Tampa Bay millionaire’s son continues battle to reopen father’s death investigation

8 On Your Side

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Murray Cohen had met his wife on a dating site about a year before they were married in Bolivia.

His son Steve Esdale recalls his father returning home to Florida in January 2003 feeling ill. Two weeks later Cohen was dead at the age of 71, leaving behind a $1.3 million estate.

Esdale was soon suspicious, starting with the cleanest recording of the 911 call that brought emergency personnel to his father’s home 4919 Commonwealth Drive near Siesta Key.

“The [Sarasota County] Sheriff’s Office ignored a court order to save the hard drive,” Esdale said.

Without the original, Esdale said he was forced to rely on a fourth-generation version of the call to search for clues about the day his father died at the age of 71.

“Which prompted me to go to the audio experts,” Esdale said.

About two minutes into the January 13, 2003 call, the 911 dispatchers asks, “Is he completely awake now, or no?”

“No,” Cohen’s widow said frantically. “He’s totally gone.”

MORE DETAILS911 CALL

But he was not gone according to the audio experts and Esdale, who claim Cohen’s voice can be heard in the background saying, “I asked you to call me an ambulance.”

“When she said my father was not breathing and totally gone, he cries out after she told the operator that,” Esdale said. “I thought you were going to get me an ambulance. I just ask for people to listen and let their ears be the judge.”

Private investigator assertions that a voice on the call tells Cohen to, “give up,” were disputed by state investigators who also questioned whether the other voice in the background was Cohen.

According to one of the audio experts, the 911 call was “the definition of probable cause.”

But according to court documents, the FBI determined the voice could have come from a television or even the room the operator was in at the time of the call.

Esdale and his investigators suspect Cohen was poisoned by the drug Corazol which according to sheriff’s office was found at the scene.

Dr. William Anderson, the medical examiner who signed Cohen’s death certificate and ruled heart disease was the probable cause of death, had no reason to suspect foul play in the days after Cohen died.

But shortly after leaving his post, he became suspicious of a number of factors, including the presence of Corazol in the home.

“That certainly was suspicious,” Anderson said.

He wrote a letter to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, recommending conducting an autopsy.

“It was a combination of things including a drug as I recall was not even legal,” Anderson said. “And that the presence of that drug, there at the house was of some concern.”

The body was buried in New Jersey without an autopsy.

As the next of kin, Cohen’s widow controls the decision to exhume the body and conduct an autopsy, but state investigators could also make that request.

Esdale, who has been denied a number of exhumation requests in and out of court, has now turned to the Governor Ron DeSantis’s office for help.

“And it’s now 6,716 days that I’ve been made to live like this and it doesn’t go away,” Esdale said. “And as I age it gets worse. The anxiety and the stress grows bigger.”

Esdale’s claim of a coverup by the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office was disputed by spokesperson Kaitlyn Perez who said independent reviews conducted by several agencies including the FBI did not find evidence of “a cover up conspiracy.”

“We did everything we could to reassure Mr. Esdale that this investigation was handled professionally and with great attention to every detail,” Perez said.

Cohen’s widow has not responded to requests for comment but in a court document he called Esdale “malicious” and claimed he was after his father’s estate.

Esdale denies that, emphasizing he will not give up.

“Not until the day I die,” he said.

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