Two decades after a family was tortured, police knocked: ‘I know who did it’

Jazmin and Adalberto, outside their home in Northern Virginia, where few people know about the long-ago terror they experienced. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)
Jazmin and Adalberto, outside their home in Northern Virginia, where few people know about the long-ago terror they experienced. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

The family rarely spoke about the night nearly 20 years ago when armed strangers burst into their Maryland apartment.

“Where’s the money?!” the men demanded.

Unable to get the answer they wanted, they bound and gagged the dad in duct tape, beat him, pressed a flame-heated knife to his neck and poured bleach over the wounds. His wife and children — 4 and 6 — were forced at gunpoint into a back closet, where the older child was told to translate a message into Spanish to his mom: “If you scream, if you do anything loud, I will kill your husband.”

The terror lasted three hours, as the three intruders rifled through dresser drawers, cut through sofa cushions and popped open a ceiling vent — looking for cash that wasn’t there. Then, just like that, the men slipped away.

The family, to some extent, moved on as well.

The children excelled in school. Mom cleaned homes and cared for older relatives. Dad built a word-of-mouth business repairing backhoes, excavators and other heavy trucks. But they also lived in fear, worried that the men or their associates would return.

“I know you,” one of them had told the dad in 2003, warning him to have money next time. “This was your lucky day.”

The family rarely told anyone what they’d been through. And they moved to a new apartment or townhouse every few years — always in the D.C. area — thinking that doing so would make them harder to find.

Then came last spring and a knock on the door. It was two Montgomery County investigators who had picked up the long-unsolved case. They had new DNA evidence. And they needed the family’s help.

“I know who did it,” Detective Rob Cassels said. “At least one of them.”

‘Where’s the money?!’

Over several interviews, the family spoke about the break-in and its effect on their lives. For safety reasons, they spoke on the condition that only their first names be used. The Washington Post generally does not name victims of violent crime without their permission. Interviews with law enforcement, court filings and court hearings confirm the family’s accounts of the break-in and how they still quietly and privately deal with its effects.

“If you meet us now, you’d see us as the happiest people,” says Jazmin, the daughter who had been forced at gunpoint into the closet and is now 24. “You’d never know what we’d been through or think anything was ever wrong.”

Her father, Adalberto, is now 47. He grew up outside Guadalajara, Mexico, where he was always around tractors and trucks and learned how to fix them. He immigrated to the United States when he was 14, settled in Maryland, and eventually married another Mexican native, Monica. By 2003, their young family lived in a garden-style apartment building off Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring. The four shared one of the bedrooms. Adalberto’s brother, a plumber, slept in the other.

Adalberto got a job repairing cars inside an Amoco station in College Park and was trusted enough by the owner to lock up at night. He did so on a chilly Wednesday evening and drove to his apartment building, arriving just after 6 p.m.

“Stop, I’m the police!” came a voice from behind.

Adalberto fell for the ruse, turned and was forced into his apartment.

Monica had been in the kitchen, bringing dinner to their two children. Now they were staring at strangers pointing guns at them.

“What’s going on!?” she asked in Spanish.

“Shut up! Shut up!” one of the men responded, according to police records.

They punched Adalberto in the stomach and threw him to the floor.

His youngest child, 4-year-old Jazmin, ran into her bedroom, followed by one of the intruders who held a gun to her head and carried her back to the living room. She was ordered with her brother and mom to crawl under a rug, where from the darkness they could hear Adalberto being stomped and beaten.

“Where’s the money?! Where’s the bag of money?!” the men asked.

They tied him up and escalated the threats and pain. The tip of a knife dug into his fingers. Kicks, fists, and gun handles pounded at his body. A flame-heated knife seared into his neck.

The intruders — detectives would come to believe — had followed Adalberto home from the service station under the mistaken belief he was the owner and would have cash proceeds. At least two of them, having arrived without gloves, pulled socks out of a dresser and put them over their hands to guard against leaving fingerprints as they ransacked the family’s home.

Lying on the floor, as Adalberto later told detectives, he heard one of the men place a call over a Nextel direct-connect phone.

“He says he doesn’t have the money,” the man said.

“He’s lying,” the other voice responded. “Kill his wife or his son. He has the money!”

A short time later, Adalberto heard footsteps out in the hall and someone unlocking the door. So did the intruders, who immediately yanked Adalberto’s brother into the apartment. They threw him to the floor and beat, bound and gagged him.

By then, Adalberto’s wife, daughter and son had been moved to the back closet. Monica wrapped her arms around her children and squeezed them.

“Proteger a mi familia,” she whispered in prayer, “Proteger a mi familia.”

‘Your family isn’t safe’

Only when it became clear they wouldn’t find any service station cash did the invaders finally leave.

At the hospital, nurses and doctors counted 124 separate scrapes, cuts, burns and bruises on Adalberto. But he had largely withstood the attack, physically at least, and within hours was released.

His boss at the Amoco station said he shouldn’t return to work or his apartment. “You have to go,” he said. “Your family isn’t safe.”

They moved in with Monica’s sister and brother in Northern Virginia. Walking through their new home, the children constantly wanted to stay together.

“Can you go with me to the bedroom?” Jazmin would ask Cristian.

The children marshaled through school. Cristian joined a scout troop.

“Thoughtful, reserved,” his scoutmaster, Michael Todd, recalls of Cristian. “Sometimes he was the only kid paying attention.”

Todd became close with the family, and Adalberto eventually confided in him. Todd was stunned. “I would have never guessed,” he says, “They have been determined not to let it get in the way of having the family they wanted to have.”

Naturally gregarious and outgoing, Adalberto was hired as a fleet mechanic for a construction company. And he carried out a daily ritual of something he never did before the home invasion: Telling his kids and wife he loved them.

Rarely did Adalberto bring up what happened — and it generally took prompting, like when they drove to Maryland to see family and passed the old apartment building.

“That’s where it happened,” he’d say.

A DNA match

In 2020, the Montgomery County Police Department’s crime lab started working through DNA "profiles” collected at crime scenes over the years that for various reasons had never been analyzed against law enforcement DNA databases. Such databases contain DNA profiles of offenders convicted of crimes around the country.

The hope: With updated search requirements, and with ever-more DNA profiles in the databases, they might get a match.

That’s just what happened, authorities say, in the home-invasion case. A DNA profile obtained two decades earlier from the inside of a sock matched a profile of someone who had been convicted in a different crime.

Police suddenly had a suspect: Stacy Howard Moore, 48.

He lived in the Hyattsville area six miles from the break-in, and his criminal record included a 1994 incident with details that echoed the Silver Spring home invasion.

At the time, Moore, 22, and two others were accused of approaching a man outside his home in Forrestville, Md., and forcing him at gunpoint to go inside, according to court records. Moore pleaded guilty to attempted robbery with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to five years in prison — part of which he spent seeking transfers to a facility that offered more programs.

“All I do all day is sit in my cell and do nothing,” Moore wrote in a letter to a judge, according to court records. “With the right help anybody can change.”

After his release, Moore picked up more arrests, including one for illegally carrying a handgun in what he later explained was done to protect himself from being shot again. “The gun just made me feel safe,” he told a judge.

By his late 30s, though, Moore was staying out of trouble, according to court records and Bill Hale, his longtime attorney. He held a series of jobs — cook at a retirement home and auto detailer among them — and was helping to raise his children.

“Stacy turned right,” Hale says, “and went straight.”

A knock on the door

Police commanders assigned the resurrected case to Cassels, 48, a former college baseball player and longtime investigator who had been working robberies since 2014. He drove to the department’s archives building, and pulled out two oversized case files stuffed with yellowed papers, floppy disks, sticky notes and Polaroids — all telling a story of false leads, dead ends and a case long since gone cold.

The original investigators had looked into Adalberto’s background and if he had reason to keep large amounts of cash at home, and found none — making it clear to Cassels that Adalberto was surveilled at the service station and mistakenly labeled as someone who took proceeds home.

But DNA alone couldn’t make his case. Cassels had to find the family to see if they would testify — a challenge in robbery work. Victims fear retaliation, if not from the suspects, then from the suspect’s family and friends.

Working from old family addresses, Cassels tracked them, possibly, to a townhouse in Northern Virginia. He and a partner dressed casually, hoping to come across as everyday people to a family that, for all they knew, wanted nothing to do with the long-ago horror.

A woman in her 20s opened the door.

Cassels introduced himself, and showed her a report with a victim’s name written across the top.

“That’s my dad,” Jazmin said. “He almost died from that.”

Monica then appeared from within the house. Jazmin spoke to her in Spanish.

Monica fell to her knees, started to shake and cry, and spoke to her daughter.

“She wants you to come in,” Jazmin told them.

Opportunities seized

There was no guarantee Moore would be convicted or that either of his accomplices would ever be identified, let alone charged. But when Cassels broached the subject of new interviews and testifying in court, Jazmin spoke of a two-decade desire for justice.

The family had long repeated a motto among themselves: Nunca te quedes con las ganas, which loosely translated, means to never hold back from acting on important opportunities.

“We definitely want to help,” Jazmin told Cassels.

Adalberto, who wasn’t home at the time, swelled with pride when he learned of his daughter’s answer to the detective.

She had seized the opportunity for all of them.

Waiting to testify

This summer, inside a 6th-floor courtroom in Rockville, Md., prosecutors Donna Fenton and Kimberly Cissel began their trial. The two had earlier interviewed the five victims, coming away stunned not just by their vivid recall of what happened, but the emotional scars left behind.

“They were terrorized and tortured within their own home,” Fenton told jurors during opening statements.

Hale urged jurors to keep an open mind.

“A lot of times on TV, you say, ‘Well Geez, it’s DNA, the guy must be guilty,’” he said. “That’s not really true in real life. A lot of things go into DNA analysis and how the specimen was collected and how it has been stored, where it’s been for the last 20 years.”

About 50 feet away, in a lobby outside, the five victims waited to testify. Cristian, who had earned an automotive engineering degree, sat next to his wife and infant child. He and Jazmin, who was wrapping up a degree in international studies, knew that whatever courtroom win might be ahead, it would be limited. No additional DNA had surfaced. Even if Moore would somehow reveal the names of possible accomplices — which so far he hadn’t — convicting someone based merely on the testimony of an accomplice is very difficult.

Adalberto was called first to the witness stand. He glanced over Moore: Now 50, bald, and a hulking 300 pounds. To Adalberto, who’d always remembered his large, dark eyes, he looked sad.

Adalberto walked jurors through what happened and pointed to the scar left behind by the hot knife. “I could not feel the pain because I was so afraid that my adrenaline was high,” he testified. “But I could smell it, the burning.”

He described a final threat issued by the men, when they told him to stand up and say goodbye to his wife. Instead, he prayed.

“I said, ‘God, if today is my day, go ahead,’” Adalberto testified.

Circuit Judge Christopher Fogleman soon called for a lunch break. The jurors filed out.

Then Moore turned to Hale. He quietly said he wanted to stop the trial and plead guilty. “What can you do?” Hale recalled Moore asking.

By 2:30 p.m., the terms were settled.

Moore pleaded guilty to five counts, including felony assault and false imprisonment. Three months later, while sentencing him to 18 years in prison, Fogleman acknowledged strides Moore had made to improve his life. But the judge described his crimes as completely terrifying and cited a letter written to him by Jazmin.

Through years of counseling, she had learned how much memories from that night shaped her: The distrust of strangers, the anxiety, the post-traumatic stress disorder. She’d explained efforts to shield off her past while celebrating her present.

“Many kids my age can look back at your childhood and recall happy days,” she had written. “I’ve learned to block mine off, and to live everyday as if it’s the last.”