We all have distant relatives we wish were even more distant, like maybe a couple of galaxies away. The Hanes family undoubtedly wishes that Holly Phillips, “a distant relative,” was a galaxy or two distant.
Last April, four methamphetamine users, brought to the Hanes Ranch by a very long distance Hanes cousin named Holly Phillips, 46, helped themselves to a number of valuable items while the Hanes family was away. Since the visitors had been the only people at the sprawling ranch deep in the hills west of Boonville when the home and outbuildings were burglarized, Ms. Phillips and her friends instantly became the suspects, the only suspects, and soon transformed from likely status to full-on perps by a confirming abundance of evidence.
For the cops, it should have been a simple matter of locating Holly and her three helpers, arresting them and getting as many of the stolen items returned as possible.
But it's never as simple as it seems.
It all began back on April 15, when Anderson Valley resident deputy Keith Squires met Roger Hanes at the Ranch to take a report of a residential burglary. Mr. Hanes suspected that his relative, Holly Phillips, was the culprit. Ms. Phillips had come to the ranch for a visit, she later said. Accompanying her were three other undesirables from Holly's present home in Rio Vista, a little Central Valley town about halfway between Vallejo and Lodi. The four visitors — Ms. Phillips; Chad Davis, 33; Sienna Alvernaz, 31; and Jesse Alvernaz, 34 — stayed in one of several old hunting cabins on the ranch.
Deputy Squires also learned that another Hanes Ranch resident, Kevin Athey, was also missing a number of items. Squires searched the Rio Vistans' cabin and Ms. Phillips' vehicle without finding any of the booty. Ms. Phillips and her friends indignantly denied being involved in any thefts anywhere, let alone the crime-free hills west of Boonville. Ms. Phillips insisted that once ensconced at the ranch she and her friends had not left the vicinity of the cabin they were staying in.
Deputy Squires discovered that the front door of the main ranchhouse had been pried off using a metal fence pole and a lock forced open. The house looked like it had been partially ransacked. Things appeared to have been hastily removed from drawers and left on a bed.
Deputy Squires saw that Mr. Athey's residence, also located on the sprawling property, had also been burglarized. A bathroom window in Mr. Athey's house looked like it had been the entry point for the robber or robbers. Mr. Athey said several guns had been taken from a small closet in his bedroom. A generator was also missing.
Hanes and Athey, neither of whom seemed to have any illusions about Cousin Holly's likely involvement in the thefts, immediately identified Holly and her friend Chad Davis as the most likely suspects.
During an initial interview, Cousin Holly didn't mention her friend Chad. But Holly was unable to stick to a consistent narrative. She soon said that Chad had indeed visited the ranchhouse. He was looking for a pool table, you see, and what better place to locate one than a distant property? If it weren't for sale he'd be pleased just to rack a few before driving four hours east back to Rio Vista.
Cousin Holly denied having anything to do with any thefts, and her boyfriend, one William McGovern, who visited a week later, was also not involved in the burglaries.
Ms. Phillips admitted she'd just started using methamphetamine again, and it was soon clear that her three pals had crank-related arrest records from Rio Vista.
Deputy Squires came away with a lengthy list of missing property: an old Winchester rifle with a scope (estimated value, $250), an antique carbine (estimated value, $1200), a Remington .22 rifle (estimated value $250), a shotgun (estimated value $150), a .41 caliber antique rifle (estimated value $150), a spotting scope (estimated value $500), some hunting knives (estimated value $75 each), a Honda generator (estimated value $350), a metal detector (estimated value $175), a propane torch (estimated value $175), two marble decorative eggs (estimated value $275 each), plus several hand tools, replacement parts, gloves, and several other easily portable pieces of property.
About a week later Squires returned to the Hanes Ranch with fellow resident deputy Craig Walker. They interviewed both Ms. Phillips and her boyfriend William McGovern who was now on-scene.
McGovern plausibly denied being at the ranch during the burglaries and swore he knew nothing about them.
Cousin Holly simply repeated her previous denials, but did identify the three Rio Vista dopeheads who were visiting the Hanes Ranch with her when the burglaries occurred. Cousin Holly also said she'd showed one of those friends — Jesse Alvarnaz — around the ranch, and that they had visited the exteriors of the buildings which had been burglarized.
After that second visit to the ranch, Deputy Walker called detective Vicki Rister of the Rio Vista Police Department. Rio Vista being a small town whose dopers are so well-known to the police that they and the police are on a first-name basis, told Walker that the suspects were indeed “known to law enforcement.” In fact, Rio Vista cops had had “numerous” contacts with all of them. The Alvarnazes and Chad Davis were currently on probation from Solano County for drug and property thefts and therefore, under the terms of their probation, subject to warrantless searches.
At Walker's request, Detective Rister duly searched the suspects' homes but did not find any of the stolen items.
But the two missing decorative marble eggs taken from the Hanes Ranch were soon discovered in a backpack at the home of Chad Davis, that recent visitor to Boonville, in nearby Isleton. After first saying he didn't know whose backpack it was, Davis soon identified Jesse Alvernaz as its owner. Rio Vista police also found what appeared to be other stolen property at Davis's residence; but it was unrelated to the Hanes Ranch thefts.
A few weeks later the fingerprints taken at the ranch were found to match Chad Davis’s prints.
As Cousin Holly's drug buddies, and Cousin Holly herself, were being systematically linked to the Hanes burglaries, Rio Vista police had arrested a Mr. Michael Allison, a known drug dealer and fence for stolen property. Pictures of some of the items stolen from the Hanes Ranch were found on Allison’s cellphone. Rio Vista police added that Allison was a “frequent associate” of Cousin Holly's quartet.
As the investigation continued, police determined that Mr. Allison had tried to sell some of the stolen Hanes items on Craigslist, specifically the Honda generator and a rifle scope. The generator and scope sold quickly, but attempts to recover them were unsuccessful.
Phone records revealed that the thieves had attempted to sell the stolen guns through their old fence, Allison.
Deputy Walker eventually traveled to Rio Vista to interview the four main suspects: Chad Davis, Jesse Alvarnaz, Sienna Alvarnaz, and Holly Phillips.
Allison was in custody in Solano County on another charge.
Jesse Alvarnaz admitted being at the Hanes Ranch when the place was ransacked, but denied stealing anything. Nor, he said, had he seen any stolen property in Philips' car on the return trip to Rio Vista from Boonville. He had no idea who might have stolen the missing stuff.
Chad Davis told Walker he too had been at the Hanes Ranch but didn't know nothin' from nothin'. Davis claimed that the backpack found in his apartment containing the marble eggs belonged to Jesse Alvarnaz. Davis said he had no idea where the marble eggs had come from, adding righteously that Jesse Alvarnaz was a “perennial thief” and speculating that he (Jesse Alvarnaz) had committed the burglaries at the ranch unbeknownst to Davis.
Cousin Holly, the distant relative the Hanes' wished were a lot more distant, now conceded that maybe, just maybe, her friends had stashed the stolen property somewhere between Boonville and Rio Vista.
It was clear from phone records that Cousin Holly and her three friends had been in regular contact with each other and in touch with their usual fence, Mr. Allison, who was presently cooling his jets in the Solano County Jail.
A fellow named Nicholas Oestreich also seemed to be involved. The Rio Vista police thought that Oestreich probably had something to do with the fencing of some of the stolen property. Oestreich was also conveniently on ice in the Solano County Jail on another charge.
In fact, Jesse Alvarnaz had begun trying to sell the stolen property on the same day that the goods were stolen in Boonville.
After weeks of dogged investigation by both the Mendocino County Sheriff's office and the Rio Vista Police Department, Deputy Walker submitted his report to the District Attorney last week with a recommendation that warrants be issued for the arrest of all four members of the Cousin Holly Gang for Second Degree burglary.
But none of the stolen items have been found.