Victim identified

WESTFIELD – The murder of Titus Road resident Mary E. Whitaker is the second homicide of 2014 to send a wave of shock throughout the community.

On Thursday, Chautauqua County Sheriff’s deputies continued to guard the caution-taped residence where the body of the 61-year-old woman was found a day earlier.

Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace said the victim was identified as Whitaker after an autopsy on Thursday afternoon. The cause of death was ruled a homicide by an apparent gunshot wound.

He could not comment on potential suspects.

After a scanner report around 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday called officers to the home, located in the town of Westfield, another report dispatched officers to search for a vehicle possibly involved in the crime.

By Wednesday night, after blocking off Titus Road at both ends, officers notified neighbors that they were not in danger. On Thursday afternoon, Gerace said sheriff’s deputies were no longer searching for the vehicle.

The one-story ranch at 8448 Titus Road was occupied solely by the victim, who was also a resident of New York City. Whitaker is listed on the Chautauqua Institution website as a violinist for the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.

Details of the homicide have been limited.

Gerace said an interview with a friend of the victim was conducted to determine if Whitaker had family in the area.

He added that sheriff’s deputies were assisted by the FBI and New York State Police in the investigation and that officers would remain on the scene until further notice.

“We will hold the scene. We have to regroup and get fresh people there and we’ll continue our crime scene searches until we believe we’ve obtained every piece of evidence possible, and then we’ll release the house,” Gerace said.

While violent crimes are rare in the tight-knit communities of Chautauqua County, the murder of Whitaker is the second homicide case of 2014 after the death of 16-month-old Nayla J. Hodnett, who was beaten to death at a Newland Avenue residence on April 17.

Hodnett’s killer still has yet to be charged.

The April 2013 double homicide of Gordon and Joyce Skinner in the town of Carroll devastated residents. The murders of Keith Reed Jr. in September 2012 and the Frank T. Slate murder in Fredonia in September 2012 were other recent homicides.