Editor’s Note: News Channel 11 is currently not using the real name of the man known as “Robert Voe” in a federal lawsuit filed against Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner and others pending availability of official records that would make it legally appropriate to name him.
JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — He’s allegedly been wanted for more than a year and Johnson City’s city manager stated Wednesday police continue to search for him.
But documents and News Channel 11 interviews reveal that alleged serial rapist “Robert Voe” may at times have been hiding in plain sight, that he caused a disturbance at the Washington County Register of Deeds office on April 19, and that at least one person claimed to be actively informing Johnson City police about his potential whereabouts.
Those revelations all stem from the strange April 19 incident in Jonesborough and its aftermath, when a man angrily insisted that Register of Deeds employees refused to record a document he said would be brought in.
Chelsie Summey and Amy Willis dealt with the irate property owner they now believe to be “Voe” in Jonesborough that day. Reading weeks later about a federal lawsuit against Johnson City police convinced them: The man they’d had a tense encounter with at the Washington County Courthouse — resulting in a call to police — was the same “Robert Voe” at the center of the lawsuit.
“I was surprised that it was the same guy that came into the office and did that,” Willis, the register’s office chief deputy, told News Channel 11 of “Voe’s” visit to the office that resulted in Register of Deeds Teresa Bowman later calling the police.
By “that,” Willis referred to the man’s aggressive demands that her office prevent another person from filing a document related to a downtown property he owned, saying it was fraudulent.
“Robert Voe” is the pseudonym of the principal figure in a federal lawsuit filed June 23 by former Special Assistant U.S. Attorney “Kat” Dahl. Dahl worked for the Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) from September 2019 through July 2021 when, the suit alleges, Chief Karl Turner unilaterally terminated a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Greeneville.
Dahl’s suit claims JCPD leaders and investigators, including Turner, stonewalled her repeated attempts from September 2020 through June 2021 to convince them to broaden a case against “Voe” beyond a federal charge of felon in possession of ammunition. It alleges that there was sufficient information to investigate “Voe” for a string of incidents in which he allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted women he would meet downtown.
After News Channel 11 broke the lawsuit story on June 29 and people flooded social media with pictures (and the name) of the man that dozens were claiming was “Voe,” Willis said she recognized him “by his appearance and his address.” Summey and Bowman confirmed the same.
An eventful morning
What the three public servants in Bowman’s office knew about “Voe” extended well beyond what most people commenting on social media did. When they went home the day of their stressful encounter, they’d learned that “Voe” was wanted by police — first from an attorney that Bowman called after “Voe” had left her office and later from Ben Zeigler, the Jonesborough police officer who took their report.
It was Summey who first spoke to the man, “right after we opened at 8 o’clock,” she said.
Summey said he called and told her if someone came to record a document related to a property he owned in downtown Johnson City, the clerks shouldn’t allow it.
“He was angry, he was yelling, ‘do not record that document, it’s a fraudulent activity about to happen,’” Summey said.
She said she reviewed the office’s policy with the man.
“As long as it meets the requirements, we have to file it,” she said. “We went through that a couple of different times.”
Summey told the man that if he believed someone had filed a fraudulent document related to one of his properties, he should see an attorney.
“He at that point was still angry, said he was on his way down there and hung up the phone on me.”
Summey told her colleagues to be on the lookout. Within minutes, the man showed up. Willis overheard him beginning to argue with another clerk and came to speak with him. She said she gave him the same information Summey had.
“He was visibly shaking from head to toe and he just got mad and he stood up, and he kind of lunged towards us and then he walked out the door. And as soon as he left I said ‘we need to call the police.’”
By that time, Bowman was in the office. Because the man had told Willis he was going to speak to a lawyer “across the street,” Bowman called two different lawyers who might deal with that kind of issue.
The second lawyer said the man had called him – and he offered Bowman a bit of unsolicited information.
“He said, ‘I know exactly who he is and I told him, thank you but I cannot help you,’” she said.
“He told me that there were warrants against him and that he was not a very good person. He was a bad guy. He told me that it was rape. Date rape warrants. And some federal warrant.”
While Dahl’s lawsuit alleges the JCPD failed to properly investigate the rape allegations, it does mention Dahl obtaining a federal warrant on April 13, 2021 charging “Voe” with being a felon in possession of ammunition. The suit also claims police dragged their feet before finally going to serve the warrant and arrest “Voe” on May 5, 2021 — and botched that operation by telling him while he was behind his locked door that they had a warrant for his arrest, after which he fled the building.
Enter the police — and the ‘fraudster’
The attorney’s comments convinced Bowman to call the Jonesborough Police Department, which sent Officer Ben Zeigler to her office.
The women all said Zeigler recorded their statements and went on his way. They told Zeigler he had given the first name of a woman he said would bring in the “fraudulent” deed for the downtown property
The man was no garden-variety angry property owner, though. Before long, Zeigler returned. His report on the case reveals why.
“It was later determined that the suspect … has a federal warrant from the U.S. Marshal’s service for weapons violations,” Zeigler wrote.
He showed the women a photo and they confirmed it was the man who’d caused the disturbance.
“He said (the man) has warrants out for his arrest and that if he comes back, or anybody affiliated with him, to call 911 and they’ll be here immediately,” Willis said.
As they discussed the situation, a woman approached the deeds office, overheard them and joined the conversation, Bowman said.
“As he was talking to us in the hall, the lady came in with the deed that (“Voe”) had been talking about,” Bowman said. “She interrupted (Zeigler) because she had heard what he said and then she told him her story.”
According to Zeigler’s report, the woman had the same name as the one the suspect had mentioned, and she was there to record a deed for the downtown Johnson City property “Voe” had referenced.
Zeigler wrote that the woman said she was an estranged business partner of the man who had caused the disturbance and that he had signed the downtown property over to her on March 1.
“(The woman) stated that she has spoken with JCPD … in the past concerning his whereabouts,” Zeigler reported.
Bowman said learning about the lawsuit and further details about “Voe” was “alarming.
“That day, my feeling was that I needed to protect my employees,” she said. “We needed security here, and that’s basically what my concern was.”
She said the man actually called the office a few times after April 19 but never appeared in person, instead sending people in to conduct business on his behalf. When she learned of the broader lawsuit, her thoughts turned to just how dangerous “Voe” is considered to be.
“I was just grateful that the news was out there and maybe he’ll be caught,” Bowman said.
According to City Manager Cathy Ball’s statement, police, along with the U.S. Marshals Service, “continues to search for the person believed to be Mr. Voe and asks that anyone with information about his whereabouts please contact the department, anonymously if preferred, using any of the methods that can be found on our website at www.JohnsonCityTN.org/Police.”