November 6, 1989
St. Louis, Missouri
16-year-old Palestina “Tina” Isa is stabbed to death by her father as her mother holds her down
Unbeknownst to the Isas, the FBI had been recording the Isa household after suspecting Zein Isa of having connections to the Abu Nidal Organization, a Palestinian nationalist militant group. Though the FBI was recording the home and Zein was under surveillance, no one was actively listening in on the family at the time of the murder.
According to recordings, Zein had openly talked about killing Tina as early as August 1989. He mentioned his daughter Tina had becoming too “Americanized,” that she had become a “burned woman,” “There was no way to cleanse her, except the red color that cleanses her,” and “This one should live under the ground.”
Tina’s family was upset the teen had gotten a part-time job without their permission, played high school soccer despite Zein’s objections, and had been dating a boy outside the family’s faith.
On the evening of November 6, Zein expressed suspicions Tina was not at work. He then asked “Here, listen, my dear daughter, do you know that this is the last day. Tonight, you’re going to die?” Tina reacted in disbelief and bewilderment, and Zein repeated himself. Zein then attacked Tina as she pleaded to her mother, Maria Isa, who held her down and said “what help?” As Tina screamed, Maria yelled “shut up!”
Zein stabbed Tina with a boning knife at least six times (some sources report as many as 13 times), piercing her heart, liver, and a lung, all the while saying “Die! Die quickly! Die quickly! Quiet, little one! Die my daughter, die!” The entire attack was captured on audio tape and later played for the jurors. Zein also testified he stepped on Tina’s mouth to silence her.
The FBI team assigned to the Isas discovered the murder the following day upon reviewing the tapes. Zein and Maria were arrested that day.
Jurors deliberated for four hours before finding both parents guilty in 1993. Zein was sentenced to death while Maria received a life term. Zein, who “suffered from diabetes and other ailments,” died in prison from natural causes in 1997 while awaiting execution. Maria died in prison of “apparent natural causes” in 2014.
- “Woman who killed daughter dies.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. [St. Louis, Missouri]. May 1, 2014
- Bell, Kim. “Zein Isa Dies In Hospital; Fatally Stabbed Daughter.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch [St. Louis, Missouri]. February 8, 1997
- Worthington, Rogers. “A family tragedy or terrorists’ scheme?” Chicago Tribune [Chicago, Illinois]. June 13, 1993
- “Terror and Death at Home Are Caught in F.B.I. Tape.” The New York Times [New York, New York]. October 28, 1991