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Two Strangulation Murders Linked to New York Man Over a Decade Later: "My Worst Nightmare"
Fresh eyes would help the N.Y.P.D. and state police investigators find a man suspected of the 2000 and 2005 murders of Dora Almontaser and Angel Serbay, respectively.
The connection between two women’s murders five years apart would lead New York Homicide detectives to question whether a serial killer was in their midst.
On December 2, 2000, 19-year-old Dora Almontaser was found dead at her uncle’s West Farms apartment in the Bronx. Earlier the previous evening, she had joined relatives to view a Christmas light house display — part of an ongoing family tradition — before going to housesit for her uncle.
Almontaser’s mother, Dora Delvalle, said her daughter “sounded happy” when calling her the next morning at around 2:00 a.m.
“She said, ‘Mommy, I’m gonna see you tomorrow,’” Delvalle told New York Homicide, airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen. “I didn’t know that was going to be the worst day of my life.”
When Almontaser failed to come home the next day, and subsequent calls to the uncle’s home went unanswered, Delvalle and her son, Daniel Delvalle, went to the Bronx apartment. There, loved ones made a horrifying find: Almontaser was dead, face-up and naked on the bed with a phone cord wrapped around her neck.
“What I saw that day… that was my worst nightmare,” said Devalle.
N.Y.P.D. Detective Malcolm Reiman for the Bronx Homicide Squad called the scene “horrifying,” noting there were no signs of forced entry, suggesting Almontaser might have known her assailant. Cash, jewelry, and a gaming console left behind also suggested that robbery wasn’t the killer’s motive.
Detective Matthew McCrosson was also on the scene, telling New York Homicide that a rape kit was performed, later revealing Almontaser was sexually assaulted, and semen was subsequently collected as evidence and sent to the lab. A knife was also found at the scene, though it wasn’t clear why since the victim wasn’t cut.
No fingerprints were found on the unused weapon, though one was lifted from the telephone cord used to kill Almontaser.
A look into Dora Almontaser’s background
“Me and my sister was really close,” said Daniel Delvalle. “She always had a great heart. I think that’s how God made her.”
According to Almontaser’s loved ones, the young woman loved babysitting and hoped to become a mother one day. At just 17, she married 30-year-old convenience store owner David Almontaser, but the pair were separated at the time of the homicide.
“The marriage was not on solid ground at that time,” Det. McCrosson told New York Homicide. “But Dora’s husband was cooperative in the investigation.”
Mr. Almontaser provided detectives with his D.N.A. and fingerprints, neither of which were matched to the crime scene, ruling him out as a suspect.
Investigators learned that soon after the victim and her husband separated, Almontaser began calling into phone chat rooms to meet men, friends told detectives. One friend said that on the night of her death, Almontaser allegedly agreed to meet one of the men in person.
But phone records yielded nothing, and lab results got detectives no closer to finding Almostaser’s killer. Eventually, the case went cold.
A second victim is found five years later
Fast forward to September 3, 2005, nearly five years after Almontaser’s murder, when a passing motorist found a body wrapped in a sheet on the side of the Sprain Brook Parkway in Yonkers — about 12 miles north of West Farms.
“She had obvious signs of ligature marks around her neck, and she was bound by her hands and feet,” said Investigator Gene Donnelly of the New York State Police’s Major Crimes Unit. D.N.A. — believed to be the killer’s — was collected from under the woman’s fingernails and elsewhere on her body.
Fingerprints confirmed the second woman was 25-year-old Angel Serbay, who came from the rough Nodine Hill section of Yonkers.
“Angel was a very loving, caring person,” friend Teresa Lopez told New York Homicide. “She was silly. She was friendly.”
Friends described Serbay as having a “nurturing” way about her, but during her later adolescence, she started drinking as a way to cope with the struggles of depression. She eventually wound up in Nodine Hill, a neighborhood filled with drugs and unhoused persons.
A run of the suspect’s D.N.A. didn’t match any perp in the system. However, the samples taken from the Serbay crime scene were linked to the 2000 crime scene of Dora Almontaser.
It would be the only apparent connection between the two women.
“The first thing I thought, at that point, was a possible serial killer,” said Inv. Joseph Becerra of the N.Y.S.P.’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations.
Police identify a suspect in Florida
The cases of Almontaser and Serbay went cold for years until November 2016, when Inv. Donnelly reopened the investigation with fresh eyes. This prompted the launch of a four-person task force, which included Donnelly, Reiman, and McCrosson, so that the N.Y.P.D. and the N.Y.S.P. could work together to find who was responsible for the murders.
In early 2017, investigators recovered a fingerprint taken from the phone receiver once connected to the phone cord used to kill Almontaser. They ran it through the N.Y.P.D.’s Latent Print Section, which produced a match to a 36-year-old man named Christopher Gonzalez, whose prints had been entered in the system due to a 2005 traffic stop.
Police learned Gonzalez lived just a few blocks from each of the victims at the respective times of their deaths but then lived in Naples, Florida.
“We knew that in 2017, Christopher Gonzalez was married; he’s living a quiet life in Florida,” Det. Reiman told New York Homicide. “He’s under the radar of police, and, another frightening element was discovered: he’s working at a toy store, he’s working at a Toys ‘R’ Us.”
New York investigators reached out to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, working to see if they could pull Gonzalez over as part of a traffic stop and collect “an abandonment sample,” or touch D.N.A., which might have definitively proved he was at both crime scenes, according to Det. McCrosson.
The New York Task Force flew to Florida, and on April 17, 2017, Gonzalez was pulled over and arrested for driving without a license. While D.N.A. was collected from the flex cuffs used to apprehend the suspect — as well as a brand-new car used to transport Gonzalez to the sheriff’s office — there wasn’t enough of a sample to conclude whether his D.N.A. matched the D.N.A. in New York.
At the time, the task force didn’t reveal their involvement to Gonzalez for fear he’d become spooked and flee.
Prosecutors needed more evidence before they could press charges, so the task force returned to Florida again.
“We had to determine if we were comfortable enough with where we were that we were going to arrest him,” said A.D.A. Christine Scaccia, Homicide Bureau Chief of the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. “He could ask for a lawyer, and then we’re shut down.”
The Arrest of Christopher Gonzalez
On Nov. 7, 2017, homicide investigators returned to Naples to work on getting a confession.
“Not long after we got there, he was driving again, still did not have a driver’s license,” Det. McCrosson told New York Homicide. “The determination was made to take him into custody.”
This time, New York investigators did not conceal their identity and confronted Gonzalez at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office about the murder of Dora Almontaser. Gonzalez denied knowing Almontaser, but detectives knew it was a lie since his fingerprint was matched to the phone of the West Farms apartment.
When confronted about the death of Angel Serbay, the suspect’s “demeanor did begin to change,” according to Det. McCrosson.
“It became obvious to us that some of the answers that he was giving to us were not truthful,” Det. McCrosson continued.
The interrogation — recorded and obtained by New York Homicide — showed Gonzalez's reaction when investigators provided him with a photo of victim Angel Serbay.
“This is just going somewhere south,” Gonzalez told detectives. “It’s a little too much.”
Gonzalez admitted he’d seen Serbay around the streets in Yonkers, and when confronted with the sheet used to wrap Serbay’s body — which contained a unique animal-print pattern — Gonzalez lawyered up.
But on Dec. 2, 2017 — exactly 17 years after Almontaser was found dead — D.N.A. connected Gonzalez to both crime scenes conclusively.
“That was the happiest day of my life,” Almontaser’s mother, Dora Delvalle, told New York Homicide. “All the suffering that I went through in my life, all these years, now it’s time for him to suffer. It’s time for him now.”
Though Gonzalez never went into detail about the killings, Det. Reiman believed he met Almontaser through the phone chat rooms before he “charmed” his way into the Bronx apartment. And though Gonzalez was charged in connection to Almontaser’s murder, charges had yet to be pressed for Serbay’s homicide.
That was until Gonzalez’s ex-girlfriend confirmed the animal-print sheet belonged to the suspect and further testing proving the girlfriend’s D.N.A. had previously been left on the fabric.
The girlfriend also said that at some point around the time of Serbay’s murder, Gonzalez frantically requested she go to his home. There, the girlfriend found Gonzalez’s arms and face covered in scratches, the apartment in disarray, and the sheets missing from the bed.
It was enough for prosecutors to file charges for the second murder.
“I’m happy he got caught,” Dora Delvalle told New York Homicide.
What was Christopher Gonzalez sentenced to?
Ultimately, Christopher Gonzalez pleaded guilty to both murders and was sentenced to serve two concurrent terms of 20 years to life in prison.
“Even though it [doesn’t] bring her back to life… I was happy, you know why?” Almontaser’s mother continued. “Because he won’t kill anybody else.”
Watch all-new episodes of New York Homicide, airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen.