emergency” and let him in. Finally he said Said opened the door.
“He had facial hair and a hat. He had his face down,” Camacho said, adding that he finally saw his face before leaving.
Camacho said when he returned the keys, he was met by his manager, who handed him the FBI’s most wanted poster – and asked if he had seen Said. The caretaker confirmed that he had seen Said in the apartment shortly before.
The housing manager quickly called the FBI, who arrived at the building and questioned Camacho. While speaking with investigators, Camacho said he looked up at the apartment and saw “the blinds opening and closing.” Eventually, the police tried to question Islam Said at the complex, but he refused to let them in to search the apartment.
According to a criminal complaint filed against Said’s son, he called one of his uncles and said, “We have a big problem.” Said’s son and brother have since been sentenced to ten years in prison for helping him hide.
Hours later, authorities obtained a search warrant for the apartment – but found only an empty unit and an open sliding glass door to the patio. Irving Police Department detective David Tull testified Friday that when authorities entered the building, they found papers belonging to Said’s brother and son — and fingerprinted them. A toothbrush and luggage were also found.
Tull added that investigators believed someone “climbed over the balcony” as the patio doors and bushes were left on the ground.
Less than two weeks after the home search, on August 26, 2017, US Customs and Border Protection officers discovered Islam Said and another person attempting to cross the border into Canada. The criminal complaint for Islam said the driver said the couple was on a “crazy road trip”. It is not immediately known if Islam and the other person were arrested or crossed the border.
It would be another three years before authorities caught up with the Saids again, this time in Justin, Texas. Special Agent Daniel Gimenez said investigators had begun 24-hour surveillance of the home purchased in the name of Yassein’s daughter.
“This was a single family home in a rural area in Justin with an attached garage,” Gimenez said. “It was a remote neighborhood.”
Gimenez testified that Islam and Yassein regularly drove to the house with grocery bags and eventually left hours later with “garbage bags” they had placed in their car. “We wanted to know where the garbage bags go,” added the special agent.
On August 17, 2020, Said’s brother and son left home and agents saw what appeared to be a “shadow” of another person.
Days later, FBI agents received a search warrant and entered the home. Immediately after authorities announced their presence at the Justin home, Gimenez said Said “came out and surrendered and lay on the floor.”
Said “was handcuffed and taken safely into custody without incident,” the special agent added. After his arrest, investigators entered the home and found a “garage door that has been converted from a typical garage door to French doors.” In the back wall was a “space enclosing space” with plywood.
“There was a cot and a rug in the room,” he added.