He approached her in a San Francisco bar and asked if she believed in the devil and wanted to do a line of coke. The first question intrigued her. The second baited the hook.
He brought her home, introduced her to “sex magick” — the belief that orgasms can manifest a visualized result — and showed her his altar where he did “a lot of goddess worship.”
From that point in early 1993, Roberto Solis and Heather Tallchief would rarely be apart until months after Oct. 1, when they pulled off one of the most notorious armored car thefts in Las Vegas history.
The sensational caper is depicted, through a mix of interviews and provocative re-enactments, across the first two episodes of the docuseries “Heist,” premiering Wednesday on Netflix.
“It’s very rare to find female-led heists in general. Most of these crimes are pulled off by men or groups of men,” says Derek Doneen, who directed the Tallchief-Solis episodes. “So, right off the bat, that sort of makes it stand out.”
Tallchief had been a nursing assistant caring for patients with full-blown AIDS. Looking for an escape, she started smoking crack and eventually lost her job, all by the age of 21. That’s when Solis entered her life.
She knew he was a career criminal — he’d been paroled 17 years into a life sentence for killing an armored car driver — when they met. “Chaos is exciting,” Tallchief says in the documentary. “Chaos is sexy.”
Actually, “says” is a bit of a misnomer.
During the course of filming “Heist,” Tallchief, who’d refused numerous interview requests over the years before finally agreeing to talk to Doneen, decided she didn’t want to appear onscreen. She eventually had a falling-out with Solis and became afraid he would find her — assuming he was even still alive.
“It was an ongoing conversation,” Doneen says of Tallchief’s reluctance. “And, of course, I wanted the real Heather on the screen. Her spirit is one of a kind.”
After considering several options, including blurring her face or using CGI, Doneen brought in actress Lisa Lord, who’d spent a couple of years on the “General Hospital” spinoff “Port Charles,” to portray Tallchief. Quotes from the many interviews with the real Tallchief served as her script.
It’s an unconventional approach to a story that was anything but ordinary.
An inside job
Tallchief and Solis moved to Las Vegas in the summer of 1993, renting a unit at the Mark I Apartments on East Desert Inn in mid-July.
She suggested they get jobs. He called her a fool. “Here’s a man who was really keen on accumulating wealth, but not in any kind of traditional way,” Lord-as-Tallchief says.
Eventually, Solis told her to get a job as a driver with the Loomis armored car company, which she was somehow able to do, on Aug. 25, despite the fact that she didn’t know the city, had obtained a driver’s license less than three weeks earlier and could barely operate the armored van.
According to a Review-Journal story from Nov. 21, 1993, Tallchief supplied a state firearms card, an armed security card and a list of references, including Solis’ alias, Julius Sauve. The Loomis branch manager at the time said Tallchief described Sauve as an art dealer for whom she provided security but that she was looking for something steadier.
Steve Marshall and Scott Stewart, the guards who rode with the money in the back of Tallchief’s van, are interviewed in “Heist,” and Marshall has another theory. “She got hired by our branch manager at the time because she was young and she was pretty.”
Tallchief would drive to casinos up and down the Strip, then wait while Marshall and Stewart filled the ATMs they serviced with cash. She’d tell Solis about the routes they’d take and other pertinent details.
On the morning of Oct. 1, a Friday, when the truck carried enough $20 and $100 bills to get the casinos through the weekend, she dropped the guards at Circus Circus, waited for them to enter the casino and simply drove off. The amount of money in the van has been reported as both $2.9 million and $3.1 million.
Under a spell
“He really made her feel seen for the first time in her life,” director Doneen says of the relationship between Solis and Tallchief. “He made her feel beautiful. He made her feel loved, and that she could do anything. She sort of fell under his spell.”
Lord-as-Tallchief backs this up, revealing a lack of love in her childhood, a family history of drug use and the fact that Solis made her watch hypnosis videotapes.
In the days following the heist, authorities weren’t sure whether Tallchief was a victim or an accomplice. It wasn’t long, though, before a series of her aliases — including Nicole Marie Reger, Sonny Franco and Gijette E. Hegal — began to emerge. At one point, prosecutors alleged that Tallchief had accepted payment to marry a man seeking U.S. citizenship.
Tallchief and Solis left Las Vegas on a private jet bound for Denver, with Tallchief disguised as an elderly woman. After settling in Miami for a bit, they fled to St. Maarten and ultimately Amsterdam, always a few steps ahead of the authorities, despite being profiled on episodes of “Unsolved Mysteries” and “America’s Most Wanted.”
In the aftermath of the theft, Loomis executives said the company lost its casino contracts and about $1 million in revenue. They also claimed the incident inspired a rash of copycat crimes.
Without giving away too much of “Heist’s” story, Tallchief’s life on the run wasn’t exactly the stuff of fantasies. She soon split with Solis, taking only what she has said was $1,000, and supported herself by working as a maid and a prostitute.
Doneen confirms Tallchief’s tale is far from aspirational, despite the idea that she got away with her crime.
“I don’t think people are going to walk away from the series,” he says, “feeling inspired to go pull off a heist of their own.”
Contact Christopher Lawrence at @life onthecouch on Twitter.