Virginia State Police are searching for a 23-year-old Southwest Virginia man wanted in the slaying of two Roanoke women and the shooting of two of their acquaintances in May 1989.

The man, identified as Thomas Manuel Paige Jr., was last seen this year in the 16th Street corridor of Northwest Washington, State Police said yesterday.

Paige has been indicted on two counts of capital murder and two counts of malicious wounding in what police called one of the most violent and cold-blooded multiple homicides in recent times. Paige also faces four firearms charges.

"Obviously he's quite dangerous," said Sgt. A.S. Smith of the Roanoke Police Department. "Capital murder is an offense that he could {get} the electric chair for. He's not going to want to be caught."

Under state law, the killing of more than one person in one place is grounds for a capital murder charge.

Police suspect the shooting occurred after a dispute over cocaine. The incident left Debra Jean Salter, 31, and her roommate, Sylvia Laverne Baker, 19, dead in their Northwest Roanoke apartment. Also wounded were Joyce Laverne Washington, 26, and Wilfred L. Branch, 41.

Investigators said that on May 27, 1989, an argument erupted in Salter's apartment about 6:30 a.m. They believe the suspect pulled out a .32-caliber handgun and shot Baker in the head at close range. The suspect then shot Salter in the head, police said.

Branch and Washington were in another room. Branch began struggling with the suspect and was shot at least three times in the abdomen and the left shoulder, they said. Washington was shot in the hand.

State Police are asking that anyone with information on Paige call (703) 323-4500.