Man accused of killing stepmom arrested 27 years later in Yakima Co.
A 45-year-old man suspected of fatally stabbing his stepmother in California in 1992 was arrested Friday in Yakima County.
After more than two decades of investigation, cold case detectives from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department filed a warrant Sept. 19 for the arrest of Charles Duane Serena II, who goes by Duane.
On July 5, 1992, Valerie Serena, 40, was found dead in the bedroom of her Catalpa Street home in Hesperia, Calif.
In court documents, deputies say sometime in the days prior, her stepson Duane snuck into the home, entered her bedroom and stabbed her to death in her sleep. An autopsy reportedly found she’d been stabbed 14 times in the back.
Deputies say Duane recounted the killing to multiple witnesses over the years, allegedly saying he’d killed Valerie in an effort to please his father, Charles Serena.
Duane was a product of Charles’s first marriage. Charles had two daughters with Valerie, his second wife, whom he’d been married to for 10 years prior to their divorce.
At the time of the murder, Charles was living in a house in Hesperia with his third wife and Duane. Charles was also in the middle of a heated custody battle with Valerie, who had primary custody of their two daughters.
A Marine and a veteran of the Vietnam War who “suffered effects from ‘Agent Orange,'” Charles received disability benefits, according to court documents. His daughters received Social Security benefits, which were paid to their mother.
Deputies say Charles wanted full custody of his daughters in an effort to receive their benefits for himself.
According to court documents, Charles had, at one point, taken the girls from Valerie’s house without permission and in violation of a court order, then didn’t return them for three weeks.
After that, Valerie was awarded a restraining order by the court, which stated Charles could not come inside her house, court documents said.
Witnesses told police that Charles had threatened to kill Valerie multiple times. One witness said in court documents that Valerie was so afraid of Charles, she slept with a large kitchen knife beside her bed, which was found on her nightstand by deputies during the investigation.
During the 26 years of investigation, detectives spoke to multiple witnesses and family members who helped them piece together the details of the killing.
Several days before the fatal stabbing, on Thursday, July 2, Duane reportedly stayed the night at the house of a family friend, a veteran who made custom knives as a hobby. Duane was preparing to enter the Marine Corps boot camp at the time.
Deputies say Duane asked the man if the knives were used for “takeouts,” referring to killing someone quickly and quietly. Duane reportedly asked if the man could show him how it was done, and he did, according to court documents.
On the evening of Friday, July 3, Charles picked up his daughters from Valerie’s house for a court-approved weekend visitation. Deputies say she was last seen alive around 9 p.m. by her neighbors.
Several hours later, early in the morning of Saturday, July 4, a neighbor reportedly heard what sounded like a cat screaming from Valerie’s house. The neighbor told police he also heard dogs barking from a nearby property, as if someone was attempting to hide in the yard.
Later that day and early on Sunday, July 5, multiple people attempted to contact Valerie with no success. Her parents asked a woman to go check on Valerie.
According to court documents, the woman went to Valerie’s home, found the front door ajar and walked in. She reportedly saw Valerie’s purse and car keys and called out her name, but no one answered
Deputies say the woman was afraid and left the house to find Charles pulling in the driveway to return the girls after the weekend. The woman told him something was wrong and to call the police, court documents said.
Charles reportedly went to a neighbor’s house, called the sheriff’s office and deputies arrived on scene to find Valerie dead in her room.
In court documents, deputies say they found no signs of forced entry, no property taken and determined that all the windows and doors except for the front door, were secured.
“Deputies informed Charles Serena that a white female was deceased in the residence,” court documents said. “Deputies said [the woman] was distraught, while Charles Serena showed no emotion.”
When questioned by deputies, Charles reportedly denied having keys to the house or any involvement of Valerie’s death. Deputies say he later refused to cooperate with the investigation and allegedly told Duane not to cooperate either.
Duane, 18 at the time, was interviewed twice by detectives and reportedly denied any involvement with Valerie’s death. He reportedly refused to submit to a polygraph test and declined to provide a blood sample, according to court documents.
“Duane told detectives other than the Marine Corps, his father has his total loyalty,” court documents said.
Over the following years, multiple witnesses reportedly told detectives that Duane abused alcohol, physically abused his wives and had recounted the killing to others on multiple occasions.
One witness told deputies Duane had said he had helped Charles to kill Valerie and cover up the crime.
“Duane told [the witness] the only way his father was going to get full custody of his daughters was to kill Valerie,” court documents said. “Charles Serena looked at his daughters as possessions and would never give them up.”
Duane was taken into custody Friday in the Rimrock Retreat area near White Pass. He is being held in the Yakima County jail.
He was arrested by Lewis County Sheriff’s deputies and members of the Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force. The task force is made up of law enforcement officers from the U.S. Marshals Service, Yakima County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies.