Kidnapping suspect in custody; $1 million bail set

Joseph Hetzel and his ex-girlfriend, Virginia Paris, photo locations and dates unspecified | Photos courtesy of Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A man accused of kidnapping his ex-girlfriend in California and leading police on a manhunt across three states has been caught in Las Vegas.

Joseph Hetzel, 52, of Lompoc, California, was arrested just before 6 p.m. Tuesday. While he was ultimately arrested in Las Vegas, authorities released a statement Tuesday morning saying that Hetzel may be heading into Utah after they discovered his vehicle abandoned in Mesquite.

Read more: ALERT: Ex-con abducts woman in California, abandons vehicle in Mesquite, may be headed to Utah

Hetzel was booked into the Henderson Detention Center in Nevada on charges of carjacking and kidnapping with bail pending trial set at $1 million dollars, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

“This is a dynamic investigation in its early stages involving an area encompassing three states and multiple jurisdictions,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement late Tuesday night.

Authorities had been searching for Hetzel and his ex-girlfriend, 55-year-old Virginia Paris, since he was suspected of kidnapping her Friday night in Solvang, California. Sheriff’s Office officials said Paris had recently been granted a restraining order against Hetzel but it had not yet been served when she was kidnapped.

On Sunday morning, the two were spotted at a Starbucks in Goodyear, Arizona, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. 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 this interaction, grabbed her and dragged her out of the shop. He then kicked her into a vehicle and drove off at a high rate of speed,” officials said.

Investigators said the two were seen checking out of the Grand Canyon Inn in Valle, Arizona, Monday morning.

That night, Paris called her family just before 9 p.m. and asked for help, officials said. About two hours later, Hetzel drove up to the Railroad Pass Hotel and Casino in Henderson, Nevada, dropped off Paris and sped away.

Paris asked the casino’s security officers for help, and they contacted Las Vegas police. After her rescue, Paris told investigators Hetzel had said he was going to Utah.

At approximately 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, Paris’ vehicle was located abandoned on the 300 block of Emmarene Street in Mesquite, about 20 miles south of the Utah.

Officials said Hetzel was still at large, and a warrant was issued for his arrest, cautioning the public not to approach him and noting that he was believed to have access to firearms and should be considered armed and dangerous.

The Sheriff’s Office added that Hetzel had served time in prison for a crime stemming from a domestic incident.

Hetzel was found later that day in Las Vegas and taken into custody. As this report publishes, it is unclear how Paris’ vehicle ended up in Mesquite.

Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

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