Enid Haban-Megahed on the MPD's investigation: 'Basically, they didn't do anything.'
Outrage over missteps in the murder investigations of 31-year-old Joel Marino and 21-year-old Brittany Zimmermann have shaken public confidence -- and re-opened the deep wounds Enid Haban-Megahed has lived with since her son Omar was found dead in his Monroe Street home in 1998.
Authorities initially assumed that Omar, 28, died of a drug overdose, despite the insistence of friends and family that the intellectual property lawyer and avid bicyclist did not use drugs. Blood tests eventually confirmed this. Omar's official cause of death was undetermined, but Enid believes he was murdered.
With the help of a former Madison detective-turned-private-eye, Enid has pieced together a chilling narrative. She speculates that on the night of Jan. 27, 1998, Omar's roommates struck him in the back of the head before injecting him with insulin, which made his blood-sugar levels crash, causing his death.
Enid says that when presented with evidence in support of this theory, the detective working the case seemed disinterested, and ignored her pleas for information. She also says Dane County Coroner John Stanley balked at releasing a copy of Omar's autopsy report, which the private eye eventually obtained. Then he stonewalled on releasing blood samples for testing by a private lab; when he finally did, she says, the blood couldn't be tested because it had been improperly stored.
Enid spoke to The Daily Page this week to talk about Omar's suspicious death and the unwillingness of authorities to take her seriously.
The Daily Page: How did you learn Omar had died?
Haban-Megahed: His brother found him. We were supposed to meet for breakfast on Sunday morning at 11 a.m. Omar was never late and after maybe five or 10 minutes, Abe said, "Maybe I'll go up to the house." He went up to the house and didn't come back and didn't come back. Finally, he came back around 1 p.m. and the coroner, John Stanley, was with him. He told me Omar was dead.
Why did they think it was a drug overdose?
There was no blood anywhere. He was basically just lying there. My sister who saw the photos, along with a private detective I hired, looked at them and said, "Omar was placed there, he didn't die in that position." I didn't look at the photos, but they said it was sort of set up to look as though he had choked on popcorn. There was popcorn around him, but when they did the autopsy there was no popcorn in his mouth, in his teeth or in his throat.
How long had he been dead before his brother found him?
I think it happened the night before. I had been with Omar in the afternoon. We ate at Culver's at 3 p.m. At 5 p.m., he got on his bike and headed back to his house. He was supposed be somewhere that night, a friend's birthday party. Around 8 p.m., the friend tried getting a hold of Omar, but got no answer. The food in the intestinal track was at the duodenal level, which puts his death at about four hours after he'd eaten. That's a pretty narrow time line.
How thoroughly did police investigate?
Basically, they didn't do anything. They took some pictures and did four interviews with friends. They asked about Omar's drug use and all four of them said that Omar didn't do drugs. They didn't really do anymore. Those four interviews were the only reports submitted. I could never get the detective to return phone calls. Weeks would go by and sometimes he'd call back. When the detective retired a year later, someone finally transcribed the interviews into reports. He didn't even do that much.
So you firmly believe your son was murdered?
What may have been the motive?
Jealousy. One of his roommates was very jealous. They were college friends and worked together at a bike shop. When we put out the reward, there were several people from the bike shop where he worked who said, "He's got the anger. He also has a trigger-temper." Omar had taken [the roommate's] ex-girlfriend to a Christmas function. On New Year's Eve, she called Omar to come help her because he was drunk and had ripped the phone out of the wall. She later filed a restraining order against him, saying she was afraid of his temper. There was also another roommate who was a male nurse. He was a quiet type and always irritated.
Did you suspect the roommates right away? It was always in the back of my mind. But as I looked into things, and when those people called after I posted the reward, there wasn't any doubt. ... I talked to my sister, who is a nurse, after they told us that the insulin level was very low. We started looking at that again, to see if he could've overdosed on insulin, especially with his other roommate being a nurse, working at a hospital, having access and the know-how.
Did police have his blood retested?
We requested that and hit nothing but brick walls. John Stanley didn't want to cooperate. I did a lot of the leg work myself, asking other labs to run the tests, to check for insulin. I talked to a state lab and they referred me to a San Diego lab. I called them, it was set up, I called Stanley to release the blood and he said they couldn't [run the test] post-mortem. I called the lab back and they're like, "What? We can do it post-mortem. It's just a different test."
A Milwaukee pathologist recommended a lab in Denver, but they couldn't test the blood. John Stanley said it was because the serums were too old, but when I talked to the head pathologist, he said, "It had nothing to do with that. The blood was improperly stored. That's why we can't run the test." So I never could run the blood test to see if it was insulin.
When you told detectives that you think Omar was murdered, what was their reaction?
They pretty much just ignored me. John Stanley would never give me a copy of the autopsy. He came to me after he did the autopsy and said there was no popcorn in Omar's system or no evidence of choking. They wanted to close the case and wouldn't even show me a copy of the autopsy report. I didn't get it until I hired the private detective.
So a year later, I got a copy of the autopsy report and it didn't show anything conclusive. There was mastoid bleeding like he'd been hit on the back of the head. There was trauma in the whites of the eyes. There was also some fibrosis in the heart, but not enough to cause death. When they had turned him over, blood ran from his nose or mouth. He'd been face down on the floor.
Detectives didn't find this suspicious?
They said nothing really pointed specifically to murder. He was just lying there. But six weeks later, when the blood came back, there was nothing in the blood except a little bit of antihistamine, but there was nothing significant, no drug overdose, in other words. They knew at that point they had a problem. I was ignored after that.
What goes through your head when you hear families like the Marino's claim police are dragging their feet in finding their son's killer? I hear that and I go, "You're only three months into this. I've been at this for 10 years." I felt that investigators were totally incompetent to begin with to walk in and make assumptions about drugs. That was my rude awakening. People who were close to me didn't really understand, because everyone assumes the police are going to help, but they didn't.
If they had no idea what happened and handled it with integrity, I would've respected that. Even with the 911 flub-up Kathleen Falk apologized. If someone had come to me, either the coroner or police, and said, "Someone cleverly murdered your son and we're sorry we can't put it together," I could live with that a little more. But to be treated like a hysterical mother, I resent that, because I'm not.
Is it wise for families to share their frustrations with media?
I say, "Go to the press, sweetie. Go to others for help all you want." That's the only way I got anywhere, by going to the others. Nothing was ever forthcoming. Only after I asked others who could approach it from another angle did I get any information.
At this point it's unlikely you'll ever learn what happened to Omar.
Basically, no. We've always hoped that [the roommate], being the kind of person he is, would brag at some point, that someone would come forward and say that he bragged to them. Who knows? Maybe this gets out there and someone will remember him bragging. That's all we have to go on.