Phoenix police Sgt. Tommy Thompson said the bodies of Philmon Tapaha and Brandi Nicole Hoffner were discovered Tuesday buried outside a home near 16th Street and Indian School Road.
Court records released Thursday reveal Phoenix police believe Tapaha and Hoffner were shot to death at an apartment complex near 12th Street and Osborn Road before they were placed in a large wooden box and buried in the backyard near 16th Street and Indian School Road.
Detectives say the two bodies may have been hidden underground at the home since the summer of 2011.
A former resident of the home at 16th and Indian School, 42-year-old Alan Champagne, is facing two counts of first degree murder for the deaths.
According to court documents, police received an anonymous tip about the murders in October 2011. The tip led them to Champagne's former apartment at 12th Street and Osborn Road.
"The tipster stated two individuals were killed inside apartment #1 earlier in the summer, sometime between June and July of 2011," records show. A maintenance worker had also observed a strange smell coming from that apartment.
THE CRIME SCENE
The maintenance worker said he "noticed the drywall in the bedroom was ripped out and the tile was also ripped out," court records show.
He told the owner that the apartment "smelled horrible." It was so strong that he purchased a chemical to kill the smell and replaced the drywall.
"The strongest smell appeared to be coming from the storage lockers on the south side of the apartment," he said.
Detectives searched the apartment for blood and collected DNA samples from stains in the bedroom. They also processed the storage locker where they noticed a greasy fluid.
THE LARGE WOODEN BOX
The maintenance worker said he had built a large wooden box for Champagne before he moved out of the apartment.
Champagne requested a box "big enough to store car parts inside of it," and said he would be using it to remove large items, including car parts, from his mother's foreclosing home near 16th Street and Indian School before she moved.
Police have not confirmed whether the large, wooden box pulled from Champagne's mother's former backyard this week is the same as the box that had been built by the maintenance worker at his former apartment.
THE LINK TO TAPAHA AND HOFFNER
Detectives matched DNA samples from the apartment to the family of Tapaha, who had been reported missing in July 2011. His girlfriend, 26-year-old Hoffner, had also been reported missing.
Champagne is the father of Tapaha's sister's two children.
Hoffner's sister, Christine Levy, said Hoffner grew up in North Carolina but came to Phoenix to meet her biological father and brother a few months before she was killed.
Levy said Hoffner also had three young children.
"What do you tell a 4, 5, and 8-year-old? You know, you just have to kinda handle things the best you and just let them know that she loved them. She loved them dearly and they've missed her," said Levy.
ANOTHER CONNECTION TO MISSING MAN
The summer Tapaha disappeared, Champagne had been pulled over and arrested on a misdemeanor warrant. Tapaha's social security card was inside the vehicle.
The ABC15 Investigators had previously discovered Champagne has a lengthy criminal history.
He was already in jail awaiting his next court hearing for charges related to
a police standoff last year when police discovered the buried bodies.
Champagne's legal troubles started when he was 15 years old. According to court documents, he began sniffing paint during his early teens.
Champagne was convicted of second degree murder in 1992 for stabbing Ricky Marquez to death during a fight at a party. Court documents indicate he may have done so "because of his extreme intoxication induced by his consumption of alcohol and drugs."
Champagne was also accused of being a member of the Thirteenth Street East Side Loco Gang.
He served 13 years in prison and was released in 2005.
In 2010, the mother of one of Champagne's children filed a petition for a personal protection order against him. The court granted the petition. Court records show the woman claimed Champagne called her and threatened to shoot her and her family in October 2010.
In November 2010, she claimed he would brag and "threaten saying he's going to get his hood after us. He throws up gang signs when he sees us. He tells us that he owns the neighborhood around Madison Park and he will keep watching us," she wrote.
Court records show Champagne had an arrest warrant for aggravated assault and trespassing charges. When police tried to contact him, he fired more than two dozen rounds at them with an AR15.
Champagne "admitted to holding his son and girlfriend as hostages and that it was against their wills."
He told the negotiator "that he would shoot any officer that came into his house and that he was not going to surrender…(Champagne) told the investigator he would rather die a free man than die a caged animal," records show.
Champagne was indicted on 52 criminal counts, including attempt to commit first degree murder, misconduct involving weapons, aggravated assault, and kidnapping.