Las Vegas: the city where gamblers risk it all for a chance at a big score. Twenty-one year-old Heather Tallchief seemed like any other young woman trying to make a start. But Heather had a much bigger plan. She was going to get rich... quick.
On Friday, October 1, 1993, Heather was working at her job as a driver for the Loomis Armored Car Company in Las Vegas. She and her two co-workers were responsible for refilling the ATM's of several local casinos with cash. The van was loaded with over $3 million in preparation for a busy weekend.
The final ATM was near the casino's side entrance. Heather dropped off her co-workers. While they went inside to refill the ATMs, she was supposed to drive around to another entrance to pick them up. According to Scott Stewart, one of Heather's co-workers, that's not what happened:
"When my partner and I exited the casino, we did not see the van anywhere. We assumed that maybe she'd got lost, that she was stuck in traffic, or that maybe she might've been in an accident. We didn't know. So I, in joking, suggested that she might've taken the vehicle."
Later, a check of the surveillance camera showed Heather simply drove away from the casino and never returned. She and the money had disappeared.
Special Agent Grant D. Ashley, of the Las Vegas F.B.I., says the heist was premeditated:
"Heather Tallchief applied for the job with the armored car company approximately two months before the robbery. And the investigation has led us to believe that this entire event, from the moment of applying for the job to the robbery, was all planned in advance for the sole purpose of committing this crime."
Heather Tallchief had once worked as a volunteer nurse and had no criminal record, so why would she commit such an audacious crime? As police combed through her apartment, answers began to surface.
Two distinct sets of fingerprints were found. Heather had not acted alone. The prints were identified as those of convicted murderer Roberto Solis. Solis had a record for shooting and killing an armored car guard during an unsuccessful robbery. According to the FBI, Tallchief and Solis met in San Francisco, began a relationship, and planned the perfect crime.
Two hours after Heather and the armored car disappeared from the casino, an unusual couple arrived at a small local airport. They had chartered a private jet to Denver, Colorado.
Retired FBI Agent Joseph Dushek says it was Solis and Tallchief in disguise:
"Solis looked like an older gentleman, a doctor, and Tallchief like a sickly invalid older lady. Only three small suitcases were taken. If he had a million dollars to $3 million, it would take approximately 8 to 10 suitcases to transport that much money. We surmise that they must've shipped the money on ahead."
Three days later, the FBI traced Heather and Solis to Denver. But by then, it was too late. Denver had only been a stopover. Clues seemed to lead in all directions: Florida, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. It seemed the couple had covered their tracks well. The FBI had no solid leads.
Two weeks later, investigators discovered the armored van in a commercial building Solis had rented for a phony business. According to Special Agent Grant D. Ashley, it was all part of the master plan:
"Solis opened his business under the guise of retrofitting vehicles to be used as armored car vehicles. In that manner, it didn't draw any attention to the other people in the area when the real armored vehicle was brought into the facility."
Inside the building were packing materials. They confirmed the FBI's suspicions that the money had been shipped to some unknown destination.
The trail went cold. Law enforcement could find no trace of Heather Tallchief or Roberto Solis.
Then, in September 2005, Tallchief appeared at the Las Vegas courthouse and turned herself in. She claimed that she had been brainwashed by Solis and only committed the crime because she feared for her life. She said she left Solis when she learned that she was pregnant with his child. Her reason for turning herself in was to give her ten-year-old son a chance at a normal life.
After 12 years in hiding, Heather Tallchief was sentenced to 63 months in prison. When the judge read her verdict, she told reporters that at last she felt free. Heather Tallchief served her time and has been released.
Roberto Solis is still at large.