GENEVA, N.Y. - A year after a pregnant teenager was repeatedly stabbed in her home, the hunt for her missing boyfriend took a startling twist this spring when a size-13 sneaker with a fish-nibbled foot inside washed up on the nearby shore of Seneca Lake.
The next day, a badly decomposed body with missing limbs was spotted 14 miles away bobbing in weeds near the fiordlike lake's midway point in central New York's wine country.
Police now suspect fugitive Alfonso Whitfield Jr., 26, whose remains were recently identified, drowned in a rain-swollen creek that bisects this small Finger Lakes city as he scrambled to evade police minutes after Mercedes McIntosh was attacked on April 6, 2009.
McIntosh, 19, was stabbed and slashed 22 times in the apartment the couple shared with their infant son, but still managed to call 9-1-1. Patrol cars and an ambulance showed up "within a minute or two but he must have got by us," Geneva police Chief Frank Pane said.
Still conscious despite heavy loss of blood - one lunge at her throat narrowly missed her jugular - McIntosh identified the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Whitfield as her attacker. She was four months' pregnant and miscarried the next day. But over the next week, she made a gradual recovery while in intensive care.
Neighbors had seen Whitfield fleeing the house down an adjoining street that skirts Castle Creek, a meandering and typically shallow waterway he'd been seen hopping across on previous occasions. After days of spring downpours, however, the creek had turned into a 10-foot-deep torrent.
"It was snowfall mixed with rain that day," said Detective Greg Bendzlowicz. "We know he left in only jeans, a hooded sweat shirt and sneakers, and no other form of identification. If he did in fact attempt to cross, he would have jumped into some extremely cold water that was moving extremely quickly."
A warrant was issued charging Whitfield with attempted murder. But after an air-and-ground search and weeks of interviews with relatives, friends and potential informants in this city of 13,000 residents, hot pursuit turned into a languid summer slog.
In her frustration, McIntosh began distributing Western-style "Wanted: $1,000 Reward" posters. In October, the case was featured on "America's Most Wanted," generating dozens of reported sightings from Florida and Alabama to Texas and Tennessee.
A rebroadcast in January brought another flurry of tips, but nothing checked out. Then on April 1, hotel guests made a grisly find while strolling along the lake shore near the creek. Judging by the size of the blue sneaker - it matched McIntosh's description - police knew it had to be Whitfield's.
When the body with its limbs ripped off turned up April 2 near the village of Dresden, its severe decay suggested long submersion in the lake, said Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike. "You had decomposition, you had fish, some wave action - maybe the body was stuck under a dock or up against rocks," he said.
Police said the unemployed Whitfield, who had a history of abusing McIntosh, attacked her when they quarreled over his use of her ATM card as she got ready to go to work at an assisted living center.
A state crime laboratory positively identified the remains as Whitfield's using a DNA sample from his son. Still grappling with last week's disclosure, McIntosh couldn't express how she felt. "It's still kind of new to me," she said.
Pane, the police chief, wished Whitfield had instead been caught and convicted.
"I don't want to see anybody that young lose their life," he said. "Maybe he'd do a few years in jail and someday come out and contribute to society. But it didn't work out that way. It's a tragedy. His son lost a father."