Police arrest suspect in murder of Vancouver woman

Traffic stop leads to arrest

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 
photoVancouver police on Thursday investigate what they say is the scene of a slaying at 1205 W. 39th St. They arrested Dennis Wolter, 43, in connection with his girlfriend's slaying.
photoYellow evidence markers dot the front of a house on West 39th Street in Vancouver where police say a 43-year-old Vancouver man killed his girlfriend.

A 43-year-old Vancouver man was arrested Thursday after allegedly killing his live-in girlfriend at their home and then dumping her body miles away near the old Evergreen Highway on the border of Vancouver and Camas.

Dennis Lee Wolter’s arrest came nine days after he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his 41-year-old girlfriend and threatening to burn down their home at 1205 W. 39th St., police papers said. Vancouver Police spokeswoman Kim Kapp did not identify the victim Thursday but did say Wolter and the victim were in “a dating relationship.”

Wolter is being held at the Clark County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder and a warrant from Columbia County, Wis., charging him with burglary and assault. He is expected to appear before a Clark County District Court judge on the murder charge this morning.

Police are not releasing details about how the woman died nor whether a murder weapon exists, Kapp said. Police arrested Wolter after interviewing him Thursday morning. But Kapp declined to say whether he confessed.

The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office will release the victim’s identity and determine the victim’s cause of death, Kapp said.

Wolter’s arrest came after a Camas police officer stopped him for speeding and discovered he had an outstanding warrant. Investigators subsequently found the woman’s body around 4 a.m. near the roadway in the area between 192nd Avenue and the old Evergreen Highway.

Investigators’ attention soon turned to Wolter’s home about 10 miles away.

Recent turmoil

Only nine days prior, Vancouver police responded to a domestic violence complaint at the couple’s home after a witness reported hearing yelling and the sounds of items breaking inside.

Wolter allegedly pulled his girlfriend’s hair out when she tried to call 9-1-1, and later threatened to burn the house down, court papers show. Wolter told police she broke furniture and slapped him in the head.

Investigators ultimately determined Wolter as the aggressor in the fight and arrested him on suspicion of fourth-degree assault and third-degree malicious mischief. He has a June 21 court date for those charges.

Wolter spent two days in jail before a friend, Paula Gardner, bailed him out.

Wolter’s situation remained tenuous, even after being freed.

While Wolter was in jail, his girlfriend received a notice from the couple’s landlord informing her they would be evicted if they did not pay rent in three days, Gardner said. The couple received a similar notice the day before the killing.

Gardner’s statement about Woltner’s housing troubles could not be independently verified Thursday evening.

She described Wolter as a 300-pound man who would “give you the shirt off his back.”

The two initially struck up a friendship after Gardner’s home burned down in 2008. Wolter provided her a sleeping bag so she could stay on her property after the fire.

Hours after being interviewed by detectives, Gardner drove to Wolter’s home. She had to see the scene for herself, she said.

“Someone who is going to save your life … would you think they would kill someone else?” Gardner said as she stood near West 39th Street. “That blows my mind.”

Court records show Wolter was convicted of 29 crimes in the 1980s and 1990. His offenses ran the gamut from urinating in public to third-degree rape. Twenty-one of his convictions were misdemeanors, including 12 driving-while-suspended citations.

Prior to last week, his lone criminal citation in the past decade, according to court records, was a citation in 2008 for driving with a suspended license.

Neighbors shocked

On Thursday afternoon, yellow police tape blocked off Wolter’s olive one-story house. Around 15 yellow evidence markers were placed in front of the house on the porch and underneath three large canopy tents that stretched from the front door to the garage. No vehicles were in the driveway.

A child’s bicycle leaned against a large tree. It was unclear whether anyone else was present in the home Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

Wolter’s home is at the end of a short dirt path behind a two-story apartment complex off West 39th Street.

Residents of the complex indicated they had minimal contact with Wolter. They expressed shock a homicide could take place so close to their homes.

Neighbor Darren Willett, 44, recalled hearing a pickup truck’s engine revving over and over from the direction of Wolter’s home Wednesday night. Willett recalled being annoyed,but did not think anything further about it.

News of the woman’s death disturbed Willett.

“I’ve never been close to where someone was murdered,” he said. “This is a first for me.”

Willett’s next-door neighbor, John McGuire, thought a “loud and drunken party” was raging when police arrived sometime between 5 and 6 a.m. He did not interact with Wolter, he said.

“I take this to be a quiet area,” said McGuire, who has lived in the complex 12 years. “Something like that is a surprise.”

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517, ray.legendre@columbian.com//www.twitter.com/col_smallcities

Staff Writer Laura McVicker contributed to this story.