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It did not take long for authorities to suspect Yaser Said was involved in the murder of his two teenage daughters, whose bullet-ridden bodies were found inside an orange Jet Taxi cab on New Year’s Day in 2008.
Said, who was the last person to be 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 a 911 call placed by one of the daughters insisting he “shot” them. When officials finally arrived at the Said house, authorities were surprised to learn that the father-of-three had vanished into thin air. The next day, Said was charged with two counts of capital murder in what prosecutors have described as an “honor killing.”
But former investigators and witnesses who testified on behalf of the prosecution in Said’s trial in Dallas County Court detailed how it took a 12-year manhunt before the suspect was actually apprehended. In the meantime, Said allegedly took 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.
He was ultimately found in 2020 hiding in a Justin, Texas home about 40 minutes away from the grisly crime scene. The home, authorities said, had a hidden room in the back of a converted garage that had a cot.
“We didn’t know where he was,” former Irving detective Joe Hennig told jurors on Friday, stating that authorities found new records that he left the country. “We don’t know where he was for those 12 years.”
Said, 64, has pleaded not guilty to the capital murder charge for the crime that his lawyers have insisted was only pinned on him because he is Muslim. Prosecutors, however, allege that Said was “obsessed with possession and control” and murdered his daughters after learning the teenagers had boyfriends and had tried to run away.
Over the last 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, if they—and who they—could date. And he controlled everything in his household,” prosecutor Lauren Black said during opening statements on Tuesday.
In the weeks leading up to the murders, Said had allegedly grown “angrier” after feeling he had lost this power over his wife and his daughters, who had been dating non-Muslim men and planning to go to college. It wasn’t until December 2007, however, when prosecutors allege Said put a gun to Amina’s head and threatened to kill her, that the teenagers and their mother began to hatch their plan to escape shortly before Christmas.
“The way the patio doors and the bushes on the ground were left, investigators believed someone climbed ‘over the balcony.’”
Said’s ex-wife, Patricia Owens, told jurors on Friday that on Christmas Day she and her daughters escaped to Oklahoma. The next day, however, Said reported them 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 revealed where the teenager’s brother, Islam Said, was at the time.
Owens testified she was “to stay home” as her husband drove her daughters around to get food and talk. Authorities believe that the daughters were shot before 7:30 p.m. near the Omni Hotel. Around that time, Sarah Said called 911 twice, stressing she was “dying” after her father shot her.
“She’s asking for help and she names her killer, her father, Yaser Said,” Black said about Sarah’s 911 call that was played for jurors this week.
Authorities later learned that the taxi the girls found was not actually Said’s leased car—but one he had borrowed from a fellow driver, Jihad Tafal. Tafal told jurors on Thursday Said had to borrow his car a few days before Christmas, citing his disdain for the owner of the car he usually leased. Former Irving police detective John Schingle told jurors that while the orange taxi usually had a GPS, it was notably turned off that New Year’s Eve.
“There is almost 24 hours where we don’t know where that cab went,” Schingle added.
Randall Johnson, who was the lead Irving police detective on the case until mid-2008, testified in court Thursday that Owens had provided authorities with a box of ammunition when they arrived at the Said house after the murders. Among the bullets, he said, were 9-millimeter Lugers that matched shell casings retrieved from the cab.
Hennig also stressed to jurors on Friday that there were no fingerprints inside the cab, but that they quickly learned that Said was in the car prior to the murders. Investigators said that Said was previously known to carry a weapon while driving his cab.
“Hours later, authorities received a search warrant for the apartment—but only found an empty unit and an open sliding-glass patio door. ”
During cross-examination, Said’s defense attorneys argued that police intentionally ignored the girls’ boyfriends as suspects because it did not fit into their “narrative” that their father was responsible. Said’s lawyer also pushed on the idea that both of the boyfriends did not get tested for gun residue.
“Initially we were looking at the two boyfriends and then we focused on the defendant,” Johnson said.
But all the former investigators admitted that the case quickly snowballed from just a murder investigation into a manhunt. Authorities now know that during that time, Said enlisted the help of his son, Islam, and his brother, Yassein, for help to stay hidden.
In 2014, authorities added Said to the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted fugitives list. Three years later, authorities nearly caught Said in a North Texas apartment building after a maintenance worker spotted him. Jorge Camacho, who had been working for Canyon Apartments in Bedford in 2017, testified in Spanish via a translator that he received a request to fix a leak inside one of the units.
When he knocked on the door and attempted to open the door of the unit, which was leased to Islam Said, the deadbolt was still attached to the door.
Pushing the door as wide as he could, Camacho said that he yelled inside the apartment that it was an “emergency” and to let him inside. Ultimately, he said Said opened the door.
“He had facial hair and he had a hat. He had his face down,” Camacho said, adding that he eventually saw his face before he left.
Camacho said that as he was returning the keys, he ran into his manager who handed him the FBI’s most-wanted poster—and asked if he had seen Said. The maintenance worker confirmed that he had just seen Said moments prior inside the apartment.
The apartment manager quickly called the FBI, who arrived at the building and interviewed Camacho. While he was talking to investigators, Camacho said he looked up at the apartment and saw “the blinds opening and shutting.” Eventually, police tried to interview Islam Said at the complex, but he refused to let them inside to search the apartment.
According to a criminal complaint for Said’s son, he then called one of his uncles and said: “We have a big problem.” Said’s son and brother have since been sentenced to 10 years in prison for helping him hide.
Hours later, authorities received a search warrant for the apartment—but only found an empty unit and an open sliding-glass patio door. Irving Police Department Detective David Tull testified on Friday that when authorities entered the building, they found paperwork that belonged to Said’s brother and son—and lifted fingerprints from it. A toothbrush and luggage were also found.
Tull added that the way the patio doors and the bushes on the ground were left, investigators believed someone climbed “over the balcony.”
Less than two weeks after the apartment search, on Aug. 26, 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spotted Islam Said and another individual trying to cross the border into Canada. The criminal complaint for Islam said that the driver said the pair were on a “crazy road trip.” It is not immediately known if Islam and the other individual were detained or crossed the border.
It would take another three years for authorities to catch up with the Saids again, this time in Justin, Texas. Special Agent Daniel Gimenez said that investigators began around-the-clock surveillance of the home bought under Yassein’s daughter’s name.
“This was a single-family residence in a rural area in Justin with an attached garage,” Gimenez said. “It was an isolated neighborhood.”
Gimenez testified that Islam and Yassein were seen regularly driving to the house with grocery bags and would eventually leave hours later with “trashbags” they placed inside their car. “We wanted to know where the trashbags were going,” the special agent added.
On Aug. 17, 2020, Said’s brother and son left the house, and agents saw what looked like 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 laid prone on the ground.”
Said “was handcuffed and taken into custody safely without incident,” the special agent added. After his arrest, investigators entered the house and found a “garage door that was converted from a typical garage door to french doors.” In the back wall, there was a “space built out to encompass a room” with plywood.
“Inside the room was a cot and rug,” he added.