Detective Ron Dove's phone rang just after 5 a.m., as he finished an overnight shift in the homicide unit at Police Headquarters.

It was his girlfriend. Hours earlier, authorities say, she had killed her estranged lover, and now, she needed help.

As the man's bloodied body lay in an empty North Philadelphia after-hours club with a stab wound through the heart, authorities say, Dove got into his SUV.

What they say he did next would destroy a career, upend a homicide investigation, and lead investigators to uncover a disturbing, hidden history of a detective who used his authority for his own ends.

At a news conference Thursday, as he announced a slew of charges against Dove, District Attorney Seth Williams described the case as one that belonged in the pages of a dime-store novel.

In the days and weeks that followed the death of Cesar Vera, his girlfriend's other lover, in the fall of 2013, prosecutors allege, Dove did the opposite of what a homicide detective should do, actively working to thwart investigators at every turn.

Instead of urging his girlfriend, Erica Sanchez, to turn herself in, authorities say, Dove picked her up near the crime scene, ditched her car, called hotels, drove her to Upstate New York, bought her an untraceable cellphone, and even took her on a weekend jaunt to Niagara Falls - all while insisting to other homicide detectives that he knew nothing about her whereabouts.

The 16-year veteran of the force, once described by Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey as one of the best detectives in the homicide unit, was charged Thursday with hindering apprehension - a felony - and conspiracy, flight to avoid apprehension, and other crimes.

The grand jury that recommended charges against Dove in the Sanchez case is still investigating him, Williams said. He would not specify details of that investigation, but police have said they were investigating Dove's involvement in three other murder investigations with possible connections to Sanchez and Vera.

The charges recommended Thursday are "the result of the evidence we currently have," Williams said. He urged anyone with information about Dove to call police.

"This is the kind of case that can shake the public's confidence in the system, and I understand that sentiment," Williams said.

Relationship and duty

Ramsey, who fired Dove in November 2013 for lying to investigators, said the detective "chose a relationship over his duty."

"He acted in a way that's totally inconsistent with the values of not only this department, but policing in general," he said. The commissioner praised Williams and his department's Internal Affairs unit for their work on the investigation.

Dove turned himself in to police Thursday.

His lawyer, Brian McMonagle, said Dove "didn't believe he was helping a criminal."

"He believed he was protecting a victim of domestic violence who had acted in self-defense," McMonagle said, and added that Dove regrets bringing "heartache to the brave men and women with whom he served."

According to the grand jury presentment, Dove knew Vera well and told several people he was a "dangerous" man who abused Sanchez. Vera had been arrested twice on domestic-abuse charges involving Sanchez, including a July 2013 incident in which he allegedly tried to set her hair on fire.

And witnesses told police that on the night of the stabbing, Vera had pulled Sanchez from a car and punched her.

After Sanchez called Dove on the night of murder - with Vera's blood still staining her jeans, Williams said - Dove began "a campaign to actively mislead law enforcement and protect the suspect."

He cleaned her car, Williams said, and asked a garage owner to hide it and lie to police if they stopped by. He fished for information from the detectives on the case.

A day after the murder, Dove called a fellow detective, crying, and told him Sanchez "means so much to me," according to the grand jury report. He told the detective later that day that Vera had deserved to be killed, the report said.

The detective, Brian Peters, told the grand jury he told Dove he would be "giving everything up" if he helped Sanchez.

According to the grand jury report, events unfolded this way:

Dove told the lead detective on the case, William Sierra, and the chief of the district attorney's homicide unit, Jennifer Selber, that he knew someone who had been involved in a murder - each time insisting the killing had been in self-defense, never telling anyone he knew where she was, and ignoring admonitions to report what he knew to supervisors.

Selber said that the day after the murder, Dove asked her if he could talk with her about a "semi-personal issue" and told her that someone very close to him might have killed someone. Though he used careful language, it was clear he was talking about Vera's case.

She said she told him to report it to Sierra and do everything he could to get the suspect to surrender to police - and then called Dove a day later when she learned that no suspect had surrendered. His apparent resistance to talk to Sierra, she said, alarmed her. He appeared in her office the next day and "went out of his way" to assure her everything was fine, according to the presentment.

Sierra told the grand jury that Dove also called him on Sept. 9, crying, and asked him to conduct a "light interview" of Sanchez. Sierra said he did not agree to preferential treatment, and told Dove to take her to police.

On Sept. 11, Sierra, by then suspicious, met with Dove, who insisted that his girlfriend had never told him anything about stabbing Vera and that he had never asked her any questions about it.

Sierra, a police union representative, said he gave Dove "very detailed directions and advice about his duties." At one point, he told the grand jury, he again emphasized that Dove should bring Sanchez to police for an interview. He said he told Dove he was "screwing up" the case and jeopardizing his employment, and that he "better get himself a lawyer."

But by Sept. 18, with Sanchez still nowhere to be found, Dove openly pressed Sierra for details about the investigation, the detective testified.

Sierra gave the grand jury this account of their exchange:

When he was told detectives weren't having much luck finding Sanchez, Dove replied, "That may be a good thing or a bad thing."

Sierra bristled.

"For your girl to get away with murder?" he asked.

"Well, we're not talking about a choirboy," Dove responded.

Two weeks later, with Sanchez ensconced in a hotel in Upstate New York, Dove finally gave a formal statement to investigators - one that, Williams said, was "full of lies."

Sanchez eventually turned herself in on Oct. 16, 2013 - more than a month after the slaying. She has been charged with hindering apprehension and related charges in addition to the murder charge, for which she is awaiting trial.

Her lawyer could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Two other cases

In 2013, The Inquirer reported that suspicions had arisen around Dove's conduct in two other cases.

Dove was the lead detective in the investigation into the killing of Leslie Delzingaro, who was shot at an Olney bar owned by Sanchez's father, Humberto, in 2010.

Delzingaro's relatives told The Inquirer in 2013 that Dove seemed dismissive of the case and told them that Humberto Sanchez was "a great guy."

On Thursday, Delzingaro's mother, Eileen DiFrancesco, said she was comforted by Dove's arrest, but wanted answers in her daughter's murder. "She deserves it," she said.

Investigators also looked into whether Dove may have concealed information in the unsolved shooting death of Melanie Colon, 22, who was found behind a Juniata Park apartment building in 2012. Colon's friend Reynaldo Torres disappeared with her and has not been seen since. Investigators have said they believe that Vera was linked to that case.

In late 2013, investigators found notes on Dove's iPad that led them to search a trash-strewn ravine near Vera's house. There, they found a jawbone that police say is a possible match to Torres.

Colon's brother, Ralphiee,  said Thursday that his family was angered by news of Dove's misconduct but hopeful that clues in his sister's case will soon come to light.

"You're supposed to be helping us here, and you're supposed to give us justice, but you're hiding information?" he said. "How do you make the whole Police Department look?"