What They Did For Love

An International Custody Battle Ends With Death

This story originally aired on Feb. 25, 2006.

Toni Dykstra and Carlo Ventre met in sunny southern California in 1994 and fell in love. Soon after, a daughter was born — 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 day.

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 Pedro, Calif.

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 Carlo.

"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 business.

"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 didn't 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 didn't 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 wasn't just Carlo's 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.