Kidnapped California woman found safe in Nevada; suspect considered armed and dangerous

After a four-day search, a California woman who was kidnapped by her ex-boyfriend in Solvang has been found at a casino just outside Las Vegas, Henderson police said Tuesday.

Virginia Paris, 55, of Lompoc was dropped off Monday night outside the Railroad Pass Hotel and Casino in Henderson, Nev., by her abductor, Joseph Hetzel, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office said. She is in good condition and has been reunited with her family.

Hetzel, 52, was believed to be headed for Utah following a 900-mile journey that started in Solvang and included sightings in Camarillo, Goodyear, Ariz., the Grand Canyon and outside the casino in Henderson.

The black 2015 Chrysler 200 that the pair are believed to be in.
The black 2015 Chrysler 200 that the pair are believed to be in.
(Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office)

Authorities said Hetzel kidnapped Paris about 7:30 p.m. Friday and that their phones had either run out of battery power or been turned off. The pair reappeared at a Starbucks in Goodyear on Sunday morning.

There, according to investigators, Paris ordered a drink and gave her name. She went to the bathroom and after she came out, told a female customer that she needed help, authorities said.

Hetzel saw the interaction, grabbed Paris and dragged her out of the store and into the car, officials said.

Paris managed to throw her vehicle’s registration out the window as Hetzel sped the car onto eastbound Interstate 10 toward Phoenix.


The two were seen the following morning checking out of the Grand Canyon Inn in Valle, Ariz., officials said.

Images from the Grand Canyon Inn in Arizona.
Images from the Grand Canyon Inn in Arizona.
(Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office)

Officials said they believed Hetzel was driving to Las Vegas. Then things took a turn.

Authorities said Paris called her family just before 9 p.m. Monday and said she was coming home. In a second call to her family, she asked for help and said she was in Henderson.

Paris’ family called Santa Barbara County dispatchers and Las Vegas police to launch a search effort.

About two hours later, Hetzel allegedly drove up to the casino, dropped off Paris and sped away.

After her rescue, Paris told investigators Hetzel said he was going to Utah.

A tip to local law enforcement to be on the lookout for Paris’ stolen black 2015 Chrysler 200 led to its discovery about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday in the 300 block of Emmarene Street in Mesquite, Nev., a desert town of about 20,000 on the border of Nevada and Arizona about 20 miles south of Utah.


Hetzel has not been found. Sheriff’s officials say he should be considered armed and dangerous.

Authorities said he has served time in prison for possession of items used to make explosive devices, using explosive devices with intent to terrorize, felony vandalism and criminal threats. He is believed to have access to firearms.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.


9:25 a.m.: This article was updated with the victim’s recovery.

This article was originally published at 7:50 a.m.

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