Man wanted in Modesto stabbing death found 'playing possum'

April 26, 2009 

In Waterford on Saturday night, police said, the predator became the prey. A deputy's dog sniffed out murder suspect Erick Vogel as he hid in bushes, "playing possum" to avoid capture, said Modesto police spokesman Sgt. Brian Findlen.

Vogel, 38, is suspected of tracking down his former girlfriend, Katherine Voelker, who was hiding from him in a Modesto motel, then stabbing her to death early Wednesday in front of the couple's two children.

Voelker's family said she was trying to escape an abusive relationship with Vogel.

Vogel was convicted of beating Voelker in March. He was scheduled to start a 60-day jail sentence in May. Voelker stayed at Haven Women's Center until about a week before her death.

Police say Vogel broke into Voelker's room at the Rodeway Inn on McHenry Avenue, then killed her about 2:20 a.m. Wednesday.

An anonymous tip led to Vogel's capture, police said.

Stanislaus County sheriff's deputies found Vogel about a half-mile from the Landon Court house where Vogel and Voelker had lived with their two children, Vogel's 12-year-old son and Vogel's mother. A SWAT team surrounded the Landon Court house for three hours on Friday after someone told authorities that Vogel might be there.

On Saturday night, a tipster contacted the sheriff's department and reported that Vogel was hiding in a house in the 12000 block of Bentley Street in Waterford, Findlen said. As deputies drove to the area, a resident flagged them down and said Vogel had just been seen walking into an alley on A Street, about two blocks from Bentley Street.

Deputies began a search of the area. A deputy's dog, Smoke, led them to some bushes. Believing that someone was hiding there, deputies commanded the person to come out, Findlen said. When no one responded, deputies sent Smoke into the bushes. Smoke found Vogel about 10:50 p.m.

"It appears as if Vogel was playing possum at the time he was found hiding in the bushes," Findlen said. "He quickly found out that police K-9s are highly trained and efficiently seek out the scent of fear."

Vogel was arrested, then taken to a local hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries sustained from the deputy's dog, Findlen said. Vogel was booked at the Stanislaus County Jail.

Police don't know where Vogel hid between Wednesday morning and Saturday night, Findlen said, and they are investigating whether someone helped Vogel evade authorities.

"Harboring a fugitive is a serious criminal offense and additional arrests are possible if our investigation suggests that this occurred," he said.

The tipster who helped pinpoint Vogel could be eligible for a cash reward through Crime Stoppers, Findlen said. That person is encouraged to contact Crime Stoppers at 521-4636.

Voelker's sister, Jennifer Sahines, said she was "overwhelmed" when a Modesto police detective called her just after 11 p.m. with news of Vogel's capture.

On Sunday, Sahines and her family were taking down the fliers they had posted asking for help finding Vogel.

Sahines said her family was moved by the outpouring of support they received from community members.

"I just want to express my thanks to everyone who has even prayed for us and even thought about us," said Sahines. "It's made this family so much stronger. I'm just absolutely amazed and so pleased about what this community has done."

Funeral services for Voelker are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Ceres cemetery.

Voelker's family is collecting donations to help pay for her funeral and for the support of her two children.

Contributions can be made at any Farmers & Merchants Bank branch by referencing Katherine Voelker's name.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378.

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