SACRAMENTO — The FBI added Nikolay Soltys to its national most-wanted list Thursday, even as authorities reported several local sightings of the fugitive suspected of murdering his wife, young son and four other relatives.
Meanwhile, a newspaper in Soltys' native Ukraine bolstered earlier reports that the 27-year-old immigrant had a history of domestic abuse and mental instability, saying he attacked his young wife and son with an ax three years ago in their homeland.
And investigators in Sacramento said Soltys, a shoemaker in Ukraine but largely unemployed in the United States, appears to have turned increasingly to small-time thuggery to make ends meet.
His inclusion in the FBI roster adds considerable law enforcement weight to the manhunt for Soltys, who has ties in Seattle, Charlotte, N.C., upstate New York and Canada. Wanted posters will be issued around the country and at FBI offices on foreign soil. And $50,000 has been added to the reward fund for information leading to his capture.
Apprehending Soltys is "a nationwide priority for the FBI," said Richard R. Baker, special agent in charge of the Sacramento office. The massacre of his family members "has shocked not only Sacramento but the nation."
Sacramento County Sheriff's Department detectives initially believed Soltys might have fled the state. But investigators increasingly suspect he may still be in the area. As many as five credible witnesses have reported seeing Soltys in the green and silver Ford Explorer he reportedly acquired after the alleged killings.
One witness reported a near accident Wednesday in Sacramento with such a vehicle, which then drove off at a "high rate of speed," said Capt. John McGinness of the Sheriff's Department. A man inside matched the description of Soltys and was accompanied by a woman who appeared to be in her 20s, the witness said.
Authorities in Tennessee also reported at least two sightings of Soltys, and others were reported in Bellingham, Wash., but sheriff's officials in Sacramento said they felt far less confident about those tips.
On Thursday, McGinness said detectives are increasingly suspicious of the account Soltys' mother gave of her encounter with her son Monday.
She initially told detectives that he arrived at her capital-area home, looking unruffled, right after the stabbing deaths of five family members elsewhere in the county. When questioned further by detectives, McGinness said, the woman admitted that Soltys had "something" on him and did clean up, though she would not provide more detail.
McGinness said the investigation has been slowed by a reluctance among Soltys' family and friends to provide details, "partly out of fear."
But third and fourth interviews with acquaintances, McGinness said, have helped fill in the portrait of a cunning man who preyed on vulnerable people.
McGinness said those familiar with Soltys are now telling detectives that he made a point of getting friendly with elderly Russian and Ukrainian immigrants, then "ripping them off" through a variety of schemes. Soltys' favorite scam, McGinness said, was to gain the confidence of senior citizens and get them to lend him money, which he never returned.
"We're not talking about him amassing significant wealth," McGinness said. "But he is not the pauper he was purported to be initially. And he's much more clever."
Authorities said they suspect that Soltys stole several thousand dollars from the home of two of Monday's victims--his elderly aunt and uncle, killed in their duplex on a leafy street in Rancho Cordova, a Sacramento suburb. McGinness said it is not uncommon for Ukrainian and Russian immigrants to keep thousands of dollars in cash on hand because of a distrust of banks.
In Ukraine, meanwhile, the newspaper Fakty reported a 1998 attack that Soltys allegedly committed on his wife, Lyubov Igorevna Soltys, with an ax during a dispute in their village in the Ternopol region.
Igor and Mariya Nakonechnys, the parents of Soltys' 22-year-old wife, told the newspaper that the young family was living with Nikolay's parents when the attack occurred one evening in 1998. They said relatives and the police settled the conflict before blood was shed, but the young mother took her infant son and went to live with her parents.
Amid the domestic strife, Soltys immigrated to the United States and lived in New York with his elderly parents. His wife did not join him until this year, after Soltys had moved to Sacramento.
Fakty also reported that the Nakonechnyses contradicted accounts that Soltys was rejected by the Ukrainian army because of mental instability. Rather, the paper said, he was rejected because of flat feet.
The Nakonechnyses scrambled to secure a visa so they could get to the United States in time for the funerals of their grandson and daughter, scheduled for Sunday.