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Under the Knife
A Beautiful Woman, a Phony Doctor, and a Shocking Homicide
By Diane Fanning
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2007 Diane Fanning
All rights reserved.
A PERFECT SPRING DAY DAWNED OVER MANHATTAN ON PALM Sunday, April 13, 2003. Low morning temperatures rose into the 60s and there wasn't a cloud in the sunny blue sky. The tall buildings blocked direct light from most of the sidewalks until the sun reached its pinnacle at noon.
Maria Pilar Cruz emerged from her luxury high rise on West 50th Street to greet the glorious morning. She was a small Filipina — only 4'11" weighing just 90 pounds — but she was large in energy and ambition. Workouts at Crunch gym and jogs in Central Park made her as fit as a 35-year-old woman could be.
Her drive to succeed led her out of the Philippines eleven years earlier, eventually taking her to New York City in 1998, where she earned an MBA in finance and international banking as well as U.S. citizenship. By 2003, she was a highly regarded financial analyst for Barclays, bringing in an annual salary that approached $200,000.
That year was full of promise for Maria. She planned to go back to school to study for an additional advanced degree. She conspired with family members to plan a fabulous celebration for her parents' fiftieth anniversary. And she anticipated a Christmas visit to the Philippines — her first trip home since arriving in America.
She did not have work or exercise on her mind when she left her apartment building that morning. Her thoughts were on a higher plane. It was time to pay homage to God for the many blessings in her life. She walked a couple of blocks to St. Malachy's Church for 11 A.M. mass.
After the service she stopped by a Duane Reed pharmacy near the corner of 50 and Broadway. She then headed across town past the flapping flags at Rockefeller Center, across Fifth Avenue, then turned right onto Park Avenue heading south. Directly in front of her, the elaborate Helmsley Building blocked the forward progress of the avenue.
When she reached the Helmsley, she took the pedestrian tunnel to the other side to reach the MetLife Building at 200 Park Avenue. She took the elevator and entered the offices of the Barclays Capital asset management group at 1 that afternoon. She went to her desk to retrieve a few files she needed for a team meeting on Monday morning.
At 1:30 she left, stopping in the upscale lobby mall to withdraw $400 from an ATM machine. She would need a big part of that for an appointment later that day. Her medical provider asked her to bring cash.
Maria used her credit card at Grand Central Terminal and walked back home. At her apartment, she spread out her files on the dining table and immersed herself in preparation for the next day. Engrossed in her work, she lost track of time and had to hurry off, leaving her home in greater disarray than usual.
She headed down to Chelsea for her appointment, arriving sooner than she'd anticipated. With time to kill, she stopped to shop at Loehmann's on Seventh Avenue at 16 Street. At 5, she bought a new blouse — size 2 — and a pair of size 6 shoes.
She walked a couple of blocks down 16th Street to her appointment with Dean Faiello. It was not in a conventional medical office — Dean worked out of a friend's apartment. There he had a laser machine to treat a recurring growth in Maria's mouth called black hairy tongue syndrome. She'd paid visits to a number of other doctors and endured numerous scrapings before finding Dean on the Internet early in 2003. She was impressed with his meticulousness and his professional bedside manner. She was also beguiled by his charm.
That day, prior to the removal process, Dean administered a lidocaine injection into Maria's tongue. Like all local anesthetics, this drug had a small tolerance spectrum. Too low a dose and it would not provide the numbness needed. Too high a dose could result in serious complications. The site of the injection amplified the necessity for accuracy. The tongue is a vascular structure — spongy, absorbent matter criss-crossed with an amazing network of capillaries that rush any substance throughout the body at lightning speed.
Reclining on the treatment table waiting for the drug to take effect, Maria heard a ringing in her ears. It was annoying, but did not cause immediate concern. Then she became light-headed. She closed her eyes to stop the room from spinning. It was an unpleasant sensation, but she thought it would pass.
She tasted something acrid and metallic as if she'd bitten down on a piece of aluminum foil stuck to a morsel of barbecued food. An uncomfortable heat surged through her body from head to toe as a bright red flush radiated across her face. The treatments had never made her feel like this before — she didn't like it, but she didn't complain.
At this point — without a word from Maria — a trained anesthesiologist would have known that the patient was in trouble. Either Dean did not notice the coloration in her face or he did not understand its significance.
He didn't know there was a problem until the seizures began. Maria was no longer aware of her surroundings. Without volition, her body tensed and shook. Dean knew that he had to do something, but had no idea what.
An injection of Pentothal, Versed or diazepam could have readjusted the electrical potential in her brain and stopped the manic motion in her muscles. But Dean did not have the education to know. He did not have the drugs he needed. All he knew was that Maria was convulsing again and again as he stood helpless by her side.
He grabbed his phone and called his friend Patty Rosado. She would have the number of the emergency room director at New York University Downtown Hospital, Dr. David Goldschmitt, who lived just a block away from Dean's home in Newark. Patty called David and asked if it was okay to give Dean his home phone number. Then she called Dean back, and gave it to him. Dean wasted no time making the call. He explained the nature of his emergency to David, claiming that the convulsing woman was his friend and asking what he should do.
The doctor was blunt. "Call an ambulance and get her to the hospital," he said.
"She's regaining consciousness now," Dean said. "I'll ask her if she wants to go to the hospital."
"Don't ask her," Dr. Goldschmitt insisted. "Just take her. The seizures will start again. This time they could kill her. Get her to the hospital now."
Without response, Dean hung up the phone. He'd been pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior for years, but now he stood on the precipice — gazing at a line he should not cross. This was the most pivotal moment of Dean Faiello's life. It was the ultimate test of his character. The right course of action blazoned before him, as clear and obvious as the lights on a runway. At this point, he faltered and he failed — he failed Maria Cruz and failed himself.
Call the authorities and face the consequence of his actions? He was too scared to follow Goldschmitt's advice. He had to ride this out. He could not afford to take her to the hospital. He was in trouble already. Taking Maria in for help would make everything so much worse. As soon as she survived the crisis, they would ask her who did this to her. The moment she uttered his name he was doomed.
David wanted to call for an ambulance himself, but all he knew was that Dean and this woman were in an apartment in Manhattan. He punched star-69 into his phone to reconnect with Dean, but the number was blocked. David was concerned — he didn't think he'd convinced Dean of the situation's urgency.
He felt helpless and frustrated. His career as a physician was founded on saving lives — he worked to that end every day in the emergency room. In the aftermath of 9-11, David had been in the eye of the storm, working unending hours at a hospital close to ground zero. And now he feared a woman was dying and there was nothing he could do. The thought brought back visions of the dead and the dying on that dreadful day less than two years earlier.
Meanwhile, in the makeshift office, Maria's seizures ceased. Dean sighed out his relief, thinking he had weathered the crisis — until he realized that her chest was not rising and falling as it should. She was not breathing. He put his fingers to her wrist, to her throat. She had no pulse. He checked for a heartbeat. He heard not a sound.
He stabbed the number of his accountant, financial advisor and friend Martin Mannert into the telephone. "She had a reaction to lidocaine," he said. "There are no vital signs. No respiration. No pulse. I don't know what to do."
"I'll call 9-1-1," the friend offered.
"No. No, don't do that. I'll take her to St. Vincent's right away." There was a trauma center at St. Vincent's hospital and it was only four and a half blocks away from Dean's makeshift office.
Maria never arrived there. Dean never made the effort.
He panicked at the thought of the cost he would pay — the repercussions that he would suffer — if he did the right thing. He thought of life behind bars. He knew his 6-month plea-bargained sentence on an earlier charge would vanish into thin air if the authorities knew he was still treating patients. Consumed with his own personal peril, he did not spare a moment's concern for the woman who would pay the highest price of all.
He pulled a carry-on suitcase from a closet. It was too small to hold most adults, but Maria was a tiny woman. Now that her natural vivacity was extinguished, she looked smaller than ever. Dean had little trouble folding her stillpliable body into the bag and zipping it shut.
The little wheels whirred smoothly down the hall as Dean eased the suitcase into the elevator. He descended, then jarred the contents as he exited the lift, pulling the beloved daughter of Rudolfo and Irenea Cruz over the gap.
He rolled the suitcase outside to his green SUV. Even with Maria inside, it still weighed less than 100 pounds. For a strong guy like Dean, heaving it into the back of his '96 Jeep Cherokee barely raised a sweat.
He drove through the Holland Tunnel to Newark, New Jersey, taking the tiny Filipina's body to his elegant old home, the former residence of opera diva Madame Maria Jeritza.
Maria Cruz would not rest in peace.CHAPTER 2
THAT MONDAY AT BARCLAYS, CONCERN RIPPLED THROUGH the office. Maria did not come to work. She did not call. People in the office called her apartment throughout the day. No one answered the phone. This was so unlike Maria. She was prompt. She was reliable. She never missed work without an explanation.
The next day, still no Maria. Co-worker Martin Davey went to St. Joseph's Home, the boarding house on West 44 Street. He was surprised to discover Maria had moved out a few months earlier. He returned to the office and checked with the human resources department for a new address.
Another co-worker, Mike Reagan, lived closest to Maria's apartment. He agreed to check on her on his way into work on Wednesday morning. He stood outside of her unit with dismay. Stacked before the door were three issues of The Wall Street Journal. He rang the bell. He knocked till his knuckles hurt. No Maria.
Back at Barclays, Maria's unexplained absence rattled her supervisor, Hans Christensen. He pulled Maria's file, looked up her emergency contact information and placed a call to her aunt, Rebecca de los Angeles, who lived on the other side of the Upper New York Bay in Jersey City.
The red flags flew immediately for Rebecca. Her niece had a strong work ethic, an unshakeable sense of responsibility. Something was wrong. She called her nephew Orlando Castillo. Orlando rounded up his brothers, Rafael and Emanuel, and they made their way to West 50th Street.
All hope of an innocent explanation fled at the sight of the newspapers piling up at Maria's door. They found the building manager, but he would not grant access to any tenant's apartment without the assistance of the police.
Orlando and Rafael walked over to the 54th Street station of the New York Police Department. They returned with two female officers. The police women forced the door open. Inside, there were no signs of foul play — nothing to indicate forced entry. Orlando went straight to the spot where Maria stored important papers and discovered that even her passport was in the right place. The police review only confirmed what the emotional family saw: the ordinary sight of a slightly disheveled Spartan apartment, that of a woman who placed little value on material possessions. Maria's purse was missing, as were a pair of gray sneakers. All else appeared to be in place.
IN NEWARK, DEAN FAIELLO WAS STOCKPILING BAGS OF CONcrete. Friends Greg Bach and Mark Ritchey both purchased bags at Home Depot for him. Some were needed for repairs to the home, but Greg noticed the excess and worried about how they were going to dispose of all those heavy sacks when it was time to move. They couldn't be put in the trash. Just what do you do with leftover bags of concrete? he wondered. He hoped that moisture didn't turn them into heavy, hardened blocks of dead weight before it was time to get rid of them.
Dean's neighbor Dr. Goldschmitt finally caught up with Dean and asked about the woman who was in medical distress.
"She came out of her convulsions, was fine and went home," Dean said.
David Goldschmitt felt an immense sense of relief.
Dean ran into Martin Mannert, the accountant friend he called on April 13. Dean said Maria was fine. "I took her to St. Vincent's," he said, "and all was well."
MARIA'S BROTHER JUN, A 42-YEAR-OLD ENGINEER, AND HER sister Tes Lara, a 39-year-old dentist, landed at JFK International Airport on Good Friday, April 18, at 3 P.M. Weary from their long flight from the Philippines, they were dismayed to find that Maria was not there to meet them. They waited until 5 before contacting other family members, looking for their little sister.
Missing, they were told. Maria was missing. Jun and Tes learned that, while they were in flight to the States, other family members spent the day calling hospitals to no avail. When their cousins wanted to file a missing persons report, police told them to hold off for a week, the standard waiting time for a missing adult. Tes and Jun were not willing to linger. It was time to take the next step — to push it, if necessary.
With their uncle, Jose Navarro, Maria's siblings went to the Midtown North NYPD station on 54th Street to file the report. Initially, Maria landed on the long unfortunate list of the missing — just one more lost individual of the 18,400 people who'd disappeared in New York City in the first five months of 2003. Jose convinced Officer Ponce that Maria's disappearance was not an ordinary case of someone not wanting to be found — the circumstances justified an immediate investigation.
Ponce referred the family to Detective Joseph Della Rocca. The investigator accompanied Jose, Tes and Jun to Maria's fourteenth-floor apartment. After speaking to the building manager, they entered Maria's home.
Again, there was no obvious evidence of foul play — no forced entry, no indication of a struggle — but nothing felt right. For Tes and Jun, the subtle signs were alarming. Meticulous and neat, Maria would never leave her place in such disarray unless she intended to return immediately. Soiled dishes piled in the sink. Fresh grapes lay out on the counter. Papers sprawled across the kitchen table. Leftovers in the refrigerator and open blinds in one window further indicated that Maria did not intend to be away from her apartment for long.
None of it made any sense.
Hoping against hope, the family made the rounds of Manhattan hospitals. They looked in on every Jane Doe in each facility. Still, no sign of Maria. No word from Maria.
On Sunday, Jose and Jun looked on the Internet for clues. They found a credit report in which Maria used the name Marisol. They found other documents from the time just after she got her United States citizenship with this name, too. Once again, calls went out to all the hospitals in the area. This time, the family asked for Marisol Cruz.
ACROSS THE HUDSON RIVER, DEAN FAIELLO PREPARED HIS home for sale. He had lived there for seventeen years. Before Maria's death, he had faced serious financial problems. Now impending foreclosure made the sale mandatory. Unaware of anything but Dean's economic distress, friends and neighbors pitched in to help the adorable, charismatic doctor with home improvements for the sale, and then with cleanup for the move.
Excerpted from Under the Knife by Diane Fanning. Copyright © 2007 Diane Fanning. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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