HOBART — Court records detail law enforcement’s tireless efforts to piece together Chris G. Traicoff’s whereabouts earlier this month in an effort to solve how a missing Wheatfield woman turned up dead March 15 in a motel room he allegedly booked for the two of them.
“There’s literally hundreds of hours wrapped into this already and we’re still dredging away,” Hobart police Lt. James Gonzales said Tuesday.
Over a week’s time, detectives reviewed surveillance video from the Key West Inn, a gas station and places Traicoff frequented. They listened to jail phone calls, interviewed numerous witnesses and analyzed text messages and phone call logs — all in an effort to establish if Traicoff was behind the murder of April Lynn Salazar-Bernal, 38.
Police believe the 40-year-old Calumet Township man was the last person to see Salazar-Bernal alive, as no one else entered or exited Room 207 during their stay at the Key West Inn, records show.
Murder charges were filed Friday against Traicoff in Salazar-Bernal’s strangling death. He faces two counts of murder and one count each of robbery, forgery, fraud and failure to report a dead body in connection with the case.
Police: Hotel video footage key to investigation
Critical to the investigation was the DVR and video footage taken from the motel, Gonzales said.
Detectives drove the nearly two-hour trek multiple times to Indiana State Police’s District 24 post in Bremen to analyze footage with ISP technical staff.
“We reviewed days of video from the hotel to make sure that no one else came and went from that room. It was quite taxing,” Gonzales said.
An affidavit shows Traicoff paid $50 for a room 9:34 p.m. March 12 at the Key West Inn. Traicoff paid for two more nights March 13 and 14, using Salazar-Bernal’s credit card.
She was found dead in the room March 15. Hotel employees did not recall coming into contact with Salazar-Bernal.
Traicoff: ‘Something is wrong’
Salazar-Bernal and Traicoff went out for drinks Monday night at Porter’s Tap in Hammond, evidenced by a photo she posted to Facebook, records show.
A friend told police she spoke with Salazar-Bernal the night of March 12, but the phone went straight to voicemail when called again at 6:09 a.m. the next day, records show. Several calls from various people were placed to Salazar-Bernal's phone, going unanswered, records show.
Several people interviewed said Salazar-Bernal’s absence on social media that week was alarming because she frequently posted.
Salazar-Bernal's sister reported her missing March 14 to the Jasper County Sheriff's Department.
On the night of March 15, Lake County’s sheriff’s police responded to a barricaded Traicoff at a Calumet Township home, and a SWAT team took him into custody. Traicoff initially agreed to an interview with police, but requested an attorney when detectives asked about Monday night.
“I don’t want to talk about anything, because I feel like something is very wrong. I don’t want to talk to anybody without my lawyer present, I just feel like something is wrong,” Traicoff told police.
During the week Salazar-Bernal went missing, there was social media chatter from people who believed they had seen Salazar-Bernal in her car that week, Gonzales said.
But after speaking with substantiating witnesses, police learned what they were actually seeing was Traicoff in Salazar-Bernal’s car, he said.
“It took a lot of legwork and talking to people,” he said.
Traicoff was released from prison earlier this month after serving time on felony burglary and escape charges. Several witnesses described Traicoff as under the influence of drugs and alcohol the week of Salazar-Bernal's death.
One person told police Traicoff used Salazar-Bernal’s vehicle to buy heroin from a dealer Wednesday and nearly overdosed in a backyard shed.
The next day, he was found passed out in a friend’s basement, records show. A person interviewed by police said he overheard Traicoff purportedly telling someone on the phone that he would return (Salazar-Bernal's) car. That person added they weren't entirely certain someone was actually on the phone with Traicoff.
A friend texted Traicoff on Wednesday, writing, “Dude, you need to call me right now they are going to put out a missing person for (Salazar-Bernal) if you don’t let me know where you guys are.”
The text was unanswered, records show.
Traicoff speechless during jail call
A detective listened in on Traicoff's phone calls while he was being held at the jail on probation violation charges, records show.
In one conversation, Traicoff’s father tells him Salazar-Bernal was found strangled to death.
When his father asks Traicoff about the last time he saw Salazar-Bernal, he "pauses without speaking and never answers," the affidavit states.
In the same phone conversation, Traicoff is informed he was seen driving Salazar-Bernal's vehicle on the same day she was found dead, to which he replies, "Oh my God ..."
The conversation ended shortly after that.
Gonzales said detectives worked painstakingly to secure murder charges against Traicoff, but the work is far from over.
"We've interviewed so many people and talked to so many witnesses that knew April, it's almost as if we knew April. A lot of times, we get to know the victim, and we see what was going on in their life at the time of their death," Gonzales said. "You take it personal, and you feel as if you know this individual. Her mother and sisters, her sister-in-law, all these people who cared a great deal for her, it’s what kept us going in connecting the dots."
Traicoff’s next court appearance is April 6 before Lake Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell.
Recent arrests booked into Lake County Jail