Fugitive Soltys found in mother’s back yard after 10-day hunt
CITRUS HEIGHTS, Calif. – A fugitive accused of killing his pregnant wife, 3-year-old son and four other relatives was arrested Thursday in the back yard of his mother’s house, where police said he washed off his victims’ blood 10 days earlier.
After a nationwide manhunt, Nikolay Soltys was found at around 8 a.m., curled under a desk. He apparently had been camping in the woods behind the house, and snuck into the yard overnight, evading detectives who were watching the property.
Family members fled the home in panic after discovering Soltys had returned. Officers followed to a nearby store, where Soltys’ brother struggled to call 911. Officers then converged on the house and arrested Soltys without a struggle.
Sacramento Sheriff Lou Blanas said a knife ”consistent with the murder weapon” was found in a backpack Soltys apparently dropped behind the house.
The unshaven Soltys was barefoot, dirty and disheveled, ”and looked like he could have been hiding in a field somewhere,” Blanas said.
Soltys, 27, a Ukrainian immigrant, faces murder charges in the stabbing deaths of his wife, son, aunt, uncle and two young cousins.
Blanas said Soltys is speaking freely to the district attorney, though he did not yet have a lawyer. The district attorney asked Blanas not to reveal what Soltys was saying.
More than a dozen of Soltys’ other relatives had remained under police protection since the Aug. 20 slayings. Soltys’ mother and the other relatives had returned to the house Tuesday morning after a week under armed guard at an area hotel.
Unbeknownst to the family, undercover detectives were watching the house and an officer had checked the back yard Wednesday evening, Blanas said.
The detectives were surprised Thursday morning to see Varvara Soltys flee in a car with five other family members.
”At night there’s so many ways to get into that backyard, you can’t cover every inch,” Blanas said.
Soltys’ brother, Stepan, was eating breakfast at around 7:45 a.m. when he looked through a glass back door and saw him under the desk, which sat amid children’s bicycles and toys, according to Deputy Sheriff Bill Samuelson.
Nikolay motioned for Stepan to be quiet. Stepan Soltys then furtively assembled relatives in the garage, where police had installed a panic button. But neither the alarm nor a phone police gave the family worked, Stepan Soltys told Samuelson, so the six relatives crammed into a car and fled.
”The reaction when they saw him at least suggests the majority of the family feared him,” said sheriff’s Capt. John McGinness.
The family stopped at the Aaron Brothers frame shop, where employee Jennifer Murphy helped Stepan Soltys call police.
”A man came up to me with his cell phone and he was all shaky. He kept pushing buttons 1-1-9, so I knew he wanted to dial 911,” Murphy said. ”I brought him into the store and dialed 911 for him.”
Sheriff’s Detective Chris Joachim said teams of officers converged from two directions, and saw Soltys’ feet sticking out from under the desk – which was next to an old refrigerator.
”It wasn’t a very good hiding place,” Joachim said. ”He appeared as if he was going to run, but the inoperable refrigerator door was open, blocking his exit.”
Soltys was unarmed, Joachim said, and raised his hands in surrender.
Soltys led the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. Deputies pursued more than 900 tips, but believed all along that Soltys remained in the Sacramento area.
”Just last night, we believed we had him in another residence, but we checked it out, and it wasn’t him,” Blanas said.
Even so, Russian-Ukrainian communities in San Francisco and Oregon were on edge, and authorities in cities where Soltys once lived or had family ties were also on alert.
”The news makes things much better for us, but we’re still all suffering after this tragedy,” said Alla Pugach, 29, who emigrated from Ukraine four years ago and now lives in Sacramento. ”We thought maybe he was dead, then we were scared that maybe he was hiding somewhere nearby and would do something horrible, but no one expected that he would give up so quietly.”
In an afternoon news conference, relatives of the Soltys family profusely thanked police and the public.
Boris Kukharskiy, Soltys’ cousin and the father of one of his young victims, singled out a woman who tried to revive his daughter after the attack.
”She tried to save (my) daughter’s life,” Kukharskiy said through a translator. ”(I don’t) even know her name.”
A $120,000 reward was posted for Soltys’ arrest, including $50,000 in state money pledged by Gov. Gray Davis. It was not immediately clear whether Soltys’ brother, who was in town for last Sunday’s funerals, would get that money.
The manhunt began the morning of Aug. 20, when Soltys allegedly stabbed his wife, Lyubov, at their home in the Sacramento suburb of North Highlands.
Twenty minutes later, police said, Soltys arrived at his relatives’ home in nearby Rancho Cordova. His aunt and uncle, Galina Kukharskaya, 74, and Petr Kukharskiy, 75, were fatally stabbed, along with Soltys’ two 9-year-old cousins, Tatyana Kukharskaya and Dimitriy Kukharskiy, the grandchildren of the slain couple.
Soltys allegedly went to his mother’s house an hour later, and cleaned up before leaving with his 3-year-old son, Sergey. The boy’s bloody body was found the following afternoon in a cardboard box in a trash pile in rural Placer County.
In notes he left in his abandoned car, Soltys allegedly directed officers to the boy’s body and provided a possible motive for the slayings, suggesting that his relatives were killed because they spoke outside the family about private matters.