SACRAMENTO — The 3-year-old son of a man suspected of killing his pregnant wife and four relatives was found dead in a cardboard box Tuesday, confirming the fears of authorities who were led to the body by a note found in the suspect's car.
The body of young Sergey Soltys was found in a large carton beneath a light tower in a rural area about 15 miles north of the capital. Authorities said the toddler appeared to have been bludgeoned to death.
Investigators were still searching for Nikolay Soltys, a Ukrainian immigrant who is suspected of killing his wife Monday morning in the couple's home in a Sacramento suburb and then driving to a duplex 20 minutes away and stabbing his aunt, uncle and two young cousins.
"This is probably the most distressing of all," said a clearly saddened Sgt. James Lewis of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department. "There was a great deal of hope throughout the department that this child would be found safe and sound."
Authorities stepped up the nationwide search for Soltys, who reportedly has a history of domestic abuse and mental illness, even as they pounded the pavement in the county's checkerboard of Russian and Ukrainian neighborhoods. The county offered a $10,000 reward and spread the word in multilingual fliers distributed throughout the area and on a Russian-language TV station.
The focus remained on an enclave of apartment buildings near a home improvement store in suburban Citrus Heights, where Soltys' silver Nissan Altima was found abandoned late Monday.
Tucked in the car's map pouch was a smiling picture of the man's wife, Lyubov, 22, holding a then-infant Sergey in a blue jumper and black tennis shoes. On the back of the picture, scrawled in Ukrainian, were directions that yielded the first big break in the case.
In a few short words, the note suggested that the boy could be found in a box at the end of Watt Avenue, a busy northbound thoroughfare cutting through the heart of Sacramento County. The box, the note said, was near a tower on top of some trash. Authorities rushed to the spot early Tuesday morning and conducted a search, but found nothing.
Investigators took the note to Soltys' mother, who lives in Citrus Heights. She said the handwriting was her son's, prompting police to broaden the search into neighboring Placer County.
Authorities initially hoped the boy might be found alive. "There was nothing in the wording to suggest he was not alive," Lewis said. They searched frantically, but could find nothing at the location described in the note.
But at 4 p.m., searchers found the box with the body inside. It was about a mile from the location described in the note, in a field just east of Roseville. Big enough to hold a 36-inch TV, the box had no lid. The body, Lewis said, was covered in blood.
"He was such a sweet little baby, with such a cute little face," said Olga Kopets, a neighbor of Soltys in North Highlands. "Everyone loved him. He always asked for me candy. One day when I was washing my car, he turned on the hose and started washing his toy car.
"It is so, so sad. This man, he must be crazy, to kill his own son."
Authorities are unsure whether Soltys remains in the area. They believe that he has no friends who would harbor him. Law officers canvassed bus stations and combed the Sacramento airport, and asked federal officials to revoke his passport so he could not flee overseas.
Soltys' car was found a couple of blocks from Interstate 80, raising the possibility that he might have fled by hitchhiking.
In addition to his son's death, Soltys is suspected in the slayings of his wife; an uncle, Petr Kukharskiy, 75, and aunt, Galina Kukharskaya, 74; and their two grandchildren, Dimitriy Kukharskiy, and Tatyana Kukharskaya, both 9. The children were cousins.
Lewis said the possibility of further violence cannot be ruled out, "which is why we want to get this guy off the street."
Authorities have not yet determined the time of the 3-year-old's death, but they suspect that he died several hours before Soltys' car was discovered about 10:30 p.m. Monday. The car was cool to the touch, Lewis said, as if it had been sitting for some time.
Earlier in the day, the child had been with Soltys' mother.
The first killing took place at the couple's house in North Highlands. Soltys' wife struggled to a neighbor's home with a slash wound to her throat. Witnesses said her husband pursued her, stabbing her as she tried to escape. Others said they saw him leaving in his car.
About 20 miles away in Rancho Cordova, family members say, Soltys arrived and children--including Tatyana and Dimitriy--rushed up to greet him as they always did. They say he stabbed Dimitriy and then slashed at Tatyana as she tried to protect her cousin.
As other children in the family scattered, their screams echoing through the leafy neighborhood of worn-paint duplexes, Soltys entered the duplex. The elderly couple were later found dead inside.