To Catch A Killer
Will A Cop's Determination Solve A Mass Murder?
(CBS) When several family members didn't show up
for a birthday party in December, 1997, Phil and
Nicoletta Dosso drove to their business to see
where everyone was.
As correspondent Harold Dow reports, what they found
inside was beyond their comprehension: three of the
family members and their long-time friend and partner
were all shot execution style. With no forensic
evidence, the case would be hard to crack and
authorities recruited one very tenacious cop to tackle
Would he be able to track down the killer?
Dec. 3rd was always a special day for Maria Dosso and
her husband Frank – it was the date they started dating
and on that date in 1997, it was also the tenth birthday
of their twin daughters, Mara and Nicole.
The whole family was going to get together for coffee
and cake. "I was expecting Frank to get home at around
5:30. At a quarter to six, he wasn't home yet, and no
one answered the phone when I called the factory," Maria
She decided to call her mother-in-law, Nicoletta.
Frank worked for his father, Phil, an Italian immigrant
who was co-owner of a thriving manufacturing plant in
Nicoletta and Phil's daughter, Diane Patisso, a young
state prosecutor, was supposed to meet her brother Frank
and her husband George at the factory. But she was
nowhere to be found.
The Dossos decided to drive to the Erie Manufacturing
Company to see what had happened. When she walked in,
Nicoletta Dosso was devoured by a world of unimaginable
"Diane was on the floor. Oh my God. It was so bad. It
was so bad. And I said 'Maybe she's alive. Maybe she's
alive,' but she wasn't. She wasn't," she remembers. "And
then I said 'Let me go see. Maybe Frankie is…something
happened to them, too.'"
Phil Dosso rushed in after his wife, and was also
overcome by the carnage. He frantically called 911.
Shot dead were four of the most beloved people in the
Dosso's life: not only their daughter, but also their
son, their son-in-law, and George Gonsalves, Phil
Dosso's longtime business partner and friend.
Gonsalves was usually alone when he closed up the
factory, but on that night fate had placed the three
others with him. Who would want to kill these four
people, placed together by a quirk of timing?
Police believed there was a single killer, one who was
very careful: at the crime scene, no fingerprints, DNA
or murder weapon were found.
Within two days, the Florida Department of Law
Enforcement dispatched Special Agent Tommy Ray, one of
its shrewdest homicide detectives, to hunt for a killer
who seemed to have ice in his veins
"George Patisso was shot five times in the back of the
head, George Gonsalves was shot twice," says Ray, who
tells Dow all four victims were shot execution style.
"He then comes over where Frank is trying to get
up...and then Frank Dosso was shot three times."
Diane Patisso was the last one to be killed. "He chased
her out here in the hallway," Ray explains. "Diane was
shot twice in the back of the head."
Amid the bloodshed, there seemed to be signs of a
robbery. Desk drawers were pulled open, and papers
strewn about. But Ray thought it looked staged and two
other things caught his eye: dusty shoe prints left on
the seat of an office chair and a ceiling tile that was
Ray checked out more than a thousand leads; all lead
back to one man. "The day of the homicide they initially
told the Bartow Police that … Nelson Serrano … you know,
'Look at Nelson Serrano,'" Ray explains.
Nelson Serrano was the third partner, along with Dosso
and Gonsalves, in two sister companies, Erie
Manufacturing and Garment Conveyor Systems.
The businesses had made the three very wealthy men, but
bitter fights with Serrano over money began to tear them
apart. Dosso and Gonsalves accused Nelson Serrano of
graft, then theft, and eventually forced him out.
When Nelson Serrano returned to the factory, he
was furious to discover that George Gonsalves
had locked him out.
"George Gonsalves calls the police, 'cause
Nelson tries to kick the door in of his former
office. Then Nelson, in turn, calls the Bartow
Police Department and makes a 911 call as well,"
Ray explains. "I mean, he hated George Gonsalves
worse than anything. And this just kept adding
fuel to the fire."
Asked why he thinks the
others were killed, Ray says, "They were there. They
knew him. You know, he wasn't gonna leave anyone there
to testify against him."
But Serrano's family is convinced that he had nothing to
do with the murders. Maria Serrano and her son,
Francisco, say Nelson Serrano was falsely accused by the
victims' families from the very start
"We’re extremely sorry for what they went through, but
they need to open their eyes and see that accusing my
father is not the solution to their grief. And it's
taking this tragedy and making it worse," Francisco
Francisco Serrano had also worked at the factory and was
fired just weeks before his father was ousted. Francisco
had been a suspect in the murders until his alibi
checked out. Tommy Ray was stunned to learn that his
father’s did too.
On the day after the murders, Nelson Serrano told
officers that he had been in Atlanta – nowhere near the
murder scene. There was a hotel receipt and hotel
surveillance pictures showing him in the lobby to
back-up his story.
It was an alibi caught on tape, proving that on the day
of the murders, Nelson Serrano was 500 miles away. But
Ray still had his suspicions, and they were only
deepened when he called Serrano to talk about the
"He spoke of no remorse," says Ray. Despite that it had
been just over a week since the murders; Ray says
Serrano launched into a diatribe about George Gonsalves.
Asked if Nelson sounded like a killer, Ray says, "Yes."
But he could he prove it?
Ray was convinced that the truth about Serrano and the
Bartow murders was hidden, blotted out by a lie as
blinding as the white light of the Florida sun.
"Did you think maybe you got the wrong guy?" Dow asks
"I thought he had hired someone to do it," the special
Suspicion fell on Serrano’s 25-year-old nephew, Alvaro
Penaherrera. Records showed a flurry of phone calls
between the two men around the time of the murders. And
one, on the very morning of the murders, was of special
A call was made to a car rental company in Orlando. When
he followed up on that call, Ray says he found that
there was a car that was rented on the morning of the
day of the murders, shortly after the phone call to
A blue 1997 Nissan, which Ray believed Nelson Serrano
had asked his nephew to rent. But was the rental car for
Alvaro, and was he the hit man?
Ray wasn’t sure, but he did have a hunch. And he went
back himself to check Serrano’s airtight alibi, that
critical Atlanta hotel surveillance tape, just one more
"Nelson was on the video at 12:20 p.m. on December 3rd,
the day of the homicide," Ray says.
Ray patiently waded through hours and hours of tape
until, amazingly, he saw Serrano again. "He returned
back to the lobby area at 10:17 p.m., so there’s like a
nine hour and 57 minute gap," he says.
Serrano had told police that he had spent the day with a
migraine headache, sleeping in his room.
But if that was true, Ray thought that one thing on the
tape seemed very odd: how Serrano was dressed. "He was
wearing the same outfit, the jacket, the turtleneck
sweater at 12:20 that he was wearing at 10:17 p.m.," Ray
Ray had a theory: somehow, Serrano had used those nine
hours and 57 minutes to execute an audacious and brutal
crime. "He had time to fly to Orlando, pick up a rental
car, drive to Bartow, commit the homicides, and then fly
out of Tampa back to Atlanta," he explains.
The theory was far fetched. Ray had no proof that Nelson
Serrano had even flown out of Atlanta that day. He knew
that Nelson and his nephew Alvaro had been up to
something – but what?
Ray put both men under surveillance for a full year.
He knew he had to shake the truth out of Alvaro. When he
finally hauled him in for questioning, Ray had a trick
up his sleeve: with Alvaro watching, Tommy Ray pulled
out a warrant for an old charge against his uncle. "And
I said 'Nelson, get up, you’re under arrest,'" he
Alvaro was fooled into thinking his uncle was being
arrested for the murders in Bartow. "I saw Nelson
getting handcuffed. And it just freaked me out, I mean
it totally blew my mind," Alvaro tells Dow.
Alvaro was frightened he’d be next. Asked if they
threatened to charge him with murder, Alvaro says,
At first, Alvaro insisted that he had rented the car for
a friend but Ray wasn’t buying it. Eventually, Alvaro
caved in. "He got emotional and said, 'My uncle's gonna
kill me.' You know, he said – 'I hate to do this, but I
rented it for my uncle Nelson Serrano,'" Ray recalls.
He rented the car on the day of the murders, December
3rd. Alvaro said on the very next day, his uncle told
him the rental car had been left at the Tampa airport
garage, and asked him to return it. He offered to pay
off Alvaro's $2,000 credit card debt for the favor.
Despite this new information, Ray still didn’t have
nearly enough on Serrano. "We didn't have any
eyewitnesses," he remembers. "We actually didn't have
any way to physically put Nelson in Florida."
There was no way to keep Serrano on a tight leash. That
old charge against him had been thrown out and Ray's
investigation was stalling.
"I lost faith that time was going on and on and nothing
was resolved. So, and he says, 'Mrs. Dosso,' he says, 'I
promise you, I will never retire till I do this case,'"
During a talk with Phil and Nicoletta Dosso, Ray
admitted he was growing frustrated. "I'm talking to Mr.
Dosso. 'Mr. Dosso, we know Nelson came back.' I said,
'But we cannot come up with a name, how in the world he
got back from Atlanta.'"
Ray says if Serrano flew, he didn't do so under his own
name or any other names they had on file.
Phil Dosso remembered that Serrano had a son from his
first marriage, and Tommy Ray dug up his mother's maiden
name: Agacio. Could that be a name that Nelson Serrano
would use? The flight manifest gave Ray the stunning
"We have a Juan Agacio that flew out of Atlanta, and the
timing would have been perfect," the special agent
explains. Ray was certain that Serrano, with forged ID,
had stolen a name out of his past: Juan Agacio.
Armed with that information Ray believed he could win an
indictment. "I went to the state attorney’s office cause
I felt it was enough and the state attorney’s office
said we cannot place him here in Florida and basically
that’s not enough," he remembers.
Ray knew he still needed even more. He had to establish
exactly when the rental car left the garage at the
Orlando airport. That would tell him if the car could
have reached Bartow a little after 5 p.m., in time for
Nelson Serrano to commit the murders.
"I had sent a couple agents over to try and find parking
tickets," Ray remembers. "They were told that the
tickets had been destroyed. There was no tickets."
But Tommy insisted on searching the parking company's
storage area himself, and when he did, he uncovered
thousands of forgotten tickets. One was the needle in
the haystack – a ticket proving that the rental had left
the Orlando airport on Dec. 3rd at 3:49 p.m.
Ray believed that someone could have driven the 80 miles
to the murder scene in about an hour and fifteen
minutes. But was that someone Nelson Serrano?
At that point, Ray couldn't place Serrano at the airport
at that particular point.
The airport parking tickets were rushed to the crime lab
in Tampa. And then the proof that Tommy Ray so
desperately needed surfaced: Serrano’s fingerprints were
found on two tickets – one of them was the ticket dated
Dec. 3rd, 1997 and that was just the proof he needed.
Serrano was seen on the hotel video at 12:20 p.m. and
again at 10:17 p.m.; Ray was convinced that his timeline
was carried out by a meticulous criminal mind.
Four long years after the Bartow homicides, Tommy Ray
finally won his indictment against Nelson Serrano. But
their battle of wits was hardly over. As it turns out,
it had thousands of miles and many years left to go.
Serrano and his wife had returned to their native
Ecuador, a country with no extradition treaty with the
United States. Now the victims' families wanted to know
whether Serrano would ever be held accountable for the
Ray says he promised the families they'd come up with
some way to return Serrano to the United States. But
with Serrano out of reach, Ray was told to put the case
on the back burner, and he was re-assigned to another
investigation halfway across the state, in Miami.
By sheer luck, Ray was booked at a hotel hosting an
international law enforcement conference, and he got a
list of officials to look up in Ecuador. Ray urged his
bosses to put him back on the Serrano case.
"His bosses say, 'Jesus, it's Tommy. You know him. You
know, he might just, he might just pull this off.' 'Give
him so more rope, let's see what happens,'" remembers
Polk County State Attorney John Aguero.
In Quito, Ecuador, some 2,000 miles and a world away
from central Florida, Tommy Ray was determined to arrest
Serrano for the brutal murders of four people. And he
wasn’t about to leave without him.
48 Hours asked Ray to return to Ecuador to retrace his
steps. He spent days knocking on doors at one ministry
after another. His mission to Ecuador was looking like a
fool’s errand. Ray was told in no uncertain terms that
Nelson Serrano would never be handed over.
He ignored an order from his bosses in Florida to return
home, and instead set up shop at the Turtle's Head Pub,
a bar for expatriates in downtown Quito.
"I just felt there was some legal loophole or something
that we could find to get Nelson back," Ray remembers.
It turned out to be a loophole bigger than he ever
"What he finds out is if he can show that Nelson Serrano
is in fact not an Ecuadorian citizen, you might have a
hope. Because then you’re talking about deportation, not
extradition," says Aguero.
Ecuador might agree to deport Serrano if he was
classified as an undesirable citizen of the United
States. It turns out Serrano got into Ecuador using his
When Serrano had obtained U.S. citizenship back in 1971,
it had come at a cost – the Ecuadorian constitution had
forbidden dual citizenship.
But the information was of little use, unless Serrano
could be caught. Ray was told that he was living quietly
in an upscale Quito neighborhood.
Ray didn’t have the authority to arrest Serrano himself.
But according to him, the local police were happy to
help, for a small fee
"I was told that we needed about 30 off-duty Ecuador
National Police. And could we assist in their off-duty
salary?" Ray remembers. The off-duty salary was one
dollar an hour.
A small band of men trailed Serrano to a restaurant,
which was tucked inside a local hotel.
Maria Serrano was having lunch with her husband at the
time, as agents confronted them outside. "We see these
like 10 guys approaching us. And we thought they were
going to rob us. So we keep saying, you know, 'What is
going on?' And then they push him against the car. And
they start touching his body," she tells Dow.
Maria Serrano says the men were in civilian clothes, and
did not present any badge or identification.
Serrano was hauled before a deportation judge in the
middle of the night, who ruled that he should be
Serrano’s son Francisco says his father is the victim of
a kind of vigilante justice. "He wasn’t brought back
legally at all. My father was completely kidnapped,"
And Francisco tells Dow that at the time his father was
in fact a citizen of Ecuador.
Relatives in Quito say that Serrano's Ecuadorian
citizenship was reinstated under the country's current
constitution, but he was never given a chance to make
"He was not allowed to have an attorney of his own,"
says Ana Ordonez, Nelson Serrano's niece. "Nelson
Serrano was denied his own attorney. He was denied to
see or talk to his family."
"So when he says that he was treated unfairly and his
constitutional rights were violated, you’re saying it
didn’t happen?" Dow asks Ray.
"It did not happen. He was brought to justice the legal
way, and all this other stuff is smoke that he’s trying
to create," the special agent replies.
Serrano was secured overnight in the K-9 unit at the
Quito airport. By early morning, Tommy Ray was waiting
for him aboard a plane bound for the United States.
Nelson Serrano was finally headed home to face trial for
four counts of first degree murder.
With the approaching trial, the families of the victims
know their worst nightmares are about to return. "I'll
never be the same. I mean, I put this mask on, but I
think of my son every day. Every day I think of my son,"
says George Patisso. "And it's changed me, it's changed
They put every ounce of their faith in Tommy Ray.
It is now 2006 and Nelson Serrano has been sitting in
jail for four years since his deportation from Ecuador
and his son Francisco is impatient to clear his father's
name. "Alright, we're just gonna have to go through
this, get it all out in the light. Let the truth be
known. And my father will have his freedom back," he
Prosecutor John Aguero has his work cut out for him,
with no forensic evidence found at the crime scene. His
case rests entirely on Tommy Ray’s account of the nine
hours and 57 minutes in which he says Nelson Serrano
carried out his deadly plan.
Defense counsel Cheney Mason knows the state has no hard
proof and no smoking gun. "The evidence fails to put him
in Bartow. Then it fails to put a gun in his hands. The
evidence fails to put him at the scene of the crime,"
Mason told jurors during the trial.
Mason dismisses Ray’s timeline. "I think it’s
ridiculous," the defense attorney argues. "First he’d
have to be able to drive from Orlando International
Airport, drive to Bartow, commit the murders and get
into Tampa. You’re not gonna do it with a helicopter.
It’s not physically possible."
Serrano’s lawyers paint his nephew Alvaro as a liar, who
collapsed under Tommy Ray's bullying.
The defense also wants the jury to wonder if Alvaro is
in fact the murderer.
"You don’t know where you were after 4 p.m. on December
3rd, 1997, do you?" a defense attorney asked.
"No. Not exactly, no," Alvaro responded. He also
acknowledges on the stand that he knows how to fire a
From the start, Tommy Ray's single-minded pursuit of
Alvaro's uncle is put to the test.
When asked whether he focused on Serrano from Dec. 5th
until his arrest, Ray acknowledges that he had.
Ray’s failure to find any evidence in the rental car was
also made painfully clear. Questioned by Mason, Ray had
to acknowledge that no forensic evidence, like DNA,
blood, fingerprints or hair linked the defendant to the
The defense claims all of the state’s evidence is rife
with reasonable doubt:
That raised ceiling tile at the crime scene – an
employee testified Serrano had kept a gun in the
ceiling. But no murder weapon was ever found.
As for the dusty shoeprints on an office chair, experts
couldn’t prove they were Serrano’s. Did he really stand
on the chair to reach for a murder weapon?
A sheet of passport photos found in Serrano’s home – two
of them were cut out but police never discovered any
And Nelson Serrano’s interview with police one day after
the murders – he speculates about what might have
happened to Diane Patisso.
"One of the statements that he made in there was that
Diane Patisso must have walked in the middle of
something. In listening to that statement, how would he
know unless he was there?" Ray asks.
But does Serrano's speculation really prove a thing?
The state’s only piece of concrete evidence consists of
two fingerprints on those airport parking tickets, Ray’s
"I say it's bogus. To be nice, we will present a theory
of how that partial fingerprint miraculously survived
all those years and could have been planted on that
card," defense attorney Mason tells Dow.
Ray is compelled to vouch for the fingerprints, and for
his own honor as well. On the stand, he insists he did
nothing to tamper with the tickets and that he handled
them with plastic gloves.
But Serrano’s lawyer Cheney Mason suggests Ray’s
discovery is just too good to be true. "Agent Ray
miraculously found the card that miraculously has a
fingerprint and he’s posing for a photographer taking a
picture of him finding that card," Mason says.
He says Ray's grandstanding smacks of sheer ambition.
"He gets credit for clearing this biggest homicide case
in the history of Polk County."
The prosecution rests after calling 60 witnesses
Nelson Serrano doesn’t testify in his own defense and
his lawyers call no witnesses at all, confident the
state has failed to prove its case.
After six weeks of court,
the case against Nelson Serrano is in a jury’s hands,
and out of the hands of Tommy Ray.
Throughout the proceedings, the families of the victims
have been under strict judges orders to tightly control
their emotions. Nelson Serrano’s family is confident,
certain that he will soon be a free man.
The jury returned a verdict after only six hours of
deliberations: guilty on all four counts of first degree
For the families of the victims, the news is
overwhelming. "I'm glad he’s not gonna be walking the
streets. He’s not gonna have much of a life," says Frank
Dosso's widow, Maria.
The verdict was also a triumph for Tommy Ray. "I
immediately looked over at the family members and saw
the relief and the stress that to me was immediately
taken off their face and the joy," he remembers.
Frank Dosso's twin daughters are now 19, their birthday,
Dec. 3, forever darkened as the day their father was
Nine years of pain and rage echo through the halls. "Now
he's going to suffer what he did to my kids," Nicoletta
says. "What he did to my kids he took everything away
from me. He took everything away from me."
Nelson Serrano’s family files out of the court room grim
faced. Both Maria and Francisco Serrano express shock at
Asked if he had anything to say to the jurors, Francisco
tells Dow, "How could you look at the timeline and say
that a man could possibly do this? Do you think this
guy's a magician?"
Bitterness toward Nelson Serrano will not be washed
away, no matter what his fate.
"His punishment will be in his next life. That's what I
feel. I don't care if he's in prison for the rest of his
life or if he gets the death penalty," Ann Marie says.
For Tommy Ray, the long pursuit is finally at an end.
"Nelson Serrano very clearly thought he was gonna get
away with this. I don't think he had any doubts in his
mind at all. He absolutely planned this out meticulously
and believed that nobody would ever be able to follow
this trail," Aguero says.
But somebody did. "He thought he was smarter than you,"
Says Ray, "Yes, Sir, he did."