Police identify homicide victims found buried in backyard

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by Andrew Michalscheck

Video report by Natalie Brand

Posted on March 7, 2013 at 3:36 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 9:26 AM

Map: Human remains

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PHOENIX -- Phoenix police have confirmed the identities of the two bodies found buried in a box in a Valley backyard earlier this week.

Police said Thursday that Philmon Tapaha and his girlfriend Brandi Hoffner are the victims in what is being described as a double homicide case.

The couple had been listed missing for the past couple of years.

"It just brings some closure to where at least we know," said Christine Ludy, Hoffner's sister.

"We have some answers, but at the same time, we lost an aunt, a daughter, a mother," said Ludy.

"She was full of life; she loved everybody, not a mean bone in her body," she told 3TV.

A police report released on Thursday said authorities were contacted by an anonymous tipster in October 2011 who claimed that a double murder had taken place in an apartment near Osborn Road and 12th Street in either June or July of that year.

The tipster reportedly told police that a man named “Mico” lived at the apartment, and had shot both individuals. “Mico” then removed the bodies from his apartment in a box with the help of two people named “Al” and “Eric.”

The owner of the apartment complex identified the person who lived in the apartment as Alan Champagne, and a records check by police revealed that Champagne had an alias of “Mico.”

Police went on to speak with the complex’s maintenance man, Alfred Townsend, who told investigators that he had noticed a strong smell in Champagne’s apartment which seemed to be coming from nearby storage lockers.

Police processed the apartment for evidence, and found blood in the bedroom. The storage lockers were also processed for evidence.

Townsend told police that he had helped Champagne build a wooden box because he was told it was going to be used to help Champagne’s mother move out of her home.

Detectives identified “Eric” as 32-year-old Eric Munoz. They subsequently discovered that Champagne and a woman named Elise Garcia had been stopped in July 2011 driving a vehicle registered to Munoz.

A social security card belonging to Tapaha was found in the car, along with a purse belonging to an unknown individual.

Investigators performed a records check and discovered that Tapaha had been reported missing at the end of July 2011, and that Hoffner had also been reported missing.

Police also learned that Tapaha’s sister, Phillena Tapaha, had two children with Champagne.

DNA samples from Tapaha and Hoffner’s family members were collected to establish a familial DNA standard that could be compared to the samples taken from the suspected murder scene.

In February 2012, Phillena Tapaha told police that her brother and Hoffner were still missing, and that her brother may have been mad at Champagne for cheating on her.

In March 2012, police attempted to contact Champagne at his mother’s home near Indian School Road and 16th Street.

Champagne, who was with Garcia and one of his children, wound up getting into a shootout with police.

No one was hurt, and Champagne eventually surrendered and was arrested.

Neither Champagne nor Garcia wanted to discuss the double homicide investigation when interviewed by police.

Police said as the investigation continued a DNA sample from the apartment was eventually found to be consistent with having come from an offspring of Philmon Tapaha’s parents.

This past Tuesday, police were called back out to the home that once belonged to Champagne’s mother after the new owners found a box in the backyard that was believed to contain human remains.

Police determined that two bodies were inside the box, and that it appeared as if the bodies were that of a male and a female.

Champagne, who was still in jail for his shootout with police, was transported to police headquarters on Wednesday.

Champagne declined to speak about the case, and was rebooked into jail on two counts of first degree murder and two counts of concealment of dead bodies.

He is being held on $1 million bond.
 

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