Handyman Tried in Housewife's Death

ByABC News via logo

March 29, 2006 — -- A year ago this April, Mary Nagle was alone in her New City, N.Y., home. Her husband had gone to work.

But just hours after Daniel Nagle got to the office, he received a phone call from his mother-in-law telling him that his wife had been killed, allegedly by the handyman they had hired to work on their deck.

The couple had contracted with a company called Color-On. The company had sent Douglas Herrera Castellanos, 30, to do the job.

Nagle took the stand this week, breaking down in tears as he testified. Jurors were in tears, too.

"I want to be there for Mary, just for her dignity," Nagle said.

Prosecutors say Castellanos, an undocumented worker, raped Mary Nagle before killing her and left the home in Daniel Nagle's clothes.

The killing is a chilling reminder of the danger posed when strangers are allowed into the home.

"It's vital that if you are home alone, you let someone else -- a friend, a neighbor -- know that a contractor is coming to do work. If necessary, pick up the phone when the handyman arrives and say to your neighbor/friend/spouse, 'The contractor has just arrived, the one who's going to be working on the plumbing,'" said Gerard Kane, the managing director of Excel security and a former NYPD detective.

"Make sure the contractor hears you saying this. Also consider asking a friend/neighbor over for coffee. Another option is pre-arranging for someone to call you on the phone during the contractor visit, just to check in."

Perhaps, the most famous case of a contractor harming an occupant of a house he worked on is that of Elizabeth Smart. The then-14-year-old was confronted in her bedroom by a knife-wielding man who had once been hired by her parents to do odd jobs around the house. Smart was found alive nine months later.

"You've got to be out of your mind not to consider people that come into your home as people that could harm you or could rob you," said Bo Dietl, a former homicide detective who is now a security consultant.

Kane said to keep the contractor at a distance but in sight. Lock doors if the contractor is working outside and keep an exit in view if you need to escape. Also try to find out about the contractor before hiring. Many people hire workers without knowing much about them.

"This is very important because day laborers are often anonymous and work under the radar, and many, many service providers do pick up day laborers from roadside pickup points," Kane said. "Any reputable company … has a number you can call to verify that a repair man is there for a reason."

Kane also suggested calling the Better Business Bureau to check on a company and pay a little more for a more-established company.

Testimony in Castellanos' case resumes later this week. If he is convicted, the accused handyman could face life in prison without parole.