NATIONWIDE manhunt for fugitive accused of killing six relatives ends in mother's back yard

Friday, August 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CITRUS HEIGHTS, Calif. (AP) _ Sometime in the night, Nikolay Soltys slipped into his mother's back yard, just a few miles from where police believe he brutally stabbed his pregnant wife and five family members 10 days earlier.

He was crouched under a desk, dirty and barefoot, when his brother Stepan spotted him through a window. It was 7:45 a.m. Thursday.

Soltys motioned for him to be quiet, but Stepan instead herded the rest of the family into the garage and grabbed for the police-installed panic button. When the alarm failed, they piled into the car and fled to a nearby shop, where a clerk called 911.

Within minutes, sheriff's deputies stormed the yard and arrested the 27-year-old Ukrainian immigrant, ending an international manhunt for one of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted.

The family's fear was so intense, police said, that the brother at first refused to return to the house to identify Soltys.

``He was obviously extremely afraid,'' Deputy Sheriff Bill Samuelson said.

When Soltys was arrested, he had a metal potato peeler in his pocket and a map of the Sacramento area. Officials said a backpack containing a knife authorities suspect was the murder weapon was found in the yard.

The Sacramento Bee, citing unidentified sources, reported Friday that Soltys nodded when asked by investigators whether he had killed his relatives.

The newspaper said he told investigators he committed the crimes because he thought his family was trying to poison him. However, it was unclear whether he meant that literally.

In an interview Friday with CBS' ``The Early Show,'' Sheriff's Capt. John McGinness said it's unlikely that details of the interviews with Soltys will be released before his trial.

``I will tell you, however, that he has been cooperative,'' McGinness said. ``He declined legal counsel, has spoken with other detectives. And we are every bit as satisfied now as we have ever been that he is, in fact, the one responsible, solely responsible, for these six murders.''

Police have said that a note Soltys left in his car suggested the relatives were killed because they spoke outside the family about private matters. Some in the Ukrainian community have said that may have meant he thought they were ``poisoning'' his name, the Bee reported.

``When I learned that Nikolay was captured, I was in shock,'' said Boris Kukharskiy, Soltys' cousin and the father of one of the children slain. He and family members had moved to a hotel under constant police protection.

``From day one of this tragedy to the last moment, they didn't leave us, even for a second,'' said Sergey Kukharskiy, another cousin and the father of another young victim.

Authorities interviewed Soltys for several hours before he was taken to Sacramento County Jail. He was expected to be arraigned Tuesday.

The manhunt began the morning of Aug. 20, when authorities say Soltys slashed the throat of his 23-year-old wife, Lyubov, at their North Highlands home.

Police say he then drove to the home of his aunt and uncle, Galina, 74, and Petr Kukharskiy, 75, and killed them and their 9-year-old grandchildren, Tatyana and Dimitriy Kukharskiy.

The following day, notes left in Soltys' abandoned car led police to a rural trash pile where they found the blood-covered body of his 3-year-old son, Sergey, in a cardboard box.

More than a dozen of Soltys' other relatives had remained under police protection since the slayings. Soltys' mother, brother and a few other relatives had only returned to her home Tuesday.

When Soltys slipped into her yard, he was unshaven, dirty and ``looked like he could have been hiding in a field somewhere,'' Blanas said.

Undercover detectives had been watching the house around the clock, but never saw him. Just before 8 a.m. Thursday, they saw the garage door fly open and the car speed away.

At the framing shop a few blocks away, employee Jennifer Murphy saw Stepan jump out of the car, clearly panicked and shaking as he tried to dial a number on a cell phone.

``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.''

The deputies who stormed the cluttered yard minutes later saw Soltys' feet sticking out from under the desk, which was next to an old refrigerator.

``He appeared as if he was going to run, but the inoperable refrigerator door was open, blocking his exit,'' Sheriff's Detective Chris Joachim said.

Authorities said they believe Soltys had been staying in woods behind the house for a few days. An officer had checked the yard Wednesday evening, Blanas said.

``At night there's so many ways to get into that back yard, you can't cover every inch,'' Blanas said.