What They Did For Love
(Page 1 of 8)(CBS) Toni Dykstra and Carlo Ventre
met in sunny southern California in 1994 and
fell in love. Soon after, a daughter was born ó
but Carlo and Toni's relationship soured,
leading to an international custody battle and
charges of kidnapping.
Some four years later, Toni ended up dead in
Carlo's Rome apartment. He said it was an
accident; her family says it was murder.
Would Carlo be charged in
the killing? And what would happen to the couple's young
daughter? Correspondent Bill Lagattuta reports on the
investigation and heated legal battle that continues to
This is a story about family but also betrayal, death,
intrigue and justice, Italian style. Caught in the
middle is a little girl named Santina, the child of
Carlo Ventre and Toni Dykstra.
In 1998, Santina, Carlo and Toni were all in Italy, but
they were not traveling together and their time there
was no Roman holiday. In fact, Toni Dykstra would not
leave Italy alive.
Her mysterious death would become an international
incident and leave her family searching for the truth.
The big question is what had gone wrong between Carlo
and Toni, whose love started with such promise.
And while this story would end in Italy, it began half a
world away in the Los Angeles harbor community of San
It was in San Pedro, in 1994, that 46-year-old Italian
businessman Carlo Ventre met 25-year-old American single
mom Toni Dykstra at a restaurant.
"She was very exuberant, very easygoing, happy person
and I invite her to dance and we dance and we exchange
phone numbers. She called me the very next day," recalls
"She thought he was real nice, charming and sweet,"
explains Toni's identical twin sister, Teri Martinez.
"And [he was] interested in the kids and the family."
Carlo had been living in the United States for 12 years
and was the president of a plumbing manufacturing
"He was so nice and sweet to her," says Teri, who was
also her sister's best friend.
"Teri and Toni told each other everything. They giggled,
they laughed, they whispered," remembers their
stepmother, Betty Dykstra.
"Teri was more the quiet one. Toni was always out there
messing around," says the girls' father, Milt Dykstra.
The twins had even married two brothers.
Toni had two daughters, but the marriage didnít last.
Now a single mom, she planned to go back to school to
become a paralegal.
"She was a very proud mother and very determined to
better herself and better her life so that she could
give more to her children," says Betty.
Everything seemed to be changing for the better for Toni
in December 1994, when she met Carlo Ventre.
"At first she didnít say too much. And then she told me
that she had met this man and that he was so nice and he
was sweet to her. He would play the guitar on the phone.
He was really charming," recalls Teri.
And it wasnít just Carloís charm that attracted Toni.
"I believe she fell in love with me because she realize
how much I did care for the children," says Carlo.
After only three months, Toni got pregnant.
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Toni and her daughters soon moved in with Carlo,
and in November 1995, baby Santina was born.
"She called me from the hospital to tell me that
she had a baby girl. We were excited. But after
that, communication stopped," remembers Teri.
The Dykstras say Carlo was keeping Toni and
Santina away from them.
Suddenly, what should have been a happy time
quickly turned into a nightmare.
"I would call on the phone and he would say
'Donít call here anymore,'" says Teri.
The Dykstras say Carlo became obsessed with the child,
who he considered his more than Toniís.
Betty says Toni even told her she was not allowed to
breastfeed her own child, "because he didnít want that
baby to love her."
Teri says Carlo started acting more aggressive towards
Toni. "More possessive, more jealous, and things started
getting really bad," she claims.
Carlo insists it was Toni who was the problem. "I wish
that my daughter would have been attached to her mother.
And that her mother was a stable person," he says.
Carlo says it was Toni who was abusive to him, and
maintains that he even filed police reports against her.
While Carlo says Toni was abusive and occasionally
violent, the Dykstras say that's not true.
Asked whom one should believe, Carlo says, "I think you
should believe the facts."
Toni and Carlo had a final blow-up; Carlo kept Santina
and locked Toni and her two older daughters out of the
house. But even then, the Dykstras claim he continued to
"He would tell her he would take Santina to Italy and
she would never see her again," says Teri.
Less than a year after Santina was born, they went to
family court in California and came to a temporary
agreement to share custody of Santina. Until a final
deal was reached, Carlo was forbidden to take Santina to
Italy without notice.
But on Jan. 16, 1998, without warning, Carlo did just
that, boarding an international flight with 2-year-old
Santina and returning to Italy.
"She was in tears, she was crying. The thought of never
seeing your daughter again. Itís too much. Thatís too
scary," recalls Teri.
Toni was frantic. She told friends Carlo had silently
taken their daughter to Italy and had no plans of
"She called me Saturday morning at home. She said
'Theyíre gone, theyíre gone,'" says Toni's close friend
Toni was helpless. For months, she didnít know where in
Italy Santina was and only talked to her daughter when
Carlo put the little girl on the phone.
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"Toni was crying and shaking in abject terror
after talking to Carlo Ventre," says Toniís
friend and mentor, attorney Alan Skidmore.
Asked what she was afraid of, Skidmore says,
"Her life. Losing her life."
Skidmore says when Carlo got on the phone he
would threaten Toni if she tried to win custody
of their daughter.
Marlene says Carlo threatened to have Toni
killed if she went to court to apply for custody
and says Toni took those threats seriously.
Despite Carloís alleged threats, Toni took her case to
family court in Los Angeles and was awarded full custody
of her daughter. But the battle was only half over.
Carlo, an Italian citizen, was now living in Italy with
Santina, which meant Toni would have to take her case to
an Italian court.
Toni wasn't a lawyer and didn't speak Italian.
Nevertheless, she decided to represent herself and
worked with Alan Skidmore to get a court date and help
prepare her case.
"She sat in my office knowing her life was in danger but
there was no option for Toni. She was going to go get
her baby," he remembers.
Borrowing money from her parents, Toni bought two
tickets ó one for her and one for Santina ó and made her
first trip to Rome alone.
Friends and family were worried for her safety. "The
last thing I said to her on the phone was 'Toni be
careful. This guy could kill you,'" Milt remembers.
They couldnít go with, her but they knew Toni was in
touch with the U.S. embassy, which put her up at a
nearby convent for her safety.
The day after her arrival, accompanied by a translator
from the embassy, Toni made her case to the Italian
Skidmore says Toni didn't know what to do when she got
into court but that she followed her gut instinct. "She
went in and just told her story and she came out of that
courtroom with a win," he says.
On July 17, 1998, an Italian court ruled in Toniís
favor, declaring that Carlo had violated an
international law on kidnapping. Santina was to be
handed over to Toni and returned to the United States
But when Italian police arrived at Carloís apartment to
take custody of Santina, Carlo told them she had
unexpectedly fallen ill.
"Carlo said that she had pleurisy, which is a lung
infection, and he was going to take her to the
hospital," says Teri.
Doctors said Santina wouldnít be able to leave the
country until she recovered. Until then, Toni was forced
to cross paths with Carlo as they both visited their
child in the hospital.
Teri says her sister was "very scared at that point."
Finally, the time had come for Toni to collect her
daughter and fly home. Santina had recovered from her
illness and Toni had tickets for both of them to travel.
But this is where things went terribly wrong. The
afternoon before the flight, for reasons unfathomable to
her relatives and friends, Toni went alone to Carlo's
"Carlo Ventre is an extremely manipulative individual.
He could have told Toni any number of things to get her
to his apartment," says Skidmore.
And this is what he told 48 Hours. Incredibly, Carlo
says, while Santina was recuperating in the hospital,
Toni was trying to rekindle their love affair.
"I think she wanted me back in her life and by me being
in Italy, I was out from her life," says Carlo.
What They Did For Love
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On July 28, 1998, Carlo says they were at his apartment
preparing to return to America together, as a family.
Carlo says the reason Toni was coming to the apartment
was to wash the baby's clothes and pack for the trip.
He says Toni was doing laundry. When they started
arguing, he claims she went outside to the yard and then
suddenly, out of nowhere, attacked him.
"I see this ax in front of me and I was shocked. I
didnít know what happened," he says.
As he fought to defend himself, Carlo says, he pushed
Toni. She fell, hitting her head hard on the floor.
"She hit, I believe, the temporal side of her head. Then
all of a sudden blood was coming out of her ear. I think
ó I donít know what to do. I believe I was getting
crazy," says Carlo. "I think I called the police."
By the time police arrived at the scene, 29-year-old
Toni Dykstra was dead. There was evidence of a struggle.
A hatchet lay a few feet from Toniís body.
Detective Domenica Salis, who was one of the first cops
on the scene, says Carlo was very agitated.
Det. Salis soon discovered that Carloís first call was
not to the police. The detective says Carlo called his
lawyer before contacting the authorities, and says Carlo
never called for medical help.
Carlo says he was shocked. "I mean, I didnít believe the
mother of my daughter was dead just because of such a
Toni's friends back in the United States, waiting for
her triumphant homecoming, got a shocking phone call
"Impossible, impossible. We had just talked to her. And
she was coming home," remembers Marlene.
The U.S. Department of State called Teri, who, in turn,
called her parents.
"It was just total disbelief that this man would go so
far as to kill the mother of his child," says Betty.
Carlo told police he acted in self-defense and showed
them wounds he says he suffered when Toni attacked him.
"Iím not a violent person. Iím innocent," says Carlo.
Police took Carlo into custody, but an Italian court
decided there wasnít enough evidence to charge him and
released him within days.
One week after her sister Toniís death, Teri went to her
sisterís house and took on the painful task of sorting
through Toniís belongings.
Among her sisterís belongings were precious memories,
including some of Santina's shoes and a lock of the baby
Then she found a small notebook, which she realized was
her sister's diary.
"Going to kill me Ögoing to put acid on my face so no
one will love me. Said he would kill me and chop me into
little pieces,Ē Teri read from Toni's diary.
Toniís own words revealed her fears for her life.
"He kicked me to get me out of the room. He would stand
in front of the door so I could not get in. I would hear
my little baby cry," Teri read from the notebook.
What They Did For Love
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While Teri packed up her sisterís things, Toniís case
remained open in the Italian courts. And Carlo, the man
she believes murdered her sister, was walking the
streets of Rome, a free man.
Teri says the initial decision by Italian investigators
to believe Carlo makes her really angry. "Because he had
threatened that he would kill her and he would get away
with it," says Teri. "Thatís what happened."
Teri was determined to get justice for Toni, so she
turned to someone who had been her sisterís hero:
high-profile California attorney Gloria Allred, who
agreed to take the case for free.
Asked why this case struck a chord with her, Allred
says, "Because this mother tried to do everything right.
She really felt that the system would help her and the
system failed her. This should not happen to any other
Allredís first victory was getting the U.S. courts to
charge Carlo with kidnapping Santina. Her next mission
was to convince the authorities in Rome to charge Carlo
with Toniís murder.
"Everything was a battle. Just innumerable phone calls,
letters, meetings," Allred explains.
Despite her efforts, the Italian investigation was at a
standstill. Allred was left with many questions about
what happened in Carloís apartment the day of Toni's
There was an autopsy performed on Toniís body by the
medical examiner in Rome. It lists the cause of death as
"unico momento traumatico" ó a single traumatic moment,
in which her head came in contact with a hard object.
Trouble is, that conclusion and many details in this
report seem to raise more questions than they answer.
48 Hours had California forensic pathologist Joseph
Cohen review the Italian autopsy. He says the "unico
momento traumatico" was the fatal blow that ended a
prolonged and violent struggle.
"One that involves perhaps punching, perhaps kicking,
perhaps falling, striking other objects, getting up
again," says Dr. Cohen.
Carlo claims he accidentally pushed Toni and she hit her
head on the floor, but Dr. Cohen says there's more to
the story. "The injuries to Toni Dykstra are suggestive
of two or three or more impacts," he says.
Remember, too, that Carlo never called for medical help;
Det. Salis said she made that call.
Cohen says the delay may have made the difference
between life and death.
"Could she have been resuscitated and survived? Itís
possible," says Dr. Cohen.
Allred wasnít getting any answers and now she had
another concern: 3-year old Santina had been in foster
care since her motherís death. Except for periodic
visitation from Carlo, she was alone in Italy and
Italian authorities were considering putting her up for
But Toni's parents felt they should have custody of the
child and wanted Santina home with them in California.
But just like Toni, they had to go to Italy and appeal
to an Italian court to win custody of their
"Milton and Betty stepped up to the plate. They wanted
Santina, so we did everything we could to try to make
that happen," says Skidmore.
Attorneys Skidmore and Allred went with Milt to Italy to
plead their case to the court of minors. Milt was
granted permission to spend some precious moments with
Santina at her foster home.
But social workers had arranged Carloís visit too
closely to Miltís, leading to an angry confrontation
outside the foster home.
What They Did For Love
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The Italian courts were taking their time deciding
Santinaís future, and for now, Milt and his attorneys
left Rome empty-handed.
"We felt like we hit a brick wall. We felt that we were
getting nowhere," remembers Skidmore.
But back in Los Angeles, the Dykstras werenít giving up.
"My wife, Betty, and I have agonized over this for a
year and a half and we want our granddaughter back,"
Finally in November 1999, 15 months after she took the
case, Allred scored a major victory.
An Italian court ruled that Santina should be returned
to the U.S. to live with the Dykstras and that a
California judge would make the final decision on her
On Nov. 9, 1999, in the middle of the day, Italian
authorities picked up Santina from school and put her on
a plane with Allred.
In Los Angeles, there was an emotional reunion, as
Santina was turned over to her grandparents.
"Milt brought her over to me and said, 'This is your
grandmother.' And when he put her in my arms. It was
just the most awesome feeling in the world to have this
child and feel that she was finally safe," remembers
But the battle for Santina was far from over.
"We felt like she was home and we were very grateful ó
we were ecstatic and very hopeful for the future," says
Back in Italy, Carlo was alone and he was fuming mad,
both at the Dykstras and at their attorney, Gloria
"Sheís a woman without heart. She will walk over the
dead body of her mother to achieve what she wants to
achieve. Thatís what I believe Gloria Allred is," Carlo
"She says in no uncertain terms that sheís not gonna
rest until she gets you," Lagattuta said.
"She already did got me. She ruined my life and the life
of my daughter. What else does she want?" Carlo replied.
Allred says she wants "Carlo to know this system is
going to make him accountable."
While the Italians were still investigating Carlo's role
in Toni's death, a Los Angeles court was about to decide
who should have custody of Santina. Carlo says when he
heard about it, he knew he had to be there, in spite of
the fact that he was wanted for kidnapping in the U.S.
His daughter was with Toni's parents, the Italians were
not prosecuting him for murder, and there was a warrant
for his arrest back in the United States. All Carlo had
to do was stay put and stay quiet and get on with his
life in Italy.
But Carlo could not resist one more fight. He bought a
plane ticket, and got on board a jet bound for Los
But when he landed in Los Angeles, he was met by FBI
Special Agent April Brooks. "I introduced myself. Told
him why I was there ó that he was under arrest," she
What They Did For Love
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With Carlo now facing trial for kidnapping, it was
unlikely he would get custody of his daughter, but he
had a back-up plan.
Carlo asked his brother Gianfranco Ventre, who was
living outside Las Vegas with his wife and four
children, to file for custody of Santina.
A court-appointed psychologist interviewed Santina and
"She came back with a flat-out recommendation that the
best interests of the child would be served by giving
her to Betty and I," says Milt. "And that it would be
detrimental to the child to take her away from us,"
But thatís exactly what happened. The judge, citing the
Dykstras age and what he said was Milt Dykstraís intense
hatred of Carlo, ordered that Santina should live with
Milt and Betty, who got twice-monthly visitation with
Santina, say the ruling stunned them. Adding to their
heartbreak, the Dykstras were ordered to immediately
hand their 4-year-old granddaughter over to Carloís
"We had to give her up in the middle of the street in
downtown Los Angeles. Tore our heart out," remembers
Betty. "It was a nightmare day. You never get over
losing a child."
Carlo once again had what he wanted most. Santina was
living with his brother and while he was awaiting trial
for kidnapping, Carlo could see Santina on a regular
One year would go by and Carlo Ventre pleaded guilty to
kidnapping and was sentenced to 364 days in federal
prison. Meanwhile, Allred and the Dykstras were hatching
a plan to ban Carlo from the United States forever.
"I had been writing to the INS suggesting that they
needed to hold a deportation hearing to determine
whether or not Carlo should be deported because he had
been convicted of a felony and that he should be taken
into custody pending the hearing," says Allred.
The immigration authorities agreed to look at Carloís
case. So when he was released from prison, immigration
authorities moved him to a detention center while they
decided whether to deport him. And thatís where Carlo
allegedly hatched a stunning plan.
"The plan was that for approximately $100,000 there
would be an attempt to kill Milt and Betty Dykstra,"
From behind bars, Carlo was allegedly planning the
murder of Milt and Betty Dykstra, and it was all caught
on tape by a confidential informant.
Authorities have not released the tape, but Allred is
familiar with the contents of the transcript.
Asked how he was supposed to be killed, Milt says, "It
was supposed to look like a botched home invasion
robbery where they were going to break into the house
and kill both of us."
"They were going to shoot us," Betty adds.
Also part of the alleged plan was kidnapping Santina and
taking her overseas.
But Carlo says it was a setup. "Yes, I was set up. I was
entrapped. But the matter of fact, I never solicit
"Did you or did you not say to this informant, I want
you to kill the Dykstras, shoot them, and make it look
like a robbery?" Lagattuta asked.
"Absolutely not," Carlo said. "The voice was disrupted.
Itís not my voice. We donít know if even was me
In November 2002, an immigration judge ordered Carlo
deported. Still in custody, Carlo fought the decision
for three long years.
Finally, in July 2005, with the charges of solicitation
to murder still pending, Carlo agreed to leave the
United States. The Americans were all too happy to send
Carlo home. Why? Because Italian prosecutors were now
ready to charge him with the murder of Toni Dykstra.
Asked if he was worried about what would happen in
Italy, Carlo says, "Iím not worry because I believe Iím
honest. And I believe that Iím innocent. And I believe
that justice is going to prevail."
What They Did For Love
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Feb. 23, 2006
Carlo is now back in Italy, thousands of miles from the
one person he cares most about: his daughter Santina.
Daily phone calls are the only contact Carlo has with
his daughter, now 10, and still living with Carloís
brother outside of Las Vegas.
"After I hear her voice, and find out if sheís OK, then
I can start to keep going from my day. And live for
another day," says Carlo.
And these days Carlo has a lot on his plate, preparing
for his day in court.
Italian prosecutor Giancarlo Capaldo initially believed
Carloís story of self-defense. But after a full
investigation, he now believes that Carlo carefully
planned Toniís murder to keep her from taking Santina
back to America.
Capaldo says he wanted to charge Carlo years earlier but
he couldnít because Carlo was in the United States,
A hearing was scheduled to determine whether Carlo
should be charged with murder.
Allred flew to Rome for the hearing. She wants to make
sure the court considers all the evidence in the case,
including Toniís diary.
"Her diaries show that she had a real fear that he might
kill her," says Allred.
But Carlo insists Toni's death was an accident. Asked if
he murdered Toni, Carlo says, "I did not. I didnít
And Carlo is optimistic about being vindicated. "I think
if they look at the facts ó yes, I should be cleared,"
The hearing lasted less than an hour; when it was over,
the news was no news ó Carlo's attorney had asked for a
Carlo had hired a new attorney, prompting the court to
postpone the hearing.
On the street, Allredís frustration with the
postponement boiled over. "Carlo, are you going to tell
the truth? Did you kill her?" Allred asked Carlo.
Allred says she was outraged that Carlo was going home
free. "An absolute outrage that he should not be in
Three months later, all the parties headed back to court
This time, the court decided to charge Carlo with
murder, with a trial date set for March 1, 2006.
The long-awaited news was a relief for Toni's family in
Carlo is free for now ó but if convicted, he could spend
the next 21 years behind bars.
"Iím not worried because I do believe because I was
there and I know what happened that I am an innocent
man," Carlo said.
For Milt Dykstra the news does nothing to diminish the
pain of losing his daughter. "Itís just ó itís an
everyday thing ó it doesnít ever go away," he says,
Toniís two older daughters are being raised by her
ex-husband in California.
Teri is hoping that one day, Santina will learn the
truth about her mother.
"That her mom gave everything that she had and that she
loved her so much," says Teri. "And that her mom's not
there with her but she gave everything she had to get