This report aired Dateline Saturday, Sept. 9
Dylan Eaton lives a life that might seem to some like a fairy tale. He’s a happy 11-year-old living on the other side of the world, in a place known for its storybook windmills and beautiful canals. But like many boys his age, Dylan dreams of being someplace else.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: If you could live anywhere you wanted to live in the world, where would you go?
Dylan Eaton: America.
Dylan Eaton: Yeah. It’s like more stuff happens there. It’s more exciting.
But Dylan’s own story is so exciting—it is difficult to believe. But although he has never been, America is where Dylan’s story begins.
The story Dylan’s mother and stepfather told him late last year was a fantastic one, far different from what he’d always been told. Dylan learned he is not who he thought he was—and that his mother isn’t either—and was hiding a secret past wilder than even a young boy could imagine.
Video: Dylan’s story
Morrison: How did they tell you?
Dylan Eaton: They brought it up like time by time they told me a little.
Morrison: What did you think about it?
Dylan Eaton: First I was a little bit shocked. But then when I knew the whole story, I knew my mom was innocent.
Innocent? Of what? Dylan was confused and shocked, as were so many other people who had known his mother for years. To all of them, she was Donna Marie Eaton, a doting mother who worked in a small hotel in the Netherlands. Meredith Kirkwood was one of her closest friends.
Meredith Kirkwood: I know her as a fabulous mother to Dylan, who’s just great. You know, and she always put him before herself.
Ellen Dworkin worked with Donna for six years, thought the world of the cheerful chambermaid who took such pride in her work and her little boy.
Ellen Dworkin: She was a good friend. And a very gregarious, very open.
Then, after a moment, she adds…
Dworkin: I guess there was a mystery about her that I was always curious about.
But no one would have guessed that the real Donna, the doting mother, hard-working chambermaid, and good friend was actually a prominent name on an FBI most wanted list.
Kirkwood: I was just kind of completely shocked. I mean it took your breath away for a minute. You were just like, ‘No, that can’t be. That’s not the right person.’
The story they would hear made no sense. It begins in Las Vegas, before Dylan was born. Back then, in the early ‘90s, Las Vegas was going through a kind of identity crisis. It was the family friendly phase.
But on one sunny, clear, quiet morning on the strip, what was about to happen was a dark version of the Vegas fantasy.
It was over before most gamblers were even awake.
A perfect crime: In broad daylight, it pulled off by a mysterious woman.
What would unfold was a story of sex, magic, money and murder that made the movies look tame.
The tale begins on October 1, 1993, a Friday. Courier Scott Stewart and a partner jumped into the back of a Loomis armored truck loaded with weekend cash for casino ATMs.
Morrison: How much money was in the back of that truck?
Scott Stewart, then-Loomis courier: Approximately 3.1 million. It was a large size van, full size van. It filled from about a third of the way from the front of the vehicle all the way to the back.
With them was a relatively new driver — a 5 foot 10 inch beauty named Heather Tallchief.
Keith Morrison: Do you remember anything unusual about that particular day?
Stewart: The shoes that she was wearing, they weren’t the normal shoe that she would wear to work. She would wear more of a rugged work boot-type thing because she knew she was either gonna be on her feet all day or driving all day. And that particular morning, she had a dressier shoe on. At the time, we just thought maybe she was going out to dinner or something after work and needed to get changed quick.
It was about 8:00 a.m. when the armored van driven by the woman in the dress shoes pulled up to the Circus Circus, the first of the Friday stops. It was chockfull of cash to keep ATMs going over the weekend.
Stewart: Fridays were normally our busiest day because obviously we’re preparing the casinos along the Strip for the busy tourist weekend.
Morrison: So there would be more money?
Stewart: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Stewart and his partner picked up the first of the money bags and walked out of the truck into the casino. Heather’s job was to pick them up about 20 minutes later.
Stewart: It was basically like a point A to point B type where we would start at one ATM and just work our way through until we got to the last one. And at that last one was the exit to where Heather was supposed to pick us up.
Morrison: So you got to the end of that run?
Stewart: Got to the end of the run and no truck.
No truck... and no Heather Tallchief. Her job, in part, was to watch the couriers’ backs. Stewart and his partner waited, and waited, and began to worry.
Stewart: Is she okay? Did she get lost? But then you start thinking about, could she have possibly gotten in an accident?
Stewart and his partner, stranded at the casino, placed a worried call to the office.
Stewart: Another armored vehicle came to pick us up. And from that point, we just started doing a sweep for the vehicle. Given the technology of the time, there was no tracking, there was no GPS, basically all we had was a radio. So we were trying to do radio contact with her and there was nothing.
Morrison: Were you afraid she may have been kidnapped?
Stewart: Oh, absolutely. Anything could have been possible.
Police were called. Larry Duis was a sergeant back then.
Morrison: What did you think had happened to that truck when it was first reported to you?
Larry Duis, Former Las Vegas police sergeant: We had no idea. I was mystified and it was really a head shaker. What do you do with a truck?
And then the FBI got involved. Joseph Dushek was the case agent assigned.
Joseph Dushek, former FBI agent on the case: We asked them to pull the surveillance video for the Casino and saw that she was in the vehicle alone when it drove off.
Morrison: Was that a eureka moment for you?
Dushek: That was, uh, pretty astounding.
Heather Tallchief and the armored van had vanished with $3 million neatly stacked in the back. It was now looking more like a robbery than an abduction— one of the largest armored vehicle heists in Las Vegas history.
Stewart: The reason why that truck was so special is because we had nothing but cash.
Morrison: So, if you’re gonna steal a truck, yours was the one to steal.
Stewart: Ours was the one to take. She did it right.
Morrison: Did you think right off the bat somebody else had to be involved?
Dushek: It would be pretty hard for one person to come off with the whole plan and carry it off by themselves.
Tallchief, and whoever was helping her, had simply vanished.
Then, a much-needed lead: a limousine driver in Colorado had picked up an unusual couple from the Denver airport. Dushek backtracked, checked for flights out of Vegas—there were 1,800 a day at the time—and found a pair of charter pilots who remembered a strange couple as well.
Then, a much-needed lead: a limousine driver in Colorado had picked up an unusual couple from the Denver airport. Dushek backtracked, checked for flights out of Vegas. There were 1,800 a day at the time and he found a pair of charter pilots who remembered a strange couple as well.
Dushek: One of them recalled taking the couple from Las Vegas to Denver.
Morrison: Did he say anything about their demeanor or what they looked like?
Dushek: He remembered that she appeared in a wheelchair as an elderly woman. The male was like a doctor. They took only two small packages.
And then, a slip-up— perhaps the reason those charter pilots remembered that one couple:
Dushek: When they landed in Denver and got up to exit the plane and meet the chauffeur, I recall the pilot told our agents up in Denver, “A miracle has happened, she can get up and walk now.”
Tallchief, disguised as an elderly woman, simply stood up and walked from the plane to the limousine and left the wheelchair behind.
But by the time the FBI agents discovered where the fugitives went once that plane landed, they were gone, again.
And then, finally, a break. Two weeks after the robbery, they found the armored van. it was stashed in a warehouse space rented by Heather’s boyfriend, who had told the manager he was in the business of repairing armored vehicles— a good cover story to ward off suspicion should anyone see an armored van drive in. Inside the van were more clues.
Dushek: Her clothing, a weapon, and boxes to mail things. And some of the money. They didn’t take all of the money.
Morrison: How much did they leave behind?
Dushek: It was packages probably like a thousand dollars in a package and there were several of these things probably too bulky to ship.
Someone experienced had to be involved. Just who was that boyfriend?
Special agent Dushek got the name, and it rang all kinds of bells. Heather’s boyfriend was Roberto Solis, a convicted murderer 27 years her senior was a man who knew how to disappear.
Morrison: What happens with a case like that? Do people just keep checking and checking and checking—but the trail goes cold? How does it work?
Dushek: The FBI kept it very active. We did everything we could to see if they would make a mistake and would suddenly pop up.
He took it hard, did Dushek, that one case he just couldn’t solve.
And he retired in 2001 without ever knowing why she did it. Was she used and then thrown away by a cold-blooded killer? And 12 years after the robbery, where are they? Who are they?
And what remarkable event was about to blow the case wide open?
'A perfect crime' by a 21-year-old?
Three weeks ago marked 12 years since Heather Tallchief and Roberto Solis vanished with $3 million. The FBI agent on the case and the Las Vegas police sergeant both have since finished up their time and retired, and still there was no trace of Tallchief, Solis, or the money.
Larry Duis, former Las Vegas police sergeant: Of course I don’t like the word “perfect crime,” but it appears that it was very well-executed.
All that money and they got away with it.
Fred Tallchief, Heather’s father: A lot of people thought it was a great thing, you know. This 21-year-old kid gets away with $3 million dollars, she rips off the casinos, the insurance companies, like a Robin Hood. She beat the system. That’s the way they looked at it.
Keith Morrison, Dateline Correspondent: And what did you think?
Fred Tallchief: It’s a 21-year-old kid with money, with a convicted murderer. My worst thought was he dumped her in the ocean for $3 million.
And for the past 12 years, that’s what Heather’s family believed likely happened.
Fred Tallchief: It’s the loss of a child, whether she’s dead or she comes back and has to go to jail for 30 years. It was the loss of a child for me.
Who is Heather Tallchief and what led her to become one of Las Vegas’s most notorious criminals?
Heather grew up in Buffalo, New York idolized by her little sister, Elaine.
Elaine Tallchief, Heather's younger sister: Whenever she had a new hairstyle I would ask her to do mine. I wanted to get a little taste of what it was like to be like her.
Heather’s parents divorced and though Fred was a hopeless drug addict, he was granted sole custody. He was a single father at 2... and stoned.
Morrison: What was your drug of choice?
Fred Tallchief: More.
Fred Tallchief: More.
Morrison: More of whatever it happened to be?
Fred Tallchief: Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. It took me a quart of beer and a bag of glue, I was a glue sniffer. I don’t like the taste of alcohol so I’d sniff the glue to get the alcohol down. And I just stayed that way for the next 12 years of my life.
He re-married along the way, got sober when Heather was about 8 years old, and went on to have four more children.
Fred Tallchief: Because she was the first, I made a lot of mistakes. I had no guidelines. I was just shooting from the hip, you know.
Heather attended a Catholic high school, got into the “goth” scene as a teenager.
Elaine Tallchief: She was a trendsetter. She didn’t have to follow anybody. Just a leader. Very beautiful, always creating a different style for herself that I definitely wanted to follow.
At 20, Heather moved to San Francisco, where she got a job as a nursing assistant in an AIDS hospice.
Her record was perfectly clean when she met Roberto Solis— the man who would become her apparentpartner in crime.
Morrison: Did you hear about this guy she was with, Roberto?
Elaine Tallchief: I heard about it when it happened.
Morrison: But not before that?
Elaine Tallchief: Never.
But now, her family feared she’d gotten involved with the wrong guy... and may be dead as a result.
Who was Roberto Solis?
It’s hard to say who Roberto Solis is, exactly. He has had 21 aliases. Using one of them, Solis had been involved in an armored truck heist before— a botched attempt in 1969.
That was at a Woolworth’s store in San Francisco where Solis and two accomplices approached Loomis driver Louis Dake. Dake showed Solis that his money bag was empty, turned it inside out. But Solis shot him twice in the back anyway. Roberto Solis had murdered a father of six.
Joseph Dushek, former FBI agent on the case: They could see that he didn’t have the money. So why would you necessarily shoot someone if they don’t even have the money?
Morrison: What does that say to you?
Dushek: That brings up some pretty deep questions about his attitude towards life and death and the seriousness of his violence.
Solis was sentenced to life in prison, escaped, was recaptured, and this time, stayed in prison for nearly two decades. There, believe it or not, he became a respected “poet,” known then as Pancho Aguila.
Dushek: He considered himself to be a real intellectual, an art dealer.
He wrote five books, was included in six anthologies. And he captured the attention of well-known writers, who asked the parole board to grant him leniency.
Solis was released in September of 1991, and came back to the San Francisco area, though a parole violation for selling drugs too close to a school had him in and out of prison again. But then he was back to the city, where he met the adventurous young woman named Heather Tallchief.
Heather's last visit home
Heather had recently returned from her last trip home to Buffalo, where she’d helped her stepmother prepare for her baby brother’s birth in 1992. Elaine was 14 at the time.
Elaine Tallchief: I was sleeping in my mother’s bed. And she woke me up and she said, “All right, I’m leaving.” And she gave me a kiss on the head. And I remember thinking I wanted to get up and give her a hug, and how sad I was that she was leaving.
Morrison: Especially on a day like that?
Elaine Tallchief: I just didn’t want her to leave at all because I hated when she left. It’s like when she’s there she’s got such energy and she’s so outgoing.
It was the last time they saw Heather. And later that day, Skyler was born. He has never met his eldest sister.
Skyler Tallchief, Heather's youngest brother: I always have thoughts of when I get older I can, you know, go out looking for her.
Heather did call occasionally from San Francisco over the months that followed. But then one day...
Fred Tallchief: She says, ‘Dad, I’m going to Las Vegas. When I get set up, I’ll call you.’
And then, a couple of months later in 1993, a knock at the door.
Elaine Tallchief: The FBI came to the door and wanted to talk to my mom. My mother told us all to go upstairs. So she was down there for a while and of course I was trying to listen. I had no idea what they were there for.
Fred Tallchief: They said, “We got her as armed and dangerous with two registered handguns. And we’re gonna shoot to kill” if they apprehend her. And it was just—I was gone.
How could it be? What could have driven her to rob an armored truck, abandon her family, get her face on a “wanted” poster, and most probably— according to police— wind up dead?
After 12 years, Heather’s family had moved on, scar tissue forming over the emotional wounds her absence had caused. But forget? Hardly.
Morrison: Was this an absence that you and the rest of your family were always aware of?
Skyler Tallchief: Yes, there was. One time I was in church with my class. I thought she was, you know, there in the back.
Keith Morrison: At church?
Skyler Tallchief: Yeah, with me.
Keith Morrison: Almost like a what, a guardian angel or something?
Skyler Tallchief: Yes, exactly, a guardian angel watching out for me.
But for police, for the FBI, the case was as cold as a case could be.
And then one day we found ourselves in a certain Los Angeles hotel. Police must not be informed, we were told, but there was news about Heather Tallchief.
Heather Tallchief’s family had neither seen nor heard from her in 12 years. They had lost track of her even before she disappeared with Roberto Solis and nearly $3 million from an armored truck in Las Vegas.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: Did you think you’d ever see her again?
Elaine Tallchief, Heather Tallchief's sister: No.
Morrison: In all those years? She was gone.
Elaine Tallchief: I always thought about it. What it would be like to see her. And what does she look like.
Nor did the police have any clue where Tallchief and Solis were. They suspected, perhaps, Central America, but the trail had been cold for years. And if they had to lay odds, they would tell you that if anybody ever found Heather, it would be her dead body.
And then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere... here she was before our eyes.
Morrison: This is quite a moment for you. How do you feel right now?
Heather Tallchief: Extremely nervous. I have a lump in my throat. And my heart’s racing. So I’m pretty scared.
Scared? Nervous? It was a remarkable scene. Tallchief’s attorney has arranged this evening meeting with us in a Los Angeles hotel. He’s insisted that we keep the meeting and our location totally secret, deeply concerned that she might be discovered and captured.
She is on the run, the woman who committed the perfect crime, who escaped without a trace, whose whereabouts at the moment we met her— as she fidgeted with her beads— were unknown to any law enforcement agency anywhere.
We were about to hear Heather Tallchief tell her story for the very first time.
Heather Tallchief: It takes a tremendous amount of courage to face and confront what’s in front of me.
So many questions
The story begins in San Francisco’s eclectic Haight Ashbury district. In the early ‘90s, the district was no longer anybody’s idea of a funky hippie haven— it was darker and more troubled when Heather came to live there.
Heather Tallchief: Well, as a young person in a bad relationship that was slightly abusive, perhaps clouded by the drugs. Your judgment is impaired, obviously.
She was 20, broke, boyfriend-less, and lost.
Heather Tallchief: Not really going anywhere, not really succeeding with life. And ended up meeting Roberto Solis right after I turned 21.
In fact, she was barely old enough to be in the bar the night she saw him. Solis was 48 years old and interesting.
Heather Tallchief: I found him attractive as a man. I would have never accepted a beer from him if I wasn’t attracted, physically.
Nor would she have followed him home...
Heather Tallchief: Seeing his altar he had set up in his living room, it was so spectacular— it had all these things on it like a goat’s skull, and candles and incense, and crystals. And he had two chalices. And one was full of red liquid and the other one was white. I mean there had to be something behind that. So I had to find out.
Tallchief says Roberto Solis told her that the white liquid was goat’s milk, the red represented blood.
Heather Tallchief: Menstrual blood of the idea about women giving birth, life, creation, fertility. And the milk represented the milk that you need to raise and to nurture this life.
Intrigued, Heather agreed to let this seemingly spiritual man read her tarot cards.
Heather Tallchief: One was fortune. And the other one was the temptress or the lust card. This was like fate. I was supposed to embark on a spiritual path, an awakening, an enlightenment by somebody great and powerful and knowledgeable.
Morrison: You were moved by this. You remember it all these years later!
Heather Tallchief: Extraordinarily moved by it.
What was this form of spirituality they were practicing?
Heather Tallchief: We called it Sex Magick.
Morrison: Sex Magick.
Heather Tallchief: Yes, it’s a ritual.
Morrison: The spiritual and the physical and they are all—
Heather Tallchief: —combined and you use to manifest ideas, wills, powers, energy.
She invoked gods and goddesses and let them take over her body. She was swept away.
After a couple of weeks together, Tallchief says Solis told her about his time in prison, how he had killed an armored car driver in 1969.
Morrison: What did you think?
Heather Tallchief: I think it was an accident. It happened and it was unfortunate and he regretted it. And he had changed his life.
Morrison: Did you fall in love with him?
Heather Tallchief: Yes.
And so when Roberto Solis suggested they move to Las Vegas together, Heather agreed.
Morrison: Did he tell you why he was interested in Las Vegas?
Heather Tallchief: Definitely the gambling.
Moving to Las Vegas
In Las Vegas, Solis suggested she find a job, even brought home applications for her to fill out. She says she didn’t think anything of it when he guided her toward armored car services and says she didn’t even think about the fact that he had killed a Loomis guard all those years before. She didn’t make the connection.
Heather Tallchief: “Why don’t you fill this one out for Loomis?”’ I filled it out and I turned it in and I got a call and they interviewed me. And I got the job.
Heather turned out to be a quick study in the armored vehicle business.
Morrison: So you got an idea over time when the fat days were, and when the not-so-fat days were, in terms of how much money you were carrying.
Heather Tallchief: You’d get an idea over time. Ok that day you’re doing that, so there’s a lot of paper there. Or that day there’s a lot of coin there. So you can work it out a little bit.
Morrison: When did you decide that it was a good idea to take that money?
Heather Tallchief: Never.
And so, how did it happen?
Heather Tallchief: I was told that if I did anything wrong, I’d be shot dead. On the spot.
Heather Tallchief: I was instructed to. I was under strict orders and I carried them out.
And so here was the crux of Heather’s story— the one thing she wants the world to believe: He made her do it, and bewitched her with his spiritualism, and forced her to act.
Heather Tallchief: He was extraordinarily devout in his beliefs. He was really, really sincere and faithful and pious, if you will.
She wanted to be like him, she said, wanted him to be proud of her.
Heather Tallchief: I was in awe, if you will of him. And I loved being a part of this belief system and this world.
And every day, before she went to work, she says he played videotapes for her..
Heather Tallchief: A man’s voice came in. And then the tape would go into a colorful swirl. And the voice would count from ten to one. Then I’d wake up. The tape would be finished. I believe he manipulated and influenced my mind for his own means. That’s how this evolved.
Heather says he was using the tapes to hypnotize her.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: But did they instruct you to do anything in particular? The tape?
Heather Tallchief: No. But when you’re not consciously aware, anything could be suggested to you.
Keith Morrison: You have no idea what was suggested to you when you were watching those tapes, though, do you?
Heather Tallchief: I basically don’t remember anything other than the countdown and waking up.
And so, on October 1, 1993, it happened.
Heather Tallchief: I woke up one morning and he had some instructions for me. And I was to drive my vehicle from Circus-Circus to a place that he had mapped out on a little bit of paper, and he made me memorize it.
She must drive the truck loaded with its $3 million dollars out of the parking lot, said her instructions, drive down the street, and there, she’d see a sign.
Heather Tallchief: “Armored car servicing.” And I would drive my van into it. And he was there waiting.
It was the warehouse Solis had rented.
Heather Tallchief: He told me, get out the cab. I got out the cab. The first thing he asked for was for my gun. I gave him the gun.
She says he told her to hurry up, get the money out of the truck.
Heather Tallchief: And he said it a little bit differently than that. “Hurry the f*** up.” And, you know, “get a move on.” I could see he was in a panic. I did what I was told and I hurried up, especially as he had my gun.
Then, she says, he barked at her: to change her clothes, put on a grey wig, colored contact lenses.
Heather Tallchief: He opened up the trunk of his car and he pulled out a wheelchair. “I want you to sit in this now.” He ordered me to be sick. Pretend like you’re an old lady and be sick and do it now and hurry up. And they wheeled me over to a small plane and they helped me get into it.
Morrison: While all of this was going on, how did you feel?
Heather Tallchief: I think I was absolutely devoid of feeling.
It hadn’t yet hit her, she says, the gravity of her crime. Heather Tallchief had committed armed robbery and now crossed state lines. It was a federal case now. But she says she had no idea.
Heather Tallchief: It just didn’t register—the magnitude. I wasn’t thinking about money, I was thinking, “Holy sh**! What am I doing in this plane?” I’m thinking, “Oh my god, this guy’s a maniac. Nuts. He’s evil.”
Morrison: But up until that moment, you had never had that thought about him, had you?
Heather Tallchief: No. Up until that moment, I absolutely worshiped him. I would have given my life for him.
Morrison: What did you or he or both of you do with the money? Cause you didn’t take it with you on the little plane, did you?
Heather Tallchief: No. He put them into brown cardboard boxes. Very big. The kind you would use for moving.
Moving boxes, crammed with stolen cash, which were shipped to a secret location to be retrieved later.
Heather Tallchief: I was following strict orders and I was doing them faithfully. It was very mechanical, very droid-like.
Morrison: Surely you were aware of the fact that you had just lifted a whole bunch of money from somebody and that you were in a heap of trouble.
Heather Tallchief: Yes. So what do you do?
Morrison: What do you do?
Heather Tallchief: Well, you certainly don’t holler and make yourself noticeable.
Morrison: What would have happened if you had hollered, “Hey, police, I’ve just been forced to do something I didn’t want to do and now I’m scared.”
Heather Tallchief: I was told that the authorities would shoot me dead on the spot. And the only way I could have a chance of surviving was to listen to him and follow his instructions.
Life on the lam
Heather Tallchief had been living on the lam for twelve years now, under the radar, completely undetected.
Keith Morrison: Would you recommend the lifestyle to anybody?
Heather Tallchief: Only to a fool. No. I’m not proud of this. This is not a great thing to do, to become a fugitive, to run away, to lose your family, to lose contact with every single person you’ve ever known and loved.
Where had she been? What did she do all those years? As far as anybody knew, she and Roberto Solis had pulled off the perfect Vegas vanishing act.
But of course nobody alive actually vanishes; everybody has to be somewhere and indeed they were. After fleeing from Vegas, after running from Denver, from Florida, from the Caribbean, Roberto Solis and Heather Tallchief wound up here, in a city famous for its toleration of unusual people and sometimes strange behaviors. In Amsterdam.
But life with all that stolen money, says Heather, was not what you might have imagined. Once Solis had his hands on the cash, she says, he became a monster—miserly, controlling, mean.
It took about a year, she says, until one day it all came crashing in on her..
Heather discovered she was pregnant with Roberto’s child—and never felt so trapped in her life.
Heather Tallchief: I almost felt like I don’t feel like I wanna live anymore. I gotta get away, ‘cause I wanted to have the opportunity to at least have this child.
And by the time her son was born, says Heather, Solis had moved other women into their home.
And then one day, finally unable to put up anymore, she says, with the abuse, with the polygamy, she simply picked up her baby, what little cash she could lay her hands on and she left. On the run now not just from the long reach of American law, but from Roberto Solis himself.
Heather Tallchief: As soon as I could I took my opportunity and I walked away.
Morrison: Were you afraid he’d try to find you?
Heather Tallchief: Yeah.
Morrison: Did he?
Heather Tallchief: No.
Morrison: Did he look?
Heather Tallchief: I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since then.
She says she only took pocket money and some jewelry with her. Two years after the so-called perfect crime, she had a baby, no job, no money, no name.
And so she compromised herself.
Heather Tallchief: You’re going to do instinctually what you have as a mother and that is to go out there and do what you need to do.
Then, she says, she managed to get a job as a hotel chambermaid and told her boss she was Donna Marie Eaton.
Ellen Dworkin is the assistant manager, worked with Heather for years.
Ellen Dworkin: She put on this crazy English accent that could have been English or British accent. That was - I kept on thinking, ‘Why is she speaking this weird British accent?’
With a bad accent as cover, she counted on the same attitude her new friend, and transplanted American, Meredith Kirkwood had noticed about Amsterdam. Here, people don’t seem to ask a lot of personal questions.
Meredith Kirkwood: There was always just a little sense of distance.
Morrison: People need to be private.
Kirkwood: People need to be private. And I thought well, maybe she had a bad relationship. Just being a little low-key.
A time to stop running
But after 12 years of lying to those she loved, 12 years without contact with her family, heather had enough. She decided it was time. She was going to stop running… she was going to turn herself in.
Morrison: Couldn’t you have just continued your life on the lam for the rest of your life? Rather successfully?
Heather Tallchief: Oh yes.
Morrison: Well, why not?
Heather Tallchief: Because you get very tired of running. This is not a life, because I have been assuming something else that’s not my life. If you’re living in a prison mentally, then what is a box, a room, restricted privileges? It’s nothing compared to what I’ve already been through. I’m truly feel like I’m setting myself free.
But returning meant leaving her then 10-year-old son Dylan behind, with the man Heather says has become her real partner in life and the only father figure her son has ever known.
Heather Tallchief: I’m doing this for him. I feel that by turning myself in and surrendering, I can give him a better life, one that he deserves.
Morrison: He doesn’t have a real name right now?
Heather Tallchief: No, he doesn’t.
Morrison: Doesn’t have a country.
Heather Tallchief: He doesn’t exist basically.
But first, Heather had to break the difficult news to Dylan who had no idea his mother was a fugitive or that she was about to leave.
Morrison: I’d be very interested to know what that conversation was like and what she said.
Dylan Tallchief: Well, she told me one day she would have to go away and repair what she’s done.
Morrison: It’s gotta be tough for a guy to hear—
Dylan Tallchief: um-hm.
Morrison: How did you feel when you heard that?
Dylan Tallchief: A little bit nervous. I didn’t want her to go away.
Heather told friends in Europe that she had to go to the United States, that she’d be away for a while... said she couldn’t explain why just yet. In fact, it was important for her case that she surrender and not be captured. Friends like Meredith Kirkwood didn’t understand.
Kirkwood: Why did she do this now? What was wrong with her - her life? We were all friends. Everything was going just fine, you know. Why couldn’t she have waited?
And so, two days after our secret meeting, on a morning not unlike the one that began all this, with no idea when she’d ever see her son again, she walked into the U.S. Marshalls’ office in Las Vegas.
Authorities had been given a few minutes’ notice. The system swallowed her up, and she was gone. And now everyone was about to hear the real story.
Scott Stewart, the armored car courier who was working with Heather that day, got a call from a reporter.
Scott Stewart, worked with Heather on the day of the heist: He calls me up at work and says, “You’re not gonna believe this. Heather turned herself in.” And it was kind of like, wow. She’s alive.
Former police sergeant Larry Duis: I use the term “shark bait.” I thought that the may have just gotten rid of her, now there’s no witness. He has all the money himself. So I was extremely surprised when she showed up.
And Heather’s family? Fred was at work when a friend told him the news.
Fred Tallchief, Heather's father: He says, “Heather just turned herself in.” And it was just like that same feeling like when she did it, that shaking inside. My nerves were just shaking.
And what about Skyler, the little brother, now 13 years old, who has never met Heather?
Morrison: What would you say to her if you could go see her right now?
Skyler Tallchief, Heather's younger brother: Oh, I’d say, “I love you.”
Eight months after her surrender, we met with Heather again. What had the courts decided to do with her? Did it turn out that turning herself in was a terrible mistake?
Meeting her again eight months later
Summer was closing in on Las Vegas when we went to see Heather Tallchief again—at the very jail in which she’d been locked up after surrendering to U.S. marshals. She’s been here 8 months— from middle class Europe to a 10- by 12-foot cell.
Keith Morrison: How many hours of the day are you in your cell?
Heather Tallchief: 23.
Morrison: One hour out.
Heather Tallchief: That’s right.
Back in Amsterdam, she had left not only her son, but a man named Robert Wallace. They had been a couple for eight years, lived as a family, but heather knew she couldn’t marry him because she didn’t have a real identity. And he didn’t know her past.
Morrison: How do you tell someone like Robert?
Heather Tallchief: Oh, slowly. (laughs) Very slowly.
Was it easy to hear? No, it was not. Robert agreed to speak to us only on condition we hide his face.
Robert Wallace: I’m trying to hide my identity from this Solis person that is still out there somewhere. I know he’s a very dangerous person. I know he doesn’t care about life.
But there was Robert, caring about life more than he ever had before, and the love of his life had this awful story.
Wallace: I didn’t believe it to begin with. I thought it was just one too many drinks or just fantasizing or something.
And so, with Robert raising her son thousands of miles away, Heather went before a judge in Las Vegas, where the prosecutor portrayed her not as Roberto Solis’ brainwashed victim, but as a life-long criminal herself.
Heather Tallchief: I remember standing up in front of the judge saying, “but I’m not a life-long criminal.” And I don’t view myself as a criminal. I’ve done some pretty stupid stuff.
Stupid stuff? Stealing 3 million dollars? Going on the lam for more than a decade?
A little more than just stupid, said the prosecutor—and more than a few detractors who have heard Heather’s story tend to think...
Morrison: This is all an act. You’re an actress, you’re putting all of this on. You’re playing goodie two-shoes that did this for all the right reasons, in order to get off easy.
Heather Tallchief: Well, would I, willingly put myself in prison? I mean, I didn’t know. I could’ve been looking at 30 years’ time. So is that an act? You know, who does that?
In the end, Heather took her lumps. And in a deal with the prosecution, she pled guilty to three felonies, including using her false identity to get back into the United States to surrender. She told prosecutors she had no idea where Solis was.
She was sentenced to just over five years in prison.
And now she says she is making the best of it, staying calm in that little cell with yoga.
Morrison: There will be some people who will say, hearing this sort of thing, you’re not miserable enough. You’re not being punished enough.
Heather Tallchief: Well, I don’t choose to be miserable. If I wanted to, I could very well be. This is very hard to do, to every day get up and be conscious of what I’m doing. And to at least find some amount of joy in what I do have. And to actually be grateful for something small as, maybe, my health.
But of course she has far more than that.
She has her American family again.
Fred Tallchief: My prayers have been answered, you know? I’ve got my child back alive. And everything from there is just gravy.
And back in Amsterdam, she has Dylan, and could finally tell him that his world is bigger than he thought it was.
Dylan Tallchief: In one letter she sent me she told me all the addresses of all my relatives and suddenly all these people started sending messages to me and letters.
Morrison: You’re part of something a lot bigger.
Dylan Tallchief: Yeah.
Morrison: How’s that?
Dylan Tallchief: Makes me feel big.
And how does his feel about his mother turning herself in?
Dylan Tallchief: It’s good that she’s doing this. And she’s making our life better. So it’s better to get all the bad things done.
Morrison: Get them outta the way.
Dylan Tallchief: Yeah.
And yet they’ll be apart for years.
Morrison: Do you still think it was the right thing to do?
Heather Tallchief: Absolutely, yes. Yeah. I committed a crime. And yes, it is the right thing to do.
And on the other side of the world, a lesson in patience.
Morrison: You’ll have to wait for awhile before you get a chance to live with her again.
Dylan Tallchief: Yeah.
Morrison: Several years.
Dylan Tallchief: Yeah.
Morrison: Can you do that?
Dylan Tallchief: I can try. I have to.
Dylan goes by the name Dylan Tallchief now. His mother's lawyer says it will take a few months to make that his legal name, so he can get a passport and visit his mother in the U.S..
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