Maria Cruz was kind, clever, ambitious and deeply religious. She had arrived in New York from Manila in 1993 aged 25 determined to make her mark in the land of opportunity and had succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. Ten years later after putting herself through Fordham University's business school and graduating with honours her hard work and self-sacrifice had paid off.
For Maria Cruz was a Wall Street high-flyer, a financial analyst in the bond market at Barclays Capital, making over $200,000 a year and regarded by her colleagues and bosses as destined for the very top. But her relentless perfectionism was not confined to her work. At 35 Maria was slim and attractive but not slim and attractive enough to meet her own high standards. She wanted to be stunningly beautiful and if that meant having cosmetic surgery so be it. Here again, only the best would do which was why in the early spring of 2003 Maria Cruz found herself in the elegant Manhattan consulting-rooms of a handsome 46-year-old cosmetic surgeon named Dr Dean Faiello who had been recommended by a colleague at work.
They discussed surgery which would make her nose and cheekbones slightly less prominent and Dr Faiello also recommended laser skin treatment which he said would improve her complexion. Maria left after paying a $500 deposit and agreed to start treatment the following week. She told friends she had found "this super young doctor" and was looking forward to having the treatment to improve her looks.
"But you look great," protested one friend. "I want to look even better," Maria said. It was the last conversation they would ever have. A week later Maria failed to turn up for work something that had never happened before. Two days later, when there was still no sign of her, colleagues and friends called the police.
Within days, Maria's family had flown into New York from the Philippines headed by her 75-year-old father Rodolfo and older sister Tess. Rodolfo set up his base in a relative's apartment and spent every waking hour searching for his daughter.
He started a website, pounded the pavements, visited hospitals, put up posters and asked anyone who would listen if they had seen his daughter. "She just seems to have vanished into thin air," said John Rocca, a NYPD detective assigned to the case. "A lot of things led us to think there was foul play somewhere along the line but we just hoped we were wrong.
"After all, 6,000 people disappear in New York every year and 95 per cent are found safe and well." Looking deeper into the case, Detective Rocca found that Maria had last been seen on Saturday April 13, 2003. She had called at her office to catch up on some urgent paper-work and later did some shopping. Her diary recorded that she had an appointment that afternoon with someone identified as "F".
After that ... nothing. "She just disappeared," said Detective Rocca. "There was no bank activity, no credit-card activity. If she was alive she was existing without money." The police's first break came when one of Maria Cruz's friends told them she had been seeing a cosmetic surgeon and a search of Maria's desk revealed an appointments card ... for Dr Dean Faiello. A search of medical records revealed no Dr Faiello. But police records did 43-year-old Dean Faiello had served nine months in jail for pretending to be doctor, practising medicine without a licence and for forging prescriptions. Worse, after his release, Faiello had been re-arrested on identical charges and inexplicably been allowed bail while a sentence was being considered.
He immediately went back to playing doctor again, but now he had jumped bail and disappeared. Inquiries revealed that he had treated several dozen patients, often with disastrous results. "I learned of Dean Faiello from patients who had been badly treated by him," said New York dermatologist Dr Roy Geronymous.
"You can't have someone on a street-corner setting up a medical practice without training. People are going to get hurt." Now police feared that was what had probably happened to Maria Cruz.
Now it was vital to find the bogus doctor and the hunt intensified after it was found that he was still using credit cards. The paper trail led to Costa Rica where he had arrived on a three-month visa to enjoy a holiday at various luxury apartments and hotels, flush with cash from the sale of a house he owned in New York. Drink in hand, Dean Faiello was found lounging beside a swimming-pool when he was arrested a week after Maria Cruz had disappeared. In fact Faiello was initially arrested for overstaying his visa and for two months remained in gaol in Costa Rica fighting extradition to the United States.
His lawyer, Moses Vincenzi, told the media now camped outside the jail: "My client has been working hard in New York and needed a vacation." And in a statement, Faiello declared: "I like Costa Rica. I'd rather be here than anywhere else and I'm doing everything I can to stay here. I don't want to leave. I have been falsely accused by the US authorities."
It took more than a year for Faiello to be extradited but in the meantime the police were busy. A major breakthrough came when they found Faiello's long-time friend, Greg Bach, who was prepared to spill the beans on the man who "had convinced himself he was a great surgeon." Bach claimed that Faiello's problems began in the late 1990s when he became addicted to a prescription drug prescribed for migraines and needed money to buy it. He opened a beauty salon but was soon carrying out laser treatment for which he was unqualified.
"Things just spiralled," Greg Bach said. "I got concerned that Dean was calling himself a doctor and carrying out advanced medical procedures. Eventually he was reported to the police and arrested." Other friends told police that shortly after Maria's disappearance, Faiello put his impressive house on the market and began to renovate the basement. A neighbour, Mark Richie, remembered seeing Faiello laying concrete on the basement floor.
"When I went into the basement while he was at work he got very angry and told me to get the hell out," Richie said. "He had bought over 20 bags of cement and was laying it on really thickly. He did most of the work at night and I began to think something strange was going on." So did the police. In February 2004 detectives headed by John Rocca dug up a cement platform in Faiello's basement — and found Maria Cruz's body wrapped in black plastic. Next to the body were her credit cards and driving licence. Now back in the US, Faiello admitted that he was under the influence of drugs when he carried out a cosmetic operation on Maria Cruz.
She failed to recover consciousness and he ignored a doctor's telephone advice to take her to hospital. When she finally died of a seizure he buried her in his basement. But he never stood trial for murder. Marie's family were anxious to avoid the agonies of a drawn-out trial and the authorities realised how hard it would be to make a murder charge stick. Instead it was agreed to reduce the charge to first-degree assault if Faiello would plead guilty. (Willard Roper/Tony James Features)