Lompoc woman escaped kidnapper after 3-day, interstate run, sheriff says

Virginia Paris and Joseph Hetzel.
Virginia Paris and Joseph Hetzel.

The ex-boyfriend of a Lompoc woman who went missing for three days was arrested Tuesday night in Las Vegas, a day after she escaped what authorities say was an interstate kidnapping run from Solvang to Nevada.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday released details of the investigation involving Virginia Paris, who was allegedly abducted by Joseph Hetzel and held against her will since Friday.

The investigation involved sheriff’s detectives and law enforcement agencies from California, Arizona and Nevada, ultimately leading to the arrest of the 52-year-old Hetzel at a Las Vegas lounge on Tuesday night.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said in a news release that the investigation is ongoing, but she was able to provide more detailed information of what unfolded over the past four days.

About 6:30 p.m. Friday, Hetzel and 55-year-old Virginia Paris got into a verbal dispute after she left work in Solvang.

Hetzel forced his way into Paris’ vehicle, took control of the wheel and began driving south on Highway 101. Paris was able to send a text message to a family member, who alerted the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, the release said.

Virginia Paris Courtesy photo

“The investigation reveals during the kidnap the victim lived in constant fear of the suspect and anytime the couple was in a public setting, the suspect kept physical control of the victim,” Hoover said in the release.

The two stopped at a Starbucks at about 7:15 a.m. Sunday in Goodyear, Arizona, where Paris was able to tell a customer she needed help before Hetzel “grabs her and physically removes her from the Starbucks,” according to the release.

A witness reportedly saw Hetzel force Paris into the vehicle while she was actively resisting. The witness saw Paris throw her registration out of the vehicle.

Goodyear police immediately responded and notified the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office of the sighting.

Hetzel and Paris spent Sunday night at a hotel in Valle, Arizona. At checkout Monday morning, Paris alerted a clerk that she was a kidnapping victim and may be headed to Las Vegas, the release said.

On Monday night, Hetzel allowed Paris to use her cell phone to call her children, and she alerted a family member that she was in the Henderson area, according to the release.

“The victim is able to gain the suspect’s confidence that she will not try to escape and will rent a hotel room for the night,” Hoover said. “While the suspect is parking the vehicle, Paris walks into the Railroad Pass Hotel and Casino and immediately notifies hotel staff that she is a kidnapping victim and needs help.”

By the time police responded, Hetzel had already fled the area. Paris was safely located and reunited with family and law enforcement in Nevada.

At about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, Paris’ black Chrysler sedan was located in a residential area in Mesquite, Nevada.

Later that night, authorities located Hetzel, who had been driving a stolen vehicle, inside Dotty’s Lounge in Las Vegas.

He was booked into Henderson Detention Center on suspicion of kidnapping and carjacking, the release said. His bail was set at $1 million.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office will seek Hetzel’s extradition back to California, the release said.

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