There were two arrivals in the tiny Northern California town of Cedarville this week that didn't seem quite right to a couple of the local ladies.
One was a private plane that turned up without explanation in a hay field when the sun arose Wednesday morning.
The other was a Santa Rosa woman who checked into the town's hotel without a car and said she was lost.
Questions were raised, calls made, information exchanged. And by next morning, these amateur sleuths - a small-town newspaper reporter and the hotel owner - had pretty much solved the case, surprising even the owner of the aircraft with news that it was stolen from the Sonoma County airport and flown north.
"It's kind of an odd deal for us down here, too," Modoc County Undersheriff Gary Palmer said Friday. "This is really a very, very rural county, and stuff like this gets everybody in a buzz."
Authorities are uncertain just what Susan Alexandria, 27, had in mind when she took off Tuesday from the Charles M. Schultz-Sonoma County Airport in a Piper Cherokee belonging to her landlord, a family friend.
She had several pieces of carry-on luggage in the plane and enough cash to cover at least one night at Cedarville's JnR Hotel.
But the plane ran out of fuel, forcing her to land in the hayfield about three-quarters of a mile from Cedarville, a town of about 800 people. She offered no explanation to authorities when they came to arrest her at breakfast Thursday morning.
The owner of the aircraft, Candice Brown Elliott, said she assumes Alexandria "just pointed the nose and let the plane fly" after a falling out prompted Elliott to insist Alexandria move out.
Elliott said she's known her tenant since she was 15 and had given her five hours of flight training and the use of her plane as a gift on the Christmas before last.
But she said that's not nearly enough training time to be able to pilot a plane properly, and she had not given permission for Alexandria to fly solo.
On Tuesday, Elliott left Alexandria a voicemail telling her she had to move out. A day later, Elliott started getting calls from a Modoc County newspaper writer, Jean Bilodeaux, who used the tail number on the Piper Cherokee to track down its owner.
Ramona Brown, who owns the JnR Hotel with her husband, James, also got calls from Bilodeaux and contacted Elliott on her own.
It was different enough that the woman had no car and had told James Brown she didn't know where she was. Then she checked in, left the key in her room door and stayed inside from 3 p.m. Wednesday until breakfast the next day.
Ramona Brown contacted the sheriff, who got a warrant from Sonoma County and arrested her on suspicion of grand theft and theft of an aircraft, Undersheriff Palmer said.
"She did admit to the fact she had taken the plane. We found all her luggage was still in the plane. Found her credit card. And she had the keys to the plane in her pocket, so there wasn't much she could say," Palmer said.
Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat
I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment.
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