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Roberto Solis is no ordinary criminal. He was the mastermind behind America’s most infamous Las Vegas heist. More than that, he was a man who managed to manipulate and con his way through life.
His former co-conspirator Heather Tallchief is the primary voice in “Heist,” a new Netflix docuseries available Wednesday that examines three of America’s most notorious thefts. She was just 21 when she and the 48-year-old Solis made off with more than $3 million from an armored truck heist in 1993. Derek Doneen, director of the series, told Oxygen.com that Tallchief was in a "vulnerable" place when she met Solis. She had a rough childhood, lost her job, and was spiraling into drug addiction.
“And that’s when she meets this charming older man who makes her feel seen, beautiful and specific for really the first time in her life and she’s absolutely taken by him and is ready to do anything for him at that point," he explains.
Solis had encouraged Tallchief to take a job at the armored vehicle company Loomis as a driver. Then, with Solis holding the reigns, the couple planned the heist meticulously. Her job was to drive the truck while co-workers changed out cash in ATM machines across the city. But while they were busy servicing the machines, Tallchief was on her own, with huge sums, sometimes millions, just sitting in the back of the truck. Solis devised a plan that Tallchief would simply drive off with the cash and hide away in a warehouse they'd rented as a cover. Then Tallchief would disguise herself as feeble elderly woman who needed a wheelchair and the two would escape the city on a chartered flight.
The plan worked perfectly. While her co-workers were busy servicing ATMs in Circus Circus casino, Tallchief absconded with roughly $3 million and the couple's getaway was soon in motion.
“Using a variety of disguises and identities, the couple fled to Colorado, and then Florida, before leaving the United States,” according to the FBI.
Tallchief and Solis eventually had a son, but parted ways and she made her way to Amsterdam to start a new life. She ultimately turned herself in —12 years after the heist — in an effort to make sure her son could have a normal life. But Solis remained on the run. His whereabouts, and if he's even still alive, are still unknown to this day.
While the heist was pulled off successfully, it may be because Solis had some prior practice. It was not his first attempt to pull off a robbery involving a Loomis armored truck.
In 1969, he shot and killed an armored car guard named Louis Dake, who also worked for Loomis, during an unsuccessful theft, an NBC News clip included in the docuseries states. He was sentenced to life behind bars in California's Folsom Prison. While there, he authored five poetry books. His achievements were heralded by other writers as proof of his rehabilitation, according to a Season 11 “Unsolved Mysteries” episode on the case. Prominent writers and publishers, impressed by Solis' writing abilities, wrote letters to the parole board in the 1980s claiming that Solis was a changed man.
“A lot of well-known poets would write on his behalf and he was allowed to be released early,” retired FBI special agent Joseph A. Dushek told the producers of the show.
He only served 23 years of his life sentence. He got released six years before the 1993 heist.
While Solis had more than 30 aliases, his pen name was Pancho Aguila.
"Pancho Aguila was born in Nicaragua in 1945, and came to San Francisco at the age of two,” the back cover of his 1977 poetry book “Anti-Gravity” reads. “He began writing poetry around the Blue Unicorn coffeeshop readings in the Haight-Ashbury in 1966.”
In a short autobiography at the front of the book, he wrote that following his arrest in 1969, he tried to escape and made it out two blocks and that he escaped again in 1972 but was caught.
"I speak from the cages, The animals of your society, I know this is what you feel, I can read your hate from here, In the safety of your watchtowers, In the joy of your gala affairs, In the sacredness of our churches."
The final poem of that collection ends on the note, "I remain the cordially yours in chaos, Pancho Aguila."
Tallchief details in the docuseries that Solis was into chaos and occult magick and that he showed her self-hypnosis tapes in the weeks leading up to the heist to soothe her anxiety.
"They allegedly opened your mind but made you more receptive" to suggestion, she told the New York Times in 2005. "They had lots of swirling colors like a tie-dye T-shirt."
She said she felt influenced by him and trusted him; in the docuseries, she said that he had seemingly given her the love she craved all her life.
"He was reformed," she told the New York Times. "He wrote poetry. I knew his mother. He was a very normal person. If you sat down and met him, you would probably actually enjoy him. You would laugh at his jokes. You would think he was a nice person. There was never anything about him that you would think he was a heinous, horrible murdering con."
Doneen told Oxygen.com that he had difficulty finding out too many details about Solis' past and struggled fo find any of his acquaintances. He called him an "enigma."
In “Heist,” Tallchief explains that it’s possible that Solis never loved her, but instead used her as a pawn for his own self-interest. After the heist, his warmness withered and when she left with their son years later, she said he didn’t seem to care.
Doneen told Oxygen.com that he feels like there was real love there at one point.
“I think he did love her but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t thinking about this [the heist] the whole time in the background," he said.
By 1994, the FBI issued a federal warrant for Solis' arrest charging him with bank larceny, aiding and abetting, conspiracy, false statement in an application for a passport, interstate transportation of stolen property, flight to avoid prosecution, bank fraud, use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, transport of a firearm in interstate commerce, and fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents.
Doneen told Oxygen.com that Dushek is very hopeful that "Heist" will help the FBI finally track Solis down.
Heist is available now on Netflix.
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