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A SECRET DATE WITH DEATH

Sometime after 4 a.m., young Jeffrey McIntosh awoke in a Cadillac inside his parents' garage. His parents were there, too. There was a hose in the window. Blue fumes were filling the car.

"And for all of his 8 years he knew what was going on," his father wrote. "He begged us to stop and we did. It was the most awful day of our lives . . ."

That day was Jan. 8. For two months, life went on at a $350,000 lakefront home in West Palm Beach. Then, around 3 a.m. Monday, Jeffrey's parents tried again.

In her last moments, Marcia McIntosh clutched a bouquet of roses. Bob McIntosh, despondent over making and losing a fortune, clutched a handgun. He shot his son and wife twice _ once in the head, once in the heart _ then killed himself.

Their bodies were found later Monday morning. The story of an 8-year-old boy who begged in vain for life was found in the letters they left for police, relatives and their local newspaper, the Palm Beach Post.

They included a set of family photos.

Bob and Marcia McIntosh labeled items throughout their house with yellow Post-Its, naming the friend or relative who would inherit each thing. She wrote a letter that tried to explain why they were about to kill a son they loved. He wrote a five-page suicide letter revealing how Jeffrey had stopped them in January.

"We all went upstairs to bed and Jeffrey managed to go back to sleep for four hours," the father wrote in a letter police found Monday.

"He missed school that day, the only day he has missed all year. He has never said a word about that day since."

Neighbors in their small, gated community were stunned to learn that Jeffrey previously had talked his parents out of killing him and themselves.

Jeffrey "absolutely never" mentioned it, said Lynette Ostrander, a neighbor whose son was the McIntosh family's babysitter. "It's mind-boggling, because you think you know people."

Robert H. McIntosh and Marcia Ann Plunkett were married 15 years ago on Valentine's Day. He was 57 then, and starting his third marriage. She was 34.

In West Palm Beach they lived at The Land of the Presidents, a subdivision on a sailboating lake near the Montreal Expos spring training stadium.

In his suicide letter, McIntosh left a detailed description of his family's financial problems and his own struggles with alcoholism.

He had made a fortune in the 1960s in Toronto real estate. In the 1970s his Florida company, Robert McIntosh Holdings Inc., had built a 600-home development called Counterpoint Estates in Royal Palm Beach. In the 1980s his family real estate empire was hit hard by the savings and loan crisis. Ultimately, he blamed his declining fortunes on his eldest son, Robert A. McIntosh, whom he accused of cutting him out of the family business in 1990.

Jan. 8 was his eldest son's birthday, police said.

Before they died Monday, Bob and Marcia McIntosh made detailed preparations. They meticulously gave away their belongings with a houseful of Post-It notes. They left a note on their door advising the pool maintenance man who came on Mondays to call 911. On their kitchen counter, they left police the names and telephone numbers of friends and relatives.

They gathered photos for the newspaper story. There was one of little Jeffrey smiling at his first communion. And one of Jeffrey's mother hugging him at a hockey game. And one of Jeffrey with his dad last Father's Day.

Marcia McIntosh left a letter saying they didn't want Jeffrey to be a burden for anyone.

"This is not easy for me to write! I have been sick to my stomach for months, waking up and going to sleep with the thought of what was to happen on March 17!" she wrote.

"There has been such a great love and dependency between Bob, Jeffrey and I that Bob and I saw no way to leave Jeffrey behind as a financial burden upon another. How could Jeffrey live a normal life with the thought of his parents killing themselves? How could he go on to live a normal life for himself or for the one who would raise him?"

Police found the body of Jeffrey McIntosh, 8, in his bed. His mother, 49, was beside him. His father, 72, was in an armchair nearby.

West Palm Beach Police Capt. Michael McClure said the hardest part of this case was calling the relatives _ and thinking about a boy who lived his last two months with a terrible secret.

He presumes Jeffrey's parents chose again to die at an hour when he would be sleeping. "I hope to think the child didn't know what was happening," he said.

They did not think to disconnect their telephone answering machine. Jeffrey's polite voice still answers it.

"Hello, please leave your name and phone number and we will call you back. Thank you," he says.

_ Compiled by Times staff writer David Olinger from information from the Palm Beach Post and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

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