In September 2017 a group of thieves made off with a SUV and a U-Haul trailer which were parked outside a New Mexico hotel. The robbers had no idea, though, that they’d find something very unusual inside that trailer. And when they did, they might just have realized that they had made a huge mistake in stealing it.
A woman and her husband had spent the night at the Residence Inn by Marriott in Albuquerque. And as they slept, they left their black SUV with a U-Haul trailer attached in the parking lot – presumably thinking that both were safe. But in the early hours of September 11, 2017, both the vehicle and its attachment were stolen.
The couple in question had traveled from Oklahoma to New Mexico. They were making their way to Kirtland but had made a stop in Albuquerque overnight. And that’s when the thieves seized their opportunity to take the pair’s vehicle and rented trailer.
Unfortunately, rental trucks and vans being taken without permission is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s not uncommon for vehicles to be stolen from outside of hotels, either. But on this occasion, there was something completely unique about the case – as the thieves would find out to their cost.
When the couple walked out of the motel at around 8:30 a.m. that morning they discovered that their car and trailer were missing. And because of what was inside the trailer, the woman was devastated. “[She] was extremely emotional,” Albuquerque police officer Tanner Tixier told ABC affiliate KOAT in 2017.
In fact, the officer revealed that the nature of the case left many feeling unsettled. “This one really kind of shook a lot of people up,” he added to the Albuquerque station. However, just a few hours after the crime had been reported, police received some good news.
Later that day, the truck and trailer were found nearby; they had been dumped several blocks from the hotel. And, fortunately for the couple, their precious cargo was still intact. It’s thought that once the thieves realized what was in the trailer, they fled the scene and left it behind.
What the perpetrators may not have known when they first took the SUV and trailer was that there was a casket inside that contained the remains of the woman’s father. It may have been, then, that when the suspects had gotten wind of what they had inadvertently stolen, they deserted the automobile and escaped as fast as they could.
The woman was taking her dad’s body to Kirtland because she intended to bury it there. When she thought she had lost that opportunity because some thieves wanted her car, then, she was understandably heartbroken. And after a report about the theft, local law enforcement duly began looking for a 2005 Chevy Trailblazer SUV that possessed Oklahoma plates.
In the end, though, it turned out that the car and trailer were left across the street from the home of Michael Ayers. And, at first glance, he didn’t realize that they were stolen. “I saw the U-Haul truck there earlier this morning and didn’t think anything of it,” he told KOAT.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the abandoned vehicle was found by police. And the woman and her spouse were no doubt relieved to find out that the casket and its contents were still inside the trailer. However, the couple weren’t able to continue on their journey to Kirtland right away.
Before the pair could leave Albuquerque, both the SUV and the trailer needed to be dusted for fingerprints and DNA; that way, officers would see if the thieves had left any viable forensic evidence. The police did have another lead in the case, though.
That’s because there were witnesses to the theft at the hotel. In particular, people had claimed that they had noticed a red pickup truck at the scene in the locality; the vehicle in question was also stolen. So, law enforcement took the tip up and kept an eye out for the truck.
Employees of the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office then saw the truck close to the Isotopes Park baseball stadium, after which the vehicle was tailed along the I-25 highway. “BCSO deputies were involved in a pursuit with a stolen red Chevy pickup truck that tried to hit a deputy,” Tixier later revealed, according to KOAT.
After that, three suspects were arrested: Daniel Gonzales, Anthony Serna and Jeremy Soliz. Warrants had already been issued for the arrests of Gonzales and Serna, so the two men were subsequently taken into custody. Soliz was also arrested on charges of multiple felonies that included aggravated fleeing from police.
But while the trio were considered to be involved in the SUV and trailer theft, they were not immediately charged with committing the robbery. That’s because investigators wanted to wait until they could link the men to the crime through DNA or fingerprints. In the meantime, though, they were able to hold Gonzales, Serna and Soliz on other charges.
And according to KOAT, the men all had previous arrests. Serna and Soliz were both out on bail at the time they were taken into custody. Serna had once been apprehended on suspicion of multiple charges that included auto theft, and Soliz had most recently been facing an allegation of drug possession.
Meanwhile, Gonzales had pleaded guilty to receiving and transferring a stolen automobile. He was subsequently ordered to go through drug court but had allegedly stopped attending those mandated sessions; as a result, a warrant was given for his arrest. After Gonzales and Soliz were apprehended, though, they appeared in court the following day. Meanwhile, Serna’s hearing was set for later in the week.
Then, two days after the heist, Officer Tixier revealed that the three suspects had been officially charged with stealing the couple’s property; they were subsequently held in custody without bail for conspiracy and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle. Apparently, Serna had been the one to alert the police to the whereabouts of the SUV and trailer. What’s more, Soliz would claim that he had wanted to report the body to 911 after the trio had discovered it – the other men reportedly disagreed with this move, however.
But as the alleged criminals faced potential repercussions for the theft, the couple’s shocking story received a happy ending. The Chevy Trailblazer and its accompanying trailer were returned to the woman and her husband so that they could continue their journey to Kirtland and bury her father. “For the family, absolutely, that’s our biggest relief,” Tixier told KRQE in 2017. “To bring closure that quickly is always a good thing.”