Murder of Tina Isa

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Palestina Zein "Tina" Isa
Born(1972-12-03)December 3, 1972
DiedNovember 6, 1989(1989-11-06) (aged 16)
Resting placeSacred Heart Cemetery
Florissant, Missouri
EducationRoosevelt High School
OccupationStudent at Roosevelt High School, part-time fast food worker
Known forBeing the victim of an honor killing in St. Louis

Palestina Zein "Tina" Isa (December 3, 1972 – November 6, 1989) was an American teenage girl murdered in an honor killing in St. Louis, Missouri by her parents, Zein and Maria Isa.[1] Her death was recorded on audiotape during Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance on Zein Isa due to his association with Abu Nidal Organization (ANO). He and his wife were both convicted for first-degree murder and sentenced to death; the husband died of disease before he could be executed, and the wife was later resentenced to life imprisonment and died in custody.


Zein Isa
Zein al-Abdeen Hassan Isa

(1931-06-03)June 3, 1931
DiedFebruary 17, 1997(1997-02-17) (aged 65)
Cause of deathDeath by diabetes
Criminal statusDied in prison
Spouse(s)Maria Isa
ChildrenTina Isa and others
MotiveHonor killing
Conviction(s)First degree murder
Criminal chargeFirst degree murder
VictimsTina Isa
DateNovember 6, 1989
Location(s)St. Louis
WeaponBoning knife
Maria Isa
Maria Matias

(1943-08-10)August 10, 1943
DiedApril 30, 2014(2014-04-30) (aged 70)
Cause of deathDeath by natural causes
Criminal statusDied in prison
Conviction(s)First degree murder
Criminal chargeFirst degree murder
PenaltyDeath (later Life imprisonment)

Palestina Isa, named after the country of Palestine, was born in Mato Grosso, Brazil.[2] The youngest of seven siblings, she lived in a southern portion of the City of St. Louis in an apartment complex,[3] and while in St. Louis was a student at Dewey Junior High School,[4] and Roosevelt High School. Her father was a Muslim Palestinian, Zein Isa, who originated from Beitin, West Bank.[1] Her mother, Maria Isa, was Brazilian and a Roman Catholic.[1] As a result Tina was of German, Italian, Palestinian, and some indigenous South American descent.[5] She learned Arabic and Portuguese from her parents and Spanish during her time living in Puerto Rico.[6]

Zein al-Abdeen Hassan Isa,[7] born on June 3, 1931, was the third son of a farmer.[8] While a teenager, he married a woman named Foiziya, his double first cousin.[9] In the 1950s, Zein left Palestine,[10] and he emigrated with members of neighboring families.[8] He first lived in the south of Brazil and met Maria Matias (born August 10, 1943), a native of Mato Grosso who had been born in Santa Catarina, while on a business trip to Rondonópolis, Mato Grosso. She was of German, Italian, and South American native descent.[11] On February 6, 1963, the two married despite opposition from Maria's parents.[12] Zein did not reveal to Maria that she was his second wife until after the marriage occurred.[13] They moved to Raleigh, North Carolina in fall 1963, then to Paterson, New Jersey, Areceibo, Puerto Rico, back to Rondonópolis, then to Cáceres, Mato Grosso;[14] Tina was born in the state during this period.[2]

The family moved back to Puerto Rico, living in Areceibo until moving to Isabela one year later. During this time, the father, without the mother, lived with his children in the West Bank for periods of time.[15] In 1980, Zein became a naturalized citizen of the United States.[16] The entire family moved to Beitin when Tina was five.[17] The family came to St. Louis circa 1986,[16] and the family had its own grocery store there.[18] Tina began learning English after arriving in St. Louis,[19] where her friends gave her the nickname "Tina".[20] In 1991, Tim Bryant of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote in regards to the parents, "Neither speaks English well."[16]

Tina's relationship with her father declined after she turned fourteen; previously they had a better relationship.[21] She listened to American popular music such as hip hop,[1] dance, rap, R&B, and rock.[citation needed] Isa's ambitions were to become a pilot after taking aeronautical engineering courses;[3] she intended to do this at Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology, an institution of St. Louis University.[22] Zein wanted to arrange Tina as a marriage partner to a man from his hometown.[1] Isa's older sisters stated their dislike of her lifestyle. Her family sent people to extract her from a prom dance she participated in.[16] When her family learned that she, since January 1989, was engaged in a romantic relationship with a 20-year-old African-American man, the father became very angry with her.[23] Isa had a grudge against African-Americans because Palestinian businesspeople had been targeted by black criminals.[24] Prior to the death, Zein made telephone calls stating that Tina had damaged the honor of his family and needed to die. On the day of her death, she worked her first day at a Wendy's fast food restaurant;[23] the family also disagreed with the idea of her not working for the family.[18] Ellen Harris, author of Guarding the Secrets, wrote that "The problem was that Tina thought of herself as American or hyphenated-American, not as Arab."[25]


Her murder took place at the Delor Park Apartments, in her family's residence.[22] Isa's boyfriend walked her home after the first day of her job. Initially, her parents criticized her for having the outside job and later stated a belief that she was doing something else instead of working. Zein threatened Tina's life and then stabbed her with a boning knife. One of her lungs, her liver, and her heart were severely damaged by six blows to her chest. Maria assisted Zein by holding Tina.[23] FBI agents were not at the surveillance unit when the killing happened.[18]

Isa was buried at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Florissant, Missouri. Her mother had her buried in a bridal gown, stating that unmarried girls and women in Brazil who die are buried as such. The family intentionally did not provide a notice of the funeral to a newspaper and ensured that only people from the family, the local Palestinian community and people from Beitin appeared at the funeral, and they expressly did not want Tina's boyfriend to attend. FBI agents secretly monitored and photographed the proceedings.[26]

Investigation, arrest, and trial[edit]

Zein Isa was a member of the Abu Nidal Organization, which at the time he murdered his daughter, was plotting to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.[27] Harris wrote that "His daughters had long worried about Zein's ANO activities."[28] A crucial factor in his trial was the fact that the FBI had bugged Zein's house on a FISA order in connection with his suspected terrorist activities,[29] and as such, had recorded Tina's murder on an audio cassette. This was especially important in confirming the fact that Maria was an active participant in the murder, and that Zein's claim of self-defense against Tina was false.[18] Zein had accused Tina of asking for $5,000 and for grabbing a knife before he did,[30] and Isa's lawyers stated that she kicked him in the leg, which they stated had previously sustained injuries, and that she also had a meat cleaver as a weapon.[31]

The New York Times wrote "Since the F.B.I. has refused to discuss the tapes, only some of which were used at the trial, it is not clear whether the authorities could have intervened to prevent the killing."[18] FBI officials stated that several of Isa's statements before the killing were empty threats, and that this is why the agency took no action before Tina died.[3] The state-level prosecutor, Dee Joyce-Hayes, used several FBI tapes as evidence in the trial against Zein and Maria Isa.[18] Maria's lawyers argued that Maria had favored Tina in family disputes and that she could not have assisted the murder. On October 25, 1991, Zein and Maria Isa were convicted of first-degree murder. The jury discussed the circumstances for fewer than four hours before deciding that the suspects committed first-degree murder.[32] On December 20, 1991,[33] the two were sentenced to death by the jury; Circuit Judge Charles A. Shaw stated "Culture is no excuse for murder. I see no reason to deviate from the jury's recommendation."[34]

In April 1993, Zein was indicted by the FBI in connection with his terrorist activities within the Abu Nidal Organization, and the federal prosecutors issuing the indictment accused Zein of killing Tina partly because he feared she could expose his ANO activities.[27] The charges were later dropped because he was already on death row for his daughter's murder.

The case received media coverage in Brazil.[16] Zein was to be sent to Potosi Correctional Center in Potosi, Missouri while Maria was to be sent to the Jefferson City, Missouri-area Renz prison.[16] He later died of complications of diabetes on February 17, 1997. Maria's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment without parole; she died on April 30, 2014, in a Vandalia, Missouri, prison at the age of 70 from apparent natural causes.[35][36]


As a result of the case some Palestinian people resident in the U.S. sent their children back to Palestine to avoid them undergoing Americanization.[37]

Cultural references[edit]

A book titled Guarding the Secrets, written by Ellen Harris, was published in 1995 which documents the murder. In the book, she stated a journalist from Palestine compared the murder to the ancient story of Dinah.[38] The case was depicted on the Forensic Files season 8 episode "Honour Thy Father" which aired on July 30, 2005. The case was also featured on an episode of Arrest & Trial.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Krajicek, David J. (November 10, 2013). "Justice Story: 'Die, my daughter, die!' An old-world 'honor killing' in modern St. Louis". New York Daily News. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Harris 2018, p. 42.
  3. ^ a b c Treen, Joe (January 20, 1992). "'Die, My Daughter, Die!'". People.
  4. ^ Harris.
  5. ^ Harris 2018, p. 23.
  6. ^ Harris 2018, p. 43.
  7. ^ Harris 2018, p. 18.
  8. ^ a b Harris 2018, p. 32.
  9. ^ Harris 2018, p. 38.
  10. ^ Harris 2018, p. 25.
  11. ^ Harris 2018, p. 34.
  12. ^ Harris 2018, p. 36.
  13. ^ Harris 2018, p. 37.
  14. ^ Harris 2018, p. 41.
  15. ^ Harris 2018, p. 46.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Bryant, Tim (December 20, 1991). "From 1991: Parents get death in teen's murder". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  17. ^ Harris 2018, pp. 467.
  18. ^ a b c d e f "Terror and Death at Home Are Caught in F.B.I. Tape". The New York Times. October 28, 1991. Retrieved December 3, 2019. The surveillance unit was not staffed [...] could have intervened to prevent the killing.
  19. ^ Harris 2018, p. 80.
  20. ^ Harris 2018, p. 84.
  21. ^ Harris 2018, p. 100.
  22. ^ a b Bryan, Bill (November 7, 1989). "Nov. 7, 1989: Girl, 16, slain by father who tells police 'she came at me'". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved January 21, 2020.
  23. ^ a b c VandeWater, Judith; Bryant, Tim (October 23, 1991). "From 1991: FBI tapes implicate father in daughter's death". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  24. ^ Harris 2018, p. 83.
  25. ^ Harris 2018, p. 98.
  26. ^ Harris 2018, p. 196.
  27. ^ a b Worthington, Rogers (June 13, 1993). "A FAMILY TRAGEDY OR TERRORISTS' SCHEME?". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 30, 2019.
  28. ^ Harris 2018, p. 95.
  29. ^ Harris 2018, p. 26.
  30. ^ "Muslim Couple Sentenced to Die for Killing Daughter". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. December 20, 1991. Retrieved December 6, 2019.
  31. ^ "Parents Convicted in Taped Killing of Girl". Los Angeles Times. October 26, 1993. Retrieved December 6, 2019.
  32. ^ Bryant, Tim (October 26, 1991). "From 1991: Parents guilty in murder of daughter". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved December 30, 2019.
  33. ^ "Missouri Couple Sentenced to Die In Murder of Their Daughter, 16". The New York Times. December 20, 1991.
  34. ^ "Parents Sentenced to Death in Killing of Daughter". Associated Press. December 19, 1991. Retrieved December 30, 2019.
  35. ^ "Woman convicted of killing her daughter dies in prison". KTVI. April 30, 2014.
  36. ^ "St. Louis woman serving life for daughter's murder dies in prison". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Associated Press. April 30, 2014. - Variant article: "Woman serving life dies in prison" (May 1, 2014) at the Columbia Daily Tribune
  37. ^ Harris 2018, p. 198.
  38. ^ Harris 2018, p. 29.


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