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By Chris Hansen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/22/2008 3:41:44 PM ET 2008-06-22T19:41:44
TRANSCRIPT

This story originally aired Dateline NBC on June 20, 2008.

Matthew O'Shaughnessy:

I work in a gang unit, arresting gang members for gun and drug violations. But in this case we had an actual victim out there. We had someone looking to kill someone, so that raises the stakes of the investigation quite a bit. If you could save someone's life, I think that's the ultimate goal. My name is Matthew O'Shaughnessy. I'm a special agent for the Boston Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. I received a phone call from a confidential informant who informed me that this fellow inmate asked him if he knew anybody on the outside who could have his wife and child killed.

Chris Hansen, Dateline NBC:Let me set the stage for you. Guillermo Vasco is a law student. He is married to Dr. Tricia Vasco. She has a family practice in a small town in Massachusetts. After their daughter is born the relationship sours, and she kicks him out of the house. He returns and kidnaps his wife and her daughter. She manages to break away and alert police. Guillermo is arrested. He is now behind bars charged with kidnapping, raping and assaulting his wife.

The informer tells Agent O'Shaughnessey that Guillermo wants to get rid of his wife so she cannot testify at his upcoming trial. But before Guillermo can be charged with murder-for-hire Agent O'Shaughnessey and his team need more evidence. I went to meet Agent O'Shaughnessey at the prison where Guillermo had been held to find out how they were going to get it.

Chris Hansen: Clearly you thought you had enough to open an investigation. What did you do the next?

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: The only way to get it done properly was to hire an undercover hitman.

Chris Hansen: So one of your guys goes in posing as a hitman.

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: That's correct.

Chris Hansen: Why was it so important to act quickly?

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: We had to act fast in this investigation because the inmate who wanted to have his wife and daughter murdered, could have gone outside and potentially hired someone else to have them killed.

Matthew O'Shaughnessey: We came up with a plan that we would have the informant advise Guillermo to write a letter to an undercover PO Box in Portland, Maine detailing what he wanted done to his wife and child.

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Matthew O'Shaughnessey: The letter was written in block letters. His English wasn't all that great. So he wrote, it was very deliberate writing, almost like what a child would write. And it was written in a code. Talked about his wife as the dog and the baby as the puppy. Basically talking about a trip down to his home country of Equador. The dog is not going to survive the trip and that the hitman should bury her 10 feet down. He talked that if the puppy couldn't make the trip down the Equador, that the puppy meet the same fate as the dog.

Matthew O'Shaughnessey: I briefed Ken Croke who I'd asked to act as the undercover hitman in this case. He'd be equipped with electronic surveillance equipment. It would be great evidence in a court of law, where we'd have video and audio of our meeting.

Matthew O'Shaughnessey: Ken Croke, he has vast experience in undercover work, and has done prior murder-for-hire cases where he posed as a hitman in the past.

Matthew O'Shaughnessey: He looks like a hitman.

Ken Croke: People who do this are desperate, and I don't think they really know what to expect. For me, it's all about communication. You can't just talk, you can't set the whole scheme up.You want to hear from them what it is they want you to do. Because that's what you're there for; to gain the evidence.

Ken Croke: My name is Ken Croke. I'm an undercover special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives.

Ken Croke: One of the difficulties with this particular investigation was the fact that Vasco was already incarcerated.

Ken Croke: Jails are a small environment, and -- not that anybody who's working at the jail would tip off what we were doing. But inmates, they're amazing when it comes to detail.They are in such a routine; they are very keen to exactly what goes on in that prison every single day.And just, you know, a guard spending a little bit more time in one area kind of watching something that may be enough to tip these guys off.

Ken Croke: So Special Agent O'Shaughnessey and I had to devise a plan in order to get inside the jail. In this particular facility the only people who get to meet face-to-face with the inmates are their lawyers.So, we came up with the story that I was going to pose as an attorney and enter the facility in order to meet with Vasco face-to-face.

Ken Croke: Deceiving a criminal is one thing. Deceiving prison guards or investigators is a whole different thing. In this investigation, there was really no choice. I mean, somebody's life lies in the balance.

Chris Hansen: Hi Sheriff.

Sheriff: Hi, good to see you, Chris.

Chris Hansen: Good to see you. Now this was a case where a murder for hire plot was being investigated. Why is it difficult to do such an investigation in a jail setting?

Sheriff: Well, because we have so many people coming in and out of the jail setting. I always tell people that there really are no secrets in jail. So things always kind of bubble out, and you can kind of get to the truth and find out, you know, what is actually taking place.

Chris Hansen: This had to be a very closely-held secret while the investigation was on-going.

Sheriff: Yes. We've been fortunate to have a good rapport with federal agencies and work closely with them and we kept this quiet while they worked through the case.

Ken Croke: We had a deputy who was involved in the investigation. He was the only one at the facility who had knowledge of what we were doing.

Ken Croke: We met with the deputy. Had given him our electronic surveillance equipment.We then gave him about a 15-minute head start.At that point, Special Agent O'Shaughnessy drove me up to the facility.Made sure that I didn't have any metal on me.Walked in.Had to pass through the magnetometer, which I did. Then went into the reception area, where there's a window where the attorneys can sign in.And at that point, as I approached that window, the investigator had gotten himself to be the person at that window, which was important, because I didn't have any attorney credentials. He had slipped me a piece of paper that I needed to fill out. And wrapped in that paper was our electronic surveillance equipment.

Ken Croke: I had gotten a layout from the deputy who was helping us as to where the attorney rooms were. The area where I would go to request the prisoner to be brought down. After going through the double doors, I then walked across the yard and into a second building. I approached the guard desk, let them know that I was an attorney, and that I was meeting with my client -- who was Vasco. At that point they all up and have Vasco brought down to the attorney room.

Ken Croke: Vasco was very nervous.He was checking me out trying to figure out who I am, what my game was, how comfortable he was with what he was trying to do.

So all the guards at the jail think Special Agent Ken Croke is Guillermo's lawyer. Guillermo thinks he is the hitman posing as a lawyer so they can get together and finalize this plan.

You know, I know from covering a number of murder-for-hire stories in the last couple of years, that this is a make-or-break moment. Now we're going to see this point where a guy like Guillermo is either going to get cold feet and back out or he's going to get to the point of no return, and he's going to close the deal. The question was what was Guillermo going to do?

The answer came through loud and clear on Special Agent Croke's undercover video tape. I went to interview Special Agent Croke in the same room he met Guillermo to find out how it all went down.

Chris Hansen: Now you've dealt with a number of those guys who wanted to hire a hitman. Where do you rank this particular one?

Ken Croke: This guy is right at the top.

Guillermo: I'm going to read the letter, again to you, so you might remember.It says hey, honey, how you doing...

Ken Croke: What he did was, he read me the letter that he sent to me, almost verbatim, to start the conversation.

Chris Hansen: Did that seem odd to you?

Ken Croke: It did. It seemed very odd.

Chris Hansen: Why do you think he did that?

Ken Croke: Almost I think it was part of him to put himself at ease. He had a script. He knew what he wanted to get done. And it was easier for him to refer to the script.

[Undercover video]

Guillermo: I hear that our friends and their dog Nikki will take this trip down thereHowever I believe that Nikki is very old, she's sick. She won't survive this trip.

Ken Croke: Now this is--you keep on saying "Nikki."

Guillermo: "Nikki."

Ken Croke: Is your wife?

Guillermo: My wife.

Ken Croke: OK.

Guillermo: So, we need to put her to sleep...

Chris Hansen, Dateline NBC: He had allegedly sexually assaulted her and stabbed her. And might have killed her had he had the opportunity.

Ken Croke: Exactly. He was in jail awaiting trial on that that. And while he was in here, he was developing a plan against really the only witness against him. I believe his words were something to the effect: If she goes away, my case goes away.

[Undercover Video]

Guillermo: OK. Regarding to her puppy. Nikki has a puppy. It's a beautiful puppy and I will show you how beautiful it is. I would like to know if she can go to see her family.

Ken Croke: This is your daughter, I take it.

Guillermo: Yeah....

Ken Croke: OK, what -- what's the deal with her? What do you want done with her? 'Cause the letter says... that you want her -- basically she should meet the same fate...

Guillermo: But at this point we -- I cannot do that. I mean, the only reason that I'm here is my baby. It's the only reason.

Ken Croke: His initial plan was the puppy meets the same fate as the dog. The daughter was to die with the mother.

Chris Hansen, Dateline NBC: So he at one point wanted the daughter killed, but then said, if you can kidnap her and get her to his relatives in Equador that would be OK.

Ken Croke: Exactly. So we told him we could facilitate that and developed a plan to commit the murder, take the daughter, hold the daughter in a safe house for a period of time, get her out to Canada and eventually down to Equador.

[Undercover video]

Guillermo: And then my mother is going to meet her at the airport.

Ken Croke: Meet her at the airport?

Guillermo: Yes. She's gonna be there with a sign.

Ken Croke: Like a taxi.

Guillermo: Like a taxi. A sign that says "Julia." "Julia"....

Ken Croke: Yep. Here you go.

Guillermo: Yeah

Ken Croke: See you later.

Chris Hansen: Here is something interesting. When it came to kidnapping his daughter and killing his wife, Vasco really didn't care how the hitman did it. He just wanted it done. But when it came to disposing of his wife's body, Vasco was very specific. It's almost was like he had a list and he knew exactly the way he wanted the hitman to get rid of the body.

[Undercover Video]

Guillermo: So then, if we can bury her outside of Massachusetts, it would be just perfect...

Ken Croke: Probably go north. Because Maine, not many people up there, lots of woods....

Guillermo: Just make sure the body is more than 10 feet down.

Ken Croke: So she doesn't turn up again.

Guillermo: And do not forget the cement thing.

Ken Croke: As long as I make her go away and that she's not gonna show up again, do you really want her in cement?

Guillermo: Yes.

Ken Croke: Like what kind? You're talking like a coffin type thing. Because I don't have that kind of stuff.

Guillermo: I don't know. But I would like to have a --

Ken Croke: Have what?

Guillermo: The -- the -- the cement thing, because --

Ken Croke: To keep her down?

Guillermo: Yeah.

Ken Croke: You know I asked him several times. Why? Why that way? I even mentioned to him, you know, when you bury something it could be dug up. They could build a house later on. they can find that body. It was a plan he was locked on to that he could never really articulate why. But in my role as the hitman, we started talking about other alternatives. Mostly to see his committment. You know, is he open to other ideas. Was this him thinking this whole thing out.

[Undercover Video]

Ken Croke: What do you think about putting her in the water though, because in the water they disappear. I put her in the drink with some weights. She goes down, gets eaten. There's not -- there's nothing left.

Guillermo: But I don't want to have that happen what happened with what's his name --

Ken Croke: No, I know what you're talking about.

Guillermo: Peterson, Scott Peterson.

Ken Croke: Nah, he's an idiot.

Guillermo: He went fishing.

Ken Croke: He was an idiot, that's not how I do business. First of all you don't do it yourself you get somebody else to do it. Second of all, I'm a professional, or else I'd be sitting in one of these cells with you. You know, I do it. I do it quickly. I do it discreetly. It's gone...

Ken Croke: See Maine -- it's all coast. I got a boat. She goes in. We load her in. We load her into those drums. The drums. Gone...

Guillermo: I think I like that idea better.

Ken Croke: I need you to explain some locations here....

Ken Croke: As we were talking about the different alternatives how to get rid of the body, I had shown him some pictures that I had told them I had taken of the house where his wife was living. These pictures were actually taken by Special Agent O'Shaughnessy and given to me before I went into the prison.

Ken Croke: What is the best way to go in here? If I've gotta go in here, what's the easiest way? Through the front here?

Guillermo: Well, yeah, but as well as....

Ken Croke: He outlined which door he felt would be the best to get into the house. He showed the windows that belonged to where his wife slept. He pointed out, "You know, you'll want to go up the driveway here towards the back of the house. There's only a screen door. It would be easy to get through."

Ken Croke: That's where she's in?

Guillermo: Yeah, she lives in the basement.

Chris Hansen: So you had everything you needed as a hitman to go out and do this job.

Ken Croke: Everything. We talked about price. How much it would cost to hire me to do what he wanted me to do. You know, I told him -- the cost was going to be $20,000. He says not only will I get the money, I get his devotion -- and his friendship.

Chris Hansen: To sit face to face with someone and hear them say "I want you to kill my wife." I mean, that's startling.

Ken Croke: Absolutely. You come into these things and you hear this is what this person wants to do. When you actually sit and look eye to eye, and hear what they want done, no matter how many times it happens, it's still a little bit shocking.

Ken Croke: Here he is sitting three feet away from what he thinks is an actual hitman. Not once did he deviate from his plan. Not once did he wonder or slow down, that maybe he shouldn't be doing this.

Ken Croke: It's about a ten-minute walk out of the attorney area, by the time you get out of the rest of the facility and out to the parking lot. The whole time walking out of this jail I was thinking that we have to finish this case. You're talking about somebody's life depends on what you doing. If he figures out that you are an undercover police officer, the entire thing's blown. And then you have to worry, is he going to go out and hire the right person the next time. You have to get it right. You only get one shot at it.

Guillermo: I believe that Nikki is very old, she's sick. She won't survive this trip.

Ken Croke: Now this is--you keep on saying "Nikki."

Guillermo: "Nikki"

Ken Croke: Is your wife?

Guillermo: My wife.

Ken Croke: OK.

Ken Croke: We had to go and approach the wife.We have to talk to the wife. We have to tell this woman that her husband is planning to kill her.

Chris Hansen: And how did she react when you told her this?

Ken Croke: Shock, but not disbelief. After what already had happened to this woman at the hands of this man...

Chris Hansen, NBC Correspondent: I mean, he had already assaulted her.

Ken Croke: He'd already assaulted her. He'd already stabbed her. So, disbelief was out of the equation, but I think she felt, he's in jail - I'm safe. And here it is, he's in jail - and she's not safe.

Chris Hansen: So at this point, agents O'Shaughnessy and Croke have $200 cash that was the down payment for the $20,000 murder-for-hire. They've got this video. And probably a conviction. But they know in past cases, guys charged with this crime have argued that they were talked into this by the undercover agent, that they really didn't want their wife dead. And they'd seen juries be sympathetic. So they came up with a plan, a risky plan. But if it worked it would make the case against Guillermo Vasco a slam-dunk.

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: Dr. Vasco asked what was our next step? What were we going to do? And I had told Dr. Vasco at this point in time that I had hired a movie make-up artist, someone that was recommended to me by another ATF agent, who could make her up like she'd been shot beaten up and killed. And that we wanted to photograph her in that stage and show these pictures to her husband so he would believe that his wife had been killed.

Heni Koenig: My name is Heni Koenig and I am a freelance make-up artist for film and video.

Heni Koenig: I got a call from Agent O'Shaughnessy and he asked me if I wanted or was available to do a job for the ATF. And I said, "Well sure, what I am doing? Is this a training video?" And he said, "Something like that. We need to make somebody look like they've been shot." And I said, "OK, all you have to do is tell me is this 22-caliber shot, 38-caliber shot, you just let me know." And I kind of chuckled. There was a response of seriousness. "Yes, 22-caliber sounds right." I said, "Fine. Done. Consider it done. Let me know when and where and I will meet you there."

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: I didn't tell her that it was for a real victim of a crime here, that this case, these pictures were to be used by an undercover agent posing as a hitman. It wasn't until we met face-to-face that she learned of our plan to have her make up Trisha Vasco as if she were killed.

Heni Koenig: When the reality truly sank in, it was so outrageous, so far from anything I could've imagined that it was -- it was just unbelievable.

Heni Koenig: Well, when we left the police station and I got in my car I looked in the mirror, and I thought to myself, oh my gosh. This is not talent. I'm dealing with a real human being who needs me to help.And I thought OK, you think about this for about 15 seconds and then you have to just figure a way to do this job.

Chris Hansen: We wanted to see how Heni was able to turn Dr. Vasco from a living woman into essentially a dead woman. Dateline, we didn't want Dr. Vasco to go through this again. It would obviously be too emotional. But we were able to get an ATF employee to stand in and play the part of Dr. Vasco. Using the original crime photos as her guide, Heni basically did the same make-up job on this volunteer as she did on Dr. Vasco.

I wanted to see this transformation for myself so I went to the same police sub-station where it originally happened.

Chris Hansen: This is a sub-station for the Peabody police department and this is where you did your work for this investigation.

Heni Koenig: That's correct.

Chris Hansen: Kathleen, an intelligence specialist with ATF, is filling in for Dr. Vasco.

Heni Koenig: Correct.

Chris Hansen: What did you have to re-create here?I mean obviously a gunshot wound but a lot more went into this.

Heni Koenig: In talking to Dr. Vasco, I learned the details and put together a scenario of what might have occurred.Truthfully, I used my imagination.

Heni Koenig: I have to figure out how long has she been dead for, how far away was the gun when the gun was fired.Would there be bruising?Was she dead for 30 minutes?Was she dead immediately when these photographs were being taken? Where is the location?Is there dirt around there?How has the perpetrator grabbed her?

Heni Koenig: I knew I had to do some bruising around the face, hands, some scrapes and I would make the focal point the bullet wound.And I was fairly confident that we could make this work one way or another. It wasn't an option not to work.

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: It was shocking to see.I had walked in a couple times during the initial process to see how it was going and she did a great job.It looked as if she'd been shot and beat up and it was amazing the work she did on this.

Heni Koenig: I don't know when the thought occurred to me that I should hand her a mirror. And I think it was fairly early on, and I thought, "Well, you know, I'm gonna involve her in this. I'm gonna hand her the mirror.Let her see what's going on."

Chris Hansen: Give me a sense for the look on her face when she did look in the mirror.

Heni Koenig: There was an initial "whoa." She said, "wow that looks real" but it -- when it was sort of a surreal experience, I think she could seperate herself as she was sitting here. The make-up cape on her. I think she separated herself from the reality, she was very shell-shocked, but really very much in control.

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: So we drive to a wooded area on a lake and that's supposed to represent a beachfront in Maine where the hitman was taking her to throw her in the ocean.

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: We walked down from the parking area about 100 yards down.It was disturbing, because now you have a living, breathing woman who looks dead and knowing that you're about to take pictures of her in order to show these pictures to her husband who wanted her killed. It's pretty devastating because you, you're it. You know the buck stops with you. If you don't do your job right, then this guy is going to go on the next person and maybe hire a real hitman who would finish the job for real.

Chris Hansen: Heni's make-up job on Dr. Vasco's stand-in was incredible. I mean, it really looked like she had been beaten and shot. But in real life there were other challenges. The agents had to pose and photograph Dr. Vasco's body in a way that would be convincing to her husband, in a way that would match up with the murder-for-hire plot that was earlier discussed. Heni and Agent O'Shaughnessy agreed to take me to the location where they staged the "hit," and once again using Dr. Vasco's stand-in, show me how they did it.

Chris Hansen: So this is the crime scene.

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: This is where the alleged murder took place.

Chris Hansen: What kind of a day was it?

Heni Koenig: It was strikingly normal out here. Sky was as blue as it is now. It was quiet. Birds. Runners. And it was so normal and such a normal spring, warm day and we were doing something incredibly abnormal.

Heni Koenig: Trying to imagine what might have occurred at the time. And what kind of a struggle there would have been and how a body falls.After death, after having been shot.

Chris Hansen: Why the leaves and the sand on the body?

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: We want to depict a struggle - a fight between Dr. Vasco and the hitman and trying to show that she fought for her life.

Chris Hansen: And one shoe on, one shoe off?

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: Again it's typical in homicide scenes - people are struggling, fighting, kicking, shoes might come off.

Chris Hansen: Why the barrel in the back?

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: The barrel was part of the investigation as well.We had told the defendant that we're gonna put his wife after she'd been killed inside the barrel and throw her in the ocean.

[Undercover video]

Ken Croke: What do you think about putting her in the water ... I put her in the drink with some weights. She goes down, get's eaten.

Guillermo: I think I like that idea better.

Ken Croke: ...Probably go north. Because Maine, not many people up there...

Chris Hansen: This was supposed to look like...

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: A Maine coastline.

Chris Hansen: The coastline of Maine, because that's where the body was gonna be dumped.

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: That's correct.

Chris Hansen: And it really does.

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: Yeah, it's a good spot. The backdrop of the ocean with the ocean and the rocks and the tree line. Looks like any Maine coastline I've seen.

Chris Hansen: Haunting to see this. It's a very realistic-looking crime scene.

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: That's what we're shooting for.

Chris Hansen: What was it like for you to have to take the pictures of the scene?

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: It was difficult for me to go through it...

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: The pictures were a critical part of the investigation.I wanted to get the best evidence I could in order to make my case and I had one chance to do it and I wanted to get it right the first time.

Heni Koenig: It was extremely intense. The environment was unsettling because of the dichotomy that the dead body played with this tranquil setting. It was surreal.

Heni Koenig: I think all of us wanted this just to be over. Let's get the shot. Let's get this woman out of there before she felt any more pain. It was clear that she'd been suffering inside.

Heni Koenig: We took pictures within I'd say 5-10 minutes and she got up immediately and took a couple steps and then just grabbed me and started sobbing. She fell apart.

Chris Hansen: That was all she could take?

Heni Koenig: I think that was really all she could take.

Chris Hansen: And at that point you just wanted to get this make-up off her.

Heni Koenig: And I just -- I said -- I held her. I held her.

Heni Koenig: I think it's fair to say we started out as strangers and left as friends. And I'm not sure friends is really the right word. There was a very unique and special relationship, almost in its own category. I knew I'd never see her again, but I hoped I had helped her in a very tangible way.

Chris Hansen: So at this point, agent O'Shaughnessey's job is completed. Heni's job is completed. And now it's up to the undercover agent Croke - the hitman - to sneak back into the jail with his undercover camera equipment and show these photos to Guillermo, hoping that he'd be convinced his wife had been murdered. Ahh, but I got to tell you one thing, though. Once Croke looked at the photos he was pretty darn convinced that Guillermo would take the bait.

Ken Croke: In my opinion, it looked exactly like a dead person. I've seen hundreds of photographs of victims and she looked very dead to me.

Ken Croke: It was very disturbing. I knew they were fake and I knew why we had done this. And I knew that it had put the victim through a lot to have to do this.

Ken Croke: What I was wondering is what was going to be his reaction? If it's disturbing to me. I would've thought it would be that times 10 for him.

Ken Croke: When I went back in for the second meeting, I didn't initially tell him I had killed her. I wanted to make sure, you know, crystal clear that this is what this guy wanted...

Ken Croke: And it was. I mean there was no doubt at all what he wanted done. I had given him another opportunity to talk about the plan, which he fully embraced, and fully pushing to go forward. At which point I told him, "It's done."

Chris Hansen: For Special Agent Ken Croke and the rest of the investigators, this is a pivotal moment. It's where the entire case could come unraveled. If Guillermo looks at the picture of his wife dead and starts crying his eyes out and screaming "I didn't want her to die, I didn't want her to die," or something like that, a jury is gonna see that at some point and we know when that happens, a jury can be sympathetic and the sentence can be lenient. But if Guillermo looks at that photo and reacts positively, maybe with relief, well that's a heck of a piece of evidence, and that could lead to a much longer prison sentence.

[Undercover video]

Ken Croke: Here is the thing... We've already grabbed her. It's already been done....

Guillermo: Where did you guys get her?

Ken Croke: Coming out of daycare ... She didn't know this was gonna happen. She didn't know we were gonna kill her.

Guillermo: Yeah, yeah.

Ken Croke: I told her, I said, "hey listen, we're gonna rob you. Everything will be fine. You're going to call right now. You're going to tell your parents you're not coming home. If you don't do this, we'll kill your baby." And she made the call, just like that.

Ken Croke: But hey, she didn't go quietly. She's very spunky.

Guillermo: Yeah.

Ken Croke: I mean, it was a lot tougher. It went on for about 15 minutes and I let her know. I said, "you know what? You fucked him over -- Guillermo -- this is what comes back to you. This is payback for you."

Ken Croke: There was this sick smile that comes across his face as he's hearing me describe the final moments of her life. One that is very difficult to describe. Very, very disturbing. This sick, satisfied smile. It's the only way I can explain it. This was joyful for him.

Chris Hansen: He was essentially sitting where I'm sitting.

Ken Croke: Yes.

Chris Hansen: Two feet away from you...

Ken Croke: Yes.

Chris Hansen: ...when he breaks out in this sick smile. Did you want to reach across the table and throttle this guy?

Ken Croke: That's exactly what you want to do. You have this rage that you can just feel -- how can somebody react this way? This is their wife, this is their child that you're talking about. In the same sense you're trying, you really try to keep that in check. Because, you don't want to do anything to screw this case up. You want to make sure that you get all the evidence you possibly can.

Ken Croke: I showed him the pictures. Very graphic pictures -- of what happened to his wife: bruising of the wrist, bruising around the throat, bullet hole to the head, the fifty-gallon barrell in the background where her body was going to be put into and dumped in the ocean.

[Undercover video: Vasco examining photo]

Guillermo: What's this?

Ken Croke: That? The .22 hole.

Guillermo: OK.

Ken Croke: He focused right on that...the bullet hole in the head, asked "What is this?" "That's a 22-caliber bullet hole to the head."

[Undercover video]

Ken Croke: OK. This is a good day for you, my friend.

Guillermo: Yeah.

Ken Croke: Everything is moving forward.

Guillermo: Finally, the final stage, and I really appreciate everything. It's a good job. I wish I could see that. I mean, be there.

Ken Croke: Yeah, I hear you.

Guillermo: You took care of my business in the way that I should ... So, thank you.

Ken Croke: I made sure she realized it was from you.

Guillermo: Thank you. I really appreciate that. And you've got, right now, my friendship, my loyalty, my respect. And anything you need, just come to me.

Ken Croke: Absolutely. All right, it's business. We'll see you down there, all right?

Ken Croke: Whenever you're performing undercover work, you try to stay unemotional, you try to stay detached. In this particular case, I couldn't wait for it to come down. I couldn't wait for this person to know that we knew what he was trying to do. And to be quite honest with you, I couldn't wait to see his face when he realized who I was.

Matthew O'Shaughnessy: I went back in to the jail and asked to meet with Vasco face to face. I went in, told him I was a special agent for the government and I was investigating the disappearance of his wife and child. And he denied knowing anything about their whereabouts, where they could be, no idea anyone on the outside who'd want them hurt or killed. Knew nothing aboutwhere they could be. And repeated himself over and over again.

Ken Croke: At which point I came around the corner with my badge around my neck. And he basically just crumbled. He started crying like a baby. Instead of the sick smile, I'm now looking at a man crumbled in, realizing that he had been had, that in fact no one was going to die, and that he's gonna spend a fair amount of time in prison.

Chris Hansen: Guillermo Vasco received 20 years for the murder-for-hire scheme. The state dropped the rape charge against him, and in a plea bargaining added an additional 8 years for the kidnapping and assault charge. When Guillermo gets out, he will deported to Equador.

But what stands out for me really in the story is Dr. Tricia Vasco. She was so courageous. I mean that takes real guts to pose dead, to go through such an emotional trauma. And I think at the end of the day, she just simply refused to be a victim. For her daughter and for her, she chose to fight back.

Matt O’Shaughnessy: I said this to her since day one; that she's the hero of all of this investigation, because she truly was remarkable in this, in that she held it together for everyone, and made it a lot easier for us to do our job. She taught me a lot as far as how to be stronger every single day of the week. She certainly has a lot of strength and confidence we can all learn from.

Chris Hansen: You know, you look out over this water here, and it's such a peaceful, beautiful setting, and here you are with a homicide scene behind you.

Matt O’Shaughnessy: It's not every day you stage a death, and it was particularly difficult to deal with.

Chris Hansen: How does it feel to be out here now?

Matt O’Shaughnessy: A lot different than it did that day. You actually get to enjoy this environment.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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