Video: Update on woman on the lam

NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Keith Morrison Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/9/2006 11:13:28 AM ET 2006-02-09T16:13:28

Back in the early 90s, Las Vegas was going through a kind of identity crisis. It was the “family friendly” phase.

But on that 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 there were even awake: It was a perfect crime in broad daylight, pulled off by a mysterious woman.

It was a story of sex, magic, money and murder that made the movies look tame.

And over ten years later, the story isn’t over.

The heist
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.

Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: 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. 

Bit by strange bit, authorities untangled details of the crime. Their first stop was Tallchief’s apartment, which she shared with her boyfriend.

Dushek: We found that they had cleared the place out. The closets were empty. And it looked like someone had just run out very quickly.

There was no sign — anywhere — of the truck.

Duis: It looked like it was a slick, slick job.

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 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.

Dushek: So we began tracing an address we had located for them. 

Morrison: In Miami?

Dushek: In Miami. The address turned out to be a mailbox.

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.

Morrison: Huh?

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.

MSNBC-TV
Heather Tallchief, 12 years after the armored car heist.

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. She got a job for a time working in an AIDS hospice, working with terminal cancer and aids patients.

Heather Tallchief: It’s difficult but it quite nice to know that you helped somebody move on.

But then things turned and she lost her job.

Morrison: What was going on with you?

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.

Morrison: What kind of drugs?

Heather Tallchief: I’ve tried hallucinogens, amphetamines, marijuana, crack and alcohol.

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. He felt that he was in a position where he could beat all the odds.

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 says she was stunned to get the job because she didn’t feel qualified. She says she had just gotten her first driver’s license.

And so she found herself driving an armored truck. Roberto, says Heather, was pleased.

Morrison: Was he inquisitive?

Heather Tallchief: He was.

Morrison: What would his questions be?

Heather Tallchief: Do you get to stop? No, I don’t get to stop! What’s it’s like walking around with a gun.

Heather worked for Loomis for less than two months.

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, like okay, 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 druid-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.

And so they flew from Las Vegas to Denver, but there her story is interrupted by her attorney, Bob Axelrod.

Bob Axelrod, Heather Tallchief’s attorney: There’s a little time span of a couple of months there that I need to use in other ways that I just can’t allow her to talk about at this moment.

What we can say is that soon, both Solis and Heather were in Amsterdam, living off the stolen money, which she says he controlled.

...And then about a year later, a turning point: 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 want to live anymore. I got to get away, ‘cause I wanted to have the opportunity to at least have this child.

And so, Heather tells us, two months after the baby was born, she fled.

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.

Morrison: How’d you feel about that?

Heather Tallchief: Indifferent. It was a job like anything else. So there you go.

Then, she says, she managed to get a job as a hotel chambermaid, under an assumed name, she used a fake accent,  so she wouldn’t sound American.

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.

And that, of course, is the real reason Heather Tallchief has come to see us, the reason her lawyer arranged this secret meeting:

After all these years, she has decided it’s time. She is going to stop running and she is 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.

Which begs the question, how did this fugitive get back into the U.S.? Her lawyer will only tell us she arrived by plane.

And returning meant leaving her now 10-year-old son behind, in Amsterdam, with the man Heather says has become her real partner in life, and the only father figure her son has known.

Morrison: Why have you decided to do this?

Heather Tallchief: Well, it’s the right thing to do.  I also have a little boy I’m thinking about. 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.

And so the decision was made. There was no turning back now. Heather will return to Las Vegas to surrender, and we were there to see it happen.

Image: Tallchief
Isaac Brekken  /  AP
Heather Catherine Tallchief, flanked by attorneys, turns herself in to authorities in Las Vegas on Thursday, 12 years after she allegedly drove off in an armored car containing $3.1 million.

Heather Tallchief has been through some harrowing moments in her 33 years, but never one like this:

Heather Tallchief: There’s no running away anymore. I’ve done enough of that.

She announced to "Dateline" that she’s is going to surrender to U.S. marshals, and her lawyer is making her case.

Bob Axelrod, Heather Tallchief’s attorney: If the story she’s telling you is true, and if Solis has the capacity to manipulate her, and if the world is compassionate enough—then perhaps she goes home to her child.

And of course, we can’t know if the story she’s telling us is true.

There are those who find it difficult to believe she knew nothing of the crime until the morning it occurred.

Heather Tallchief: I certainly didn’t plan, devise, brainstorm anything. I’d be lucky if I can coordinate an outfit in the morning. So there is no way I would do anything that complex in my life.

Authorities concede Roberto Solis was probably the mastermind and  manipulated Tallchief. But is Heather as innocent as she claims? Authorities say they found false IDs for Tallchief as well as Solis when they searched their apartment after the robbery.

Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: How many driver’s licenses did you get before this happened?

Heather Tallchief: One.

Morrison: You didn’t have identities in several different names?

Heather Tallchief: No.

Morrison: You didn’t have driver’s licenses from a number of states?

Heather Tallchief: No.

Morrison: Just one state?

Heather Tallchief: Nevada.

Morrison: Under your own name?

Heather Tallchief: Yes.

Morrison: And no other names?

Heather Tallchief: No.

Is it even possible she didn’t know she had multiple I.D. cards?

Morrison: You’re relying on people to believe your story.

Heather Tallchief: I believe my story. My partner believes my story. I think I could live with that, regardless of what everybody else thinks.

And so one recent sunny morning, Heather Tallchief, her lawyer beside her,  met with the media and talked about the last time she spoke with her son.

Heather Tallchief: I tried to keep it very, uh, casual. Tried not to make him feel nervous, he’s very aware of what’s going on. And I just want him to have a normal day at school. I said goodbye, I’ll be away for a while, so.

And then it was time: It was a short walk to the U.S. attorney’s office. Authorities had been given a few minutes notice. The system swallowed her up, and she was gone.

And once again, Heather Tallchief was the lead story in Las Vegas, as she had been 12 years before.

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.”

Her sister Elaine is less forgiving, and feels wounded— not just because Heather took part in the heist and not just because she vanished from their lives— but because, since her surrender, she had not reached out to contact her family.

Elaine Tallchief, Heather Tallchief's sister: Our life has definitely been turned upside down.

Morrison: Are you angry at her?

Elaine Tallchief: Yes, I am.

Morrison: Why?

Elaine Tallchief: A lot of reasons. She gave up a lot. She gave up her family for something she probably didn’t thoroughly think about.

Keith Morrison: It feels like she has said good-bye to her family and doesn’t want them back?

Elaine Tallchief: She has said goodbye to us. When she made that choice to do what she did, she said goodbye to us.

The family wants to get to know the nephew they have never met, who is still in Amsterdam. Fred wants desperately to see the daughter he hasn’t seen in 13 years.

Morrison: What did you bring with you?

Fred Tallchief: I got a couple photos of grandkids she doesn’t know exist. And Skyler.

He took them to the Las Vegas jail where Heather is being held, but wasn’t allowed in to see her. It wasn’t her unit’s visiting day.

Fred Tallchief: It’s another chapter that’s done with. Now I got through this. The crime, the capture, this first experience, which was an experience for me, I’ve never visited anyone in jail.

And so Heather Tallchief waits in jail for a deal or a trial. And Roberto Solis? Your guess is as good as anyone’s.  Heather says she lost track of him 10 years ago and has no idea what happened to what’s left of the $3 million.

Solis may have gotten away with the perfect crime after all.

As for Heather, shesays she’s discovered that life on the run isn’t life at all. It’s a lesson she hopes to teach her son.

Heather Tallchief: Maybe later in life he will understand that I’ve done something wrong and I came to do the right thing. And I think, I hope that he will appreciate that.

Heather Tallchief faces 10 criminal counts— all felonies. She is in negotiations with the U.S. attorney’s office on a possible plea agreement. Heather and her father have exchanged letters since our interview; but, apparently some old wounds will have to heal before Heather is ready to re-unite with her family. Fred Tallchief hopes that happens soon.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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