The day before hell broke loose, Nikolay Soltys, 27, and his pregnant wife Lyubov, 23, entertained a pastor from the Bethany Slavic Missionary Church at their home in North Highlands, a suburb of Sacramento, Calif. Like most of the large community of Ukrainians and Russians in the greater Sacramento area, the Soltyses are thought to have immigrated to the U.S. as religious refugees--persecuted Pentecostal and Baptist minorities--and the two were looking for a church to call their own. This was the big interview to qualify for membership.
Bethany clerics remember Lyuba, as she was affectionately called, as "very sweet, very calm." But there were misgivings about her husband. The church secretary, Valentin Kalinovskiy, remembers Nikolay as very pensive and deliberate, "kind of thinking a lot and very slow in his movements." At earlier interviews, he had refused to answer questions about the circumstances surrounding his departure from his previous church in Ukraine. "He wouldn't say anything," says Kalinovskiy. "We need an answer. We cannot have a person who has not left his past church in peace." The Sunday interview concluded amicably. But the pastor would still have to check with Nikolay's old church before the Soltyses could join Bethany.
The next day, Nikolay allegedly stabbed Lyubov to death, then went to the home of relatives and killed an aging uncle and an aunt, Petr and Galina Kukharskiy, and two young cousins, Tatyana, 9, and Dimitriy, 10. He apparently took money from that house. But he was not done. He drove his 1995 Nissan Altima to his mother's house to pick up his three-year-old son Sergay. Late on Tuesday, police found the toddler's body in a cardboard box. They said the boy may have been lured into the box with toys. The child's body was bruised on the back and the buttocks, and authorities initially said Sergay had been "violated." His throat was violently slashed. Soltys left behind a list, apparently scolding family members for their "tongues," that is, for saying things that they ought not to have said. Besides singling out his wife, Soltys listed two relatives: Zoya, the mother of Tatyana; and Sergay, the father of Dimitriy. Remaining family members were quickly provided with police protection.
Within days, Soltys was on the FBI's list of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, among the likes of Osama bin Laden and Eric Rudolph, the suspected abortion-clinic and Atlanta Olympics bomber. The suggested motives for his rampage ranged from mental instability to rage that his history of spousal abuse, alleged extortion among his fellow immigrants and other criminal activity had been talked about outside the family. Stories have now filtered in from Ukraine: of violence in a previous marriage; of his rejection from army service for mental problems; of attacking relatives; of previous episodes of domestic abuse involving Lyubov, including an attack with an ax.