WATERFORD A police SWAT team surrounded a home for about three hours Friday afternoon on a tip that a man suspected of killing a former girlfriend in a Modesto motel room might be there. After evacuating about 10 houses in the neighborhood, officers searched the home and found nobody.
Modesto police were looking for Erick John Vogel, 38, who is wanted on suspicion of murder.
Police said Vogel broke into a room at the Rodeway Inn in central Modesto early Wednesday and "brutally" stabbed his former girlfriend, Katherine Voelker, with whom he had two young children. She was taken by ambulance to a Modesto hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Vogel, 38, and Voelker, 26, lived with their son and daughter, Vogel's 12-year-old son and Vogel's mother at the house on Landon Court, a quiet cul-de-sac of single-family homes.
No one answered when a Bee reporter knocked on the door about 12:30 p.m. Friday before the SWAT team arrived. There were no vehicles in the driveway. Phone calls to the house were not answered.
Shortly before 1 p.m., the Modesto police Special Weapons and Tactics truck arrived and parked in front of the house. Investigators had received information that Vogel might be at the house, police spokesman Sgt. Brian Findlen said.
The couple's neighbors and friends, who gathered near the scene, said Vogel's mother and his 12-year-old son left the home Wednesday evening, and that nobody had been seen at the home since then. They said Vogel's father is dead.
One neighbor said SWAT team members jumped into her back yard to surround the Vogel home. She declined to give her name, fearing for her safety.
She said she remembers seeing Vogel being verbally abusive toward Voelker several times, and that he was controlling of her.
"She was a good mom with her kids," the neighbor said. "She wanted a better life. It's all I think about now. I just feel so bad about the kids."
Robot, camera sent in first
Shortly after 1 p.m., one officer began using a public address system to try to speak to Vogel, who was thought to be in the single-story house. The officer repeatedly said: "Erick Vogel, come out with your hands up. We have the house surrounded. We don't want to hurt you."
About 20 minutes later, the Stanislaus County sheriff's bomb squad arrived with its robotic camera. The robot was sent inside the home before the SWAT team entered. Findlen said investigators did not have any information that there were explosives.
About the same time, SWAT team members evacuated about 10 homes on Landon Court and Amy Lane. Officers closed Amy Lane between Bentley and Welch streets.
"Given the severity of the crime, we took every precaution," Findlen said. "We conducted a slow and methodical search."
A woman, who said she went to high school with Vogel, gathered with others at Amy and Welch after she heard the SWAT team was at Vogel's home. She said she never had met Voelker, and she was shocked to hear that Vogel was wanted on suspicion of murder.
"I never thought he would do something like this," said the woman, who declined to give her name. "That's not the Erick I knew."
Tear gas launched into home
By 4 p.m., the SWAT team had launched tear gas into the home before entering. The SWAT team searched the house before giving the all-clear signal. Firefighters used fans to ventilate the tear gas out of the house.
Voelker's family said Thursday that she was trapped in an abusive relationship with Vogel for more than five years before she escaped in early March. The family said Voelker sought refuge at a women's shelter and hid from Vogel for more than a month. She moved into the Modesto motel room last week.
Voelker's family said she was killed in front of her son and daughter, who were staying with her at the McHenry Avenue motel. Child Protective Services had custody Friday of the children, who are 2 and 4.
Findlen encouraged the public to continue calling in tips with any information that could lead to Vogel's arrest. He said detectives have been assigned exclusively to look for Vogel, and officers on patrol are keeping an eye out for the suspect.
"It is our priority to take Mr. Vogel off the street," Findlen said. "We need to find him sooner rather than later."
Detectives ask anyone with information to call Modesto police at 572-9500 or Crime Stoppers at 521-4636. Crime Stoppers tipsters also can e-mail tips through the Crime Stoppers Web site, www.modestopolice.com/CrimeStoppers, or text tips to CRIMES (274637) by typing "Tip704" plus the message. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2394.