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A Santa Rosa man told investigators he killed his girlfriend early Friday after an argument in their apartment on the northwest side of the city, police said Friday.

Nery Israel Estrada-Margos, 38, was booked into the Sonoma County Jail on a charge of murder. His arrest came less than three weeks after he had gone to jail on suspicion of domestic battery of his girlfriend of nine months, Veronica Cabrera Ramirez, 42, of Santa Rosa.

Police officers Friday morning found Cabrera Ramirez, a mother of two teenage daughters from a previous relationship, dead in the couple’s Russell Avenue apartment. Police declined to say exactly how she died.

“We believe there’s only one suspect and he’s in custody right now,” said Sgt. Josh Ludtke, who runs the violent crimes investigations team. “He admitted to killing her.”

Estrada-Margos appeared in the lobby of the police department on Sonoma Avenue shortly before 7 a.m. Friday and told a police dispatcher that his girlfriend might be dead after he assaulted her.

Officers forced their way into the couple’s two-story apartment and found the woman’s body. No other people were present in the unit, Ludtke said. Cabrera Ramirez’s daughters were living elsewhere at the time of the slaying.

Investigators obtained search warrants and began seeking evidence both in the apartment and on Estrada-Margos’s clothing, Ludtke said. The coroner may perform an autopsy as early as today.

Investigators believe the slaying occurred early Friday following an argument.

“We have located at least one witness that may have heard a disturbance,” said Ludtke. However, he cautioned that detectives still were seeking to verify that the noise had come from the couple’s apartment.

Police reported that Estrada-Margos had been arrested Aug. 2 on suspicion of domestic battery after Cabrera Ramirez contacted police about a July 31 incident. At that time, police obtained an emergency protective order against Estrada-Margos, normally valid for five days, to give domestic violence victims time to get a temporary restraining order, Ludtke said.

Investigators believe that before the five-day period had passed, the couple were once more living together.

Neighbors described Cabrera Ramirez as a friendly but private woman who kept to herself.

Gabrielle Baum, the on-site property manager, said the woman was close to her daughters.

“She was a good mother to her kids,” Baum said. “She always talked about them.”

Baum said one of the neighbors had heard an argument break out around 4 a.m. Friday but assumed the noise was coming from a motel behind the complex.

“Everyone is shocked something so violent could happen to such a nice person in our community,” Baum said.

As families and their kids arrived home from work and school Friday afternoon, they were surprised to see a Santa Rosa police crime scene investigation truck in their parking lot and officers stationed out front of the two-story townhome apartments.

One neighbor, who didn’t want to be identified, said the woman had lived in the 17-unit apartment complex for eight years. The boyfriend had moved in earlier this year, she said.

The neighbor, who has lived there for nine years, said she didn’t hear anything in the wee hours of the morning, but saw when police and an ambulance arrived with a stretcher about 7 a.m., as she was getting ready to take her kids to school.

“I never would have imagined what happened,” she said. “Nothing bad has ever happened here.”

Cabrera Ramirez had asked on Wednesday for a spare key for her boyfriend, who had previously requested one but didn’t get it because he wasn’t on the lease, Baum said. She declined to give a key for the same reason.

While tossing out trash Thursday, Baum bumped into Cabrera Ramirez as the woman was heading to her SUV.

“Everything seemed fine,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit. You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.