WASHINGTON — Catherine Fuller's life ended as the sun was setting on Oct. 1, 1984. As she walked home from a grocery store, a group of young toughs followed her. They murdered her in a garage. The crime attracted scant notice.
The police arrested a suspect three days later, one more on Nov. 29, two on Dec. 4, five on Dec. 9 and, intermittently, more suspects as the investigation continued.
The last arrest was May 22.
Sixteen young men, ages ranging from 17 to 22, stand accused of felony murder--a slaying that occurs in the commission of a felony, in this case robbery.
"To the best of my knowledge, it is the largest number of arrests in a single homicide in the city's history," said Lt. William White III, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department.
"She's got big money; let's get paid," one of her alleged assailants was overheard saying, according to affidavits filed in Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
Catherine Fuller, 49, described by her husband, David Fuller, as just a slip of a woman who "weighed 100 pounds soaking wet," was forced into an alley, hit on the head, repeatedly kicked as she lay on the ground and then dragged inside a garage, the affidavits state.
The victim died of "blunt force trauma," according to the D.C. medical examiner's report.
After the attack, the men divided up Mrs. Fuller's money and jewelry and fled.
Deputy Police Chief Alfonso Gibson called it "probably one of the most brutal murders that ever took place in Washington."
All 16 suspects have pleaded innocent; most are being held without bail, authorities said.
Randy Teslik, chief of the grand jury section of D.C. Superior Court, said the grand jury may indict at least one of the suspects within the next few weeks. It would be a "procedural indictment" executed to meet a District of Columbia requirement that a grand jury return an indictment within nine months of an arrest, Teslik said.
In the neighborhood where Fuller was slain, boarded-up buildings line H Street near 8th Street N.E. Struggling businesses protect themselves against crime by barricading their windows with heavy metal bars and restless youths congregate on the street corners.
Police investigators have identified some of the suspects as members of a loosely organized gang called the 8th and H Street Crew, named for the group's gathering place.
David Fuller, 17, the victim's son, said he was familiar with some gang members and used to play basketball with one of the suspects.
His 52-year-old father has been supporting the couple's three children on his pension. He says he can't figure out why anyone would want to kill his wife, who had three other children by a previous marriage. They did not live at home.
Neighbors said Mrs. Fuller would lend them money or buy groceries for them when they were short of cash.
"She was friendly with everybody around here," said the senior Fuller, who retired in 1981 after suffering a back injury. "I've been in Washington all my life and this is the worst crime I've ever seen."