Southwest Journalist

Relative charged with murder for the 1996 slaying of a Dallas woman

%3Cp%3EDaisy+Serrano%2C+left%2C+with+a+photo+of+her+mother+and+her+cousin+Dulce+Dominguez%2C+who+she+was+reunited+with+recently%2C+in+Dallas+on+May+26.+%28Louis+DeLuca%2FThe+Dallas+Morning+News+via+AP%29%3C%2Fp%3E%0A
<p>Daisy Serrano, left, with a photo of her mother and her cousin Dulce Dominguez, who she was reunited with recently, in Dallas on May 26. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News via AP)</p>

Daisy Serrano, left, with a photo of her mother and her cousin Dulce Dominguez, who she was reunited with recently, in Dallas on May 26. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

Daisy Serrano, left, with a photo of her mother and her cousin Dulce Dominguez, who she was reunited with recently, in Dallas on May 26. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

Emma Freer

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TASHA TSIAPERAS and JULIE FANCHER
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — Daisy Serrano learned about her mother in spurts years after she was slain in their Dallas apartment.

The Dallas Morning News reports she was 10 when she found out the woman she thought was her mother wasn’t. She was in her early teens when her father explained that her mom had been killed.

He died before he could share the details: Her mother, Manuela Dominguez, was raped and strangled in the same room where baby Daisy slept in her playpen.

Over the years, she figured out that her father’s family had a darker secret to hide. Her uncle was suspected of being the killer — a man who occasionally talked to her on the phone and called her “sweetie.”

Daisy never knew her mother’s family, but a long-lost cousin was determined to change that.

For years, Dulce Dominguez searched Facebook hoping to find her cousin — knowing only what she looked like as a baby.

As she scrolled through search results last May, she spotted a profile with an old photo of a man wearing a cowboy hat holding a familiar-looking baby with big ears.

It had been 20 years. Dulce sent a message. It seemed like a long shot.

“I think you’re my cousin. Can you send me a picture of your mother?”

Daisy responded to Dulce with a photo. Dulce knew it was her aunt. The women met days later and went to Dallas police headquarters. They wanted answers.

And just like Dulce found Daisy on Facebook, a Dallas homicide detective used the social media site to find the man suspected of killing Daisy’s mom.

Daisy, now 21, grew up in Dallas, never knowing she was just blocks from Dulce, 27, and an entire family she doesn’t remember meeting.

Now, the women are like sisters. They talk every day. They have the same laugh and giggle as they flip through family photos. Dulce holds up a picture of Daisy as a baby.

“Those big ol’ ears,” Daisy says, laughing and smoothing her long, black hair over her ears.

“That’s how we identified her,” Dulce teases.

Dulce holds up another photo. “That’s my mom and your mom,” she says.

Daisy Serrano, right, looks at family photos with her cousin Dulce Dominguez in Dallas on May 26. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

Dulce has few memories of her aunt, and Daisy doesn’t remember her mom at all.

She was just 6 months old when 23-year-old Manuela Dominguez was raped and strangled in their Oak Lawn apartment on Jan. 29, 1996.

Her father, Manuel Serrano, left for work around 11 a.m. that day. A friend told police that she saw Manuel Serrano’s brother leave the apartment on North Hall Street around noon.

The door was unlocked when Serrano got home from work that night. Manuela was in bed, wrapped in blankets. She looked asleep. Their daughter was asleep in her playpen.

But the apartment was in disarray. The normally tidy Manuela hadn’t picked up anything since Serrano left for work. He touched his wife. Her body was cold.

He called police around 9 p.m. He said his 18-year-old brother, Victor, was the only other person with a key to the apartment. The brother hadn’t returned it after the couple kicked him out days earlier.

They had argued over the man’s drug use, and Manuela said her brother-in-law scared her.

Police called Victor Serrano. They wanted blood, hair and fingernail samples. He agreed to meet them.

He never showed.

Last year, the newly reunited Dulce and Daisy hounded Dallas police Detective Noe Camacho. They wanted to find Manuela’s killer.

Camacho has been cataloging cold cases in which women were raped and killed. Such crimes tend to have plenty of physical evidence that could lead to a DNA match.

The case file showed detectives had zeroed in on Victor Serrano as a suspect but that police believe he fled to Mexico.

Semen collected from the 1996 crime was tested. It excluded Manuel Serrano but made clear the DNA would match a male relative of his.

Camacho asked Daisy whether she stayed in touch with any of her father’s family. She said she was friendly online with two aunts.

Camacho did some Facebook stalking. Following a digital trail of tagged photos and likes and friends, Camacho found a Juan Serrano Reyes in Utah.

Reyes had the same birthday as Victor Serrano, whose father’s name was Juan.

It wasn’t much, but Camacho was convinced he had found the killer.

He asked federal authorities for help, believing Reyes lived in the country illegally.

Reyes was arrested May 7 in Utah. He was questioned about his immigration status. Pictures were taken of a “Durango” tattoo on the back of his neck. Reyes agreed to let authorities take a DNA swab.

Camacho and another Dallas detective traveled to Utah to interview Reyes, who denied any involvement in Manuela’s murder.

The swab was sent back to Dallas for testing. All Camacho could do was wait, hoping that Reyes wasn’t deported before the DNA test results were complete.

“I didn’t sleep for an entire nine days,” he said.

Daisy is told that she’s just like her mom — in appearance and personality.

“She liked to go out. She liked to dance. I like to dance,” Daisy says. “It’s so crazy that you can be like someone you haven’t met.”

Daisy hears that her mother was a neat freak, too. But there are many things she doesn’t know. Daisy is goofy and cracks jokes.

“I wonder if she was like that, too, because I like to make everyone around me happy,” Daisy says.

Daisy also wonders how her life would have been different if her mom were alive.

“I needed my mom a lot,” she says.

Her father did his best. He tried to buy her girly clothes and took her to get her nails painted. He would do her head for cheerleading practice. She went to practice with sideways ponytails.

Daisy is a mother now. She has three kids, ages 5, 3 and 2.

As she has learned more about her mother and how she was killed, she wants to know why.

After her father’s death in 2010, her stepmother’s family helped fill in the gaps in the family lore, telling Daisy that her uncle was the only suspect.

“My whole dad’s side of the family said it was not true,” she says.

But the evidence suggests otherwise.

Camacho called Daisy and Dulce last week. The DNA results were in, and the sample matched the semen found on Manuela, suggesting that Reyes and Victor Serrano were the same man.

An arrest warrant was filed last week and sent to Utah just in time. Reyes, 39, had a hearing before a judge to determine whether he would be released or deported.

“He got the bad news Monday,” Camacho said.

Reyes will be brought to Texas, where he faces a capital murder charge in Manuela Dominguez’s slaying.

In February, about half a dozen of Daisy’s relatives gathered in front of the building on North Hall Street where Manuela was killed. That apartment complex is gone.

They all wore white T-shirts with a picture of Manuela Dominguez printed on the back. It was her birthday. They released balloons.

Daisy hopes it becomes a tradition. She wants to memorialize the woman she never knew.

She is still meeting family members. Once Dulce found her on Facebook, the friend requests flooded Daisy’s inbox.

Daisy learned she has an older brother in Wyoming and got messages from uncles and aunts and cousins she never knew.

They all told her she looked like her mother and they had never forgotten her.

“They didn’t think they were ever going to find me,” Daisy said. “They all want to meet me as much as I want to meet them.”

She wants to go to Mexico to visit her mother’s grave and to meet her grandmother, her mom’s mom. They’ve only spoken on the phone.

She’s told she sounds just like her mother.

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Relative charged with murder for the 1996 slaying of a Dallas woman