The spring began with promise. Lee and Dorothy Layton were about to launch their dream venture - a resort in the Ozarks - after four happy years living in the casbah of Rabat, Morocco.

"We had been apart only once before in our 19 years of marriage," says Layton, a 42-year-old American economics professor who had returned to the United States in April.His 39-year-old wife had stayed on to finish the year as a teacher in the Rabat American School. Friends and relatives described Dorothy Layton as dynamic and independent, a vivacious, pretty woman who had an "unquenchable joy and enthusiasm for life."

Their latest adventure was to be the resort, not far from the Missouri mountain country of his wife's childhood. Dorothy had intended to bring along a few students from her international school in June so they could see America. She never made it home.

On Saturday afternoon, June 3, Layton was on a water raft at their resort in Steelville, Mo., helping guests into canoes, when he got a message to call the State Department. The voice on the telephone told him his wife had been murdered around 2 that morning.

Layton raced to Morocco and into a nightmare of international intrigue and frustration as both the American and Moroccan government continue to battle over the right to try the murder case.

Today, several weeks later, as the complex international political and legal issues in this unusual case remain unresolved, Layton is a man obsessed. He has roamed from Rabat to Washington, appealing to everyone with any Possible influence - President Carter, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, congressmen, the military, the Moroccan ambassador and the royal family ("the nephew of the Moroccan King, Prince Moulay Hichim was one of my wife's most devoted pupils . . .") Layton slim and sandy-haired, intense and precise - pulls documents and articles from his briefcase and repeats his contention that "My wife's murder has become a pawn in a political chess game."

Layton has told his story so often that it is an unemotional, sing-song litany, the details have become so familiar they seem unreal. And in the account there weaves the thread that two of Dorothy Layton's chief attributes - her friendliness and confidence that she could "handle all situations" - may have been her undoing.

On the Sunday following the murder. Layton viewed his wife's body on the floor of a Rabat morgue. She had been beaten, stabbed at least twice and strangled.

Three pathologists who conducted an autopsy in her husband's home town of St. Louis, Mo., are "certain" Layton's wife - a petite woman of 5 feet 1 who weighed 110 pounds - "responded with forceful struggle." One fingernail was ripped nearly off and a large knife wound from the middle of the forehead extending to her nose was, the pathologists concluded, an "accidental wound from an attempt to deflect a knife aimed elsewhere." In all probability, they concluded, she also had been sexually as saulted, perhaps after death which had been caused by stabbing.

After Layton left the morgue, he went to their centuries-old home high on a cliff in the medieval walled section of the city. There was a splotch of blood on the wall leading up the stairs. In the bedroom with its magnificent view of the city, according to official reports, "blood had spattered on celling, walls and (there was) a massive amount of blood on windowsill and screen at head of the bed."

Layton himself repeats such details in an almost rote-like manner, but there is a lost in his blue eyes as he speaks of his guilt for having left her alone. "My wife loved the casbah, Morocco and its people, but at the same time, she was a bit fearful of staying there after I left." International Tug-of-War

Corp. Jerry D. Rousseau, a member of the Marine guards at the U.S. Embassy in Morocco, is being held at the U.S. consulate in Casablanca - the "sole suspect" in the case, according to State Department officials. Rousseau has not been formally charged with a crime. According to sources, U.S. Embassy officials in Morroco have said that Rousseau denied any involvement in the crime. His Marine lawyer and other Marine officials have refused to comment on the crime "because of the delicacy of the negotiations." The jurisdictional dispute remains unresolved.

State Department and Marine officials say that no action will be taken until completion of the Naval Investigative' Service (NIS) investigation. This has been complicated by the fact that the Moroccan government did not turn over some evidence to the NIS until nearly four weeks after the murder, according to government officials.

Meanwhile, the Moroccans want Rousseau for questioning but American officials refuse to comply until the juridictional question is resolved.

"The Moroccans are not relenting and neither are we," said one U.S. official.

The result hangs on an interpretation of the Vienna Convention treaty on diplomatic relations. Morocco did not sign a part of the treaty which provides diplomatic imunity for embassy staff and "support personnel" - a category that includes embassy Marine guards. (Nor is there a status of forces agreement with Morocco.)

The State Department, however, emphatically contends that "the corporal as a member of the administrative and technical staff of the embassy, enjoys absolute immunity from criminal jurisdiction" of Morocco and cites a similar case of a Marine guard in Egypt who was suspected of killing an Egyptian, was tried and convicted by his sentence. The Moroccans have not a military tribunal and is now serving yet responded to the American government's arguments.

As this jurisdictional Ping-Pong continues, Layton charges that "our government is impeding the investigation and using our consulate in Casablanca as a sanctuary for harboring a suspect sought by the Moroccan police. I want our government to cease pressuring the Moroccans to relinquish Rousseau. We were not a part of the official community, Dorothy was murdered on Moroccan soil I want the Moroccans to try the case because that's the only way I think justice will be served." (A convicted murderer would be executed in Morocco.) "I really fear that over here a psychiatric 'pat on the wrist' could be the only penalty if he is convicted.

"The NIS is not empowered to investigate anyone who is not in the Marines or Navy. If the murderer should turn out to be someone else, they are grossly impeding progress by not sharing their information with the broader authorities, the Moroccans." (Any American without diplomatic immunity would be tried by the Moroccans in such a case.)

The struggle comes at a time when the political and public mood is to narrow the definition of diplomatic immunity in the United States. One bill which passed the House and is now in the Senate would sharply tighten our archaic 1790 law that provides absolute diplomatic immunity for everyone from ambassadors to embassy cooks for unpaid bills, auto accidents or even murder. However, even with the new statue, "a Moroccan guard who [was suspected of killing] a Moroccan woman in this country, for example would have full criminal immunity," said Virginia Schlundt, counsel to the House Committee on International Relations. "We would be more generous on that than the Moroccans." The Crime

Layton complains that he has received little information from American authorities, "nor have I ever been asked any questions whatsoever - who knows my wife's habits better than me, or what possble murder weapon was around the house?"

Douglas J. Bennt Jr., assistant secretary of State for Congressional Relations responds. "Since the case against the Marine Corps corporal is largely circumstantial, it is our understanding that many of the facts regarding the death of Mrs. Layton are unknown at this time."

Witnesses have testified that Dorothy Layton met the Marine guard the previous Saturday when he and two other Marines were brought to the Layton's home by mutual friends. At that time, Dorothy arranged a blind date for Rousseau with a Skidmore college sophomore, Lisa Beamish, the stepdaughter of her landlord and neighbor, who was spending the summer in Rabat.

"The Laytons, as do many, many American families, had a sort of open house for the Marines," said Lisa's mother, Susan Beamish, in a telephone interview from Rabat. "Dottie was very trusting, tremendously kind and the most helpful person in the world. She always gave everyone the benefit of the doubt and felt there was a solution to anyone's behavior," said Susan Beamish.

"Rousseau brought Lisa back about 12:45 a.m., leaving the driver at the main street of the casbah and the door of her garden," her mother recounts. "Lisa said she didn't like him particularly: that he seem boastful and had been drinking heavily. Several people at the party (Beamish and Rosseau atteded) testified he had been drinking quite a lot. He told her he resented being considered a Marine and wanted to study psychiatry."

Beamish said her daughter had gone to bed, "when she heard a noise of something scotting over the roof (the complex of houses are all attached with low slopeing roofs) and then this figure dropped down by Lisa's window." Lisa screamed and some Moroccan neighbors and Dorothy Layton came out. "They found the Marine crouched by the garden door leading to the Layton's. He said that his driver had left and he was coming back to use a phone. Dottie took him in to phone and to give him some coffee. A few minutes later, Dottie tapped on Lisa's garden door and said, 'I have a very fightened young man who wants to apologize for causing so much trouble,'" said Beamish. "Lisa testified that she then said. 'What are you going to do about the car?' and Dottie added that they were ringing the (chauffeur) number and would keep trying. That was the last anyone heard from Dottie."

The next morning, the Moroccan maid became disturbed when there was no response or noise upstairs, and called the landlord, a retired physician who notified authorities, according to official reports.

"I came in then and noticed a mug of instant black coffee, untouched, with the spoon in it. Upstairs was horrible, simply horrible," said Beamish.

Layton had a copy of what appear to be an official report filed shortly after the murder. Layton says the report was given to him by a friend in the government whom he declines to identify. It stated that several pieces of wearing apparel, including a man's bloodied dress shirt and a man's leather necklance were taken from the immediate scene of the crime. "Several associates and the stepdaughter [Lisa Beamish] have identified it [the necklace] as belonging to subject - and having been worn by him on evening of 06-02-78 . . . Body was found nude, on back, appeared to have been washed after death. Head and hair appeared wet and stringy when first found. Two pieces p.j. set in tub, top in good shape, except one button missing. Bottoms ripped up and twisted . . ."

Another part of the report states. "Police have seized bloody clothes belonging to Rousseau and Rousseau is missing, as is Layton's vehicle." Rousseau was missing for five days. A detail of Marines was "standing by to return Rousseau to the embassy should Rousseau be arrested by the local police."

He turned himself over to the Marines. States Department officials said.

In Rabat, Layton pressed embassy and Navy officials for deatail. Robert H. Clarke, a political science professor at City College in Chicago, and a friend of Layton accompanied him to the embassy and took notes. "They were very tight-lipped and all they said was Rousseau has turned himself in.' When he was pressed, a Jack Kennedy (an NIS investigative agent) said. 'I'll simply tell you he denied everything and asked for a lawyer.'" said Clarke.

Rousseau's lawyer. Capt. Michael Osajda on the judge advocate staff at Marine headquarters at Quantico, said he would not comment on Rousseau's denial nor any other aspects or to contact Rousseau. The Marine

Jerry Rousseau's father, Edward Rousseau, lives 28 miles outside his son's birthplace. Farmington N.M. His home is across from the the reservation and Indian school where he works as an instructional aid, "helping the children with their daily chores."

Rousseau is as anxious and worried as is Layton. "The Marines told me not to say anything, but I don't have anything to tell. I'm just like everyone else, waiting to see what is going to happen. All I've heard is they're trying to get him released to the United States," he said in a telephone interview. "They said the Moroccan government wanted him but they didn't intend to hand him over. As far as I'm concerned, Jerry couldn't do something like this, no ma'am. I know darn well he couldn't. He wouldn't hurt a fly. He was always real kind to animals."

Rousseau's parents were divorced when he was young and his father is again divorced from the stepmother who raised Jerry. A relative said Rousseau was "very attached" to his stepmother.

Reusseau spent time in Sacramepto, Calif., attended high school there, did not graduate but passed his GED (general educational development test) his father said.

Rousseau, who is part Sioux, is described by relatives at tall, with broad shoulders and sandy hair. "He was athletic, played a lot of roller hockey in California," his father said.

He joined the Marines in 1976. Contrary to the story Layton said Lisa Beamish told Layton, his father found Rousseau "very proud to be a Marine. Mv brother Dale was in the Marines and talkd to him a lot about it. He was very happy when he got the embassy position."

Edward Rousseau said he knew of no psychiatric problems. "I never had any trouble with him at all. The Marines never said anything about having problems with him either and you know how the Marines are. They'd check you out good for something like that particularly for that job of his, which took the cream of the crop. He was the last one seen with her, so naturally anyone like that would be a suspect - but I can tell you, that just couldn't be Jerry." The Marriage

The Laytos are described by friends as having a perfect marriage. Dorothy J. Newbury, a professor emeritus at Cornell College in Iowa, where both Laytons taught, wrote in the Cedar Rapids Gazatte after Layton's death: "Life to Dorothy was a social occasion. She served 'scores' at her Thanksgiving dinner. You always met new people at teh Laytons . . . Faculty, town folk, friends, former students and colleagues, relatives from far and near soon knew their way to the Layton's apartment. Lee and Dorothy never met a stranger."

As a teacher, Dorothy was "forever trying new ideas. She was the first to use simulation games as a means of developing insight into the origins and evils of prejudice. Five years before other educators were holding conferences on the subject, Dorothy was 'humanizing' education . . ."

Dorothy Layton grew up in Cuba, Mo. Hers was a poor, rural existence. "She went to college against the wishes of her parents," said her husband. "They were afraid it would change her, which, of course, it did."

She met Layton shortly after high school at a summer resort in the Ozarks. Had she not been murdered, their life would have come full circle this summer.

They married when she was 20 and together attended the University of Minnesota. She received a master's degree in education and Lee a doctor of philosophy in economics. In 1964 they began their college teaching careers in Iowa, first at Cornell, then Coe College. Four years ago, she took the teaching post at Rabat.

"Dorothy's was the principle job," says Layton, who taught some economics to Amercians there but mostly slaved on a novel - writing in the huge bedroom with it's view of Rabat and the river. The novel is completed but he has no interest in getting it published now.

Layton tortures himself with questions that will never have any answers about his wife's last moments; whether she could have said anything to enrage her murderer.

"She was engaging and outgoing but also capable of becoming angry and insulting. She was direct and honest. Someone could be talking about transcendental meditation, for example, and she would say 'that's the biggest crock of bull s-. We're trying to educate kids and they come along with this gibberish.' If I talked like that I'd never be allowed back in someone's house house, but Dorothy was loved for her honesty."

The Layton's chief pleasure was traveling - always adventruously. On a homemade pontoon raft, they poled and piloted down the Mississippi, they drove the Latin American highway to the tip of South America; drove the length of Africa; drove through the Middle East - Afghanistan to India and Nepal. One year they rented a houseboat and traveled the interior canals of France. Christmas was always spent in London going to plays and pubs. Dorothy Layton steeped herself in Morocean history and the casbah; she took her students on trips to the Phoenician ruins two miles from the school.

"We had no children by choice," Lee Layton says, "we were always so close, we did everything together. She was going to have a major role at the resort. She was the greeter, not me. I tend to be cynical and gloomy and expect the worst and am pleased when it doesn't happen. She was always cheerful and optimistic and believed in the best. I depended on her for much of my enthusiasms for life. And though she was independent, she depended on me . . . for my ability to accomplish things, to get things done. I feel very guilty having left her.

"We shared so much together, went to so many places together - London, Paris, Rome, Bangkok . . . There is no places to escpae to.

The tears finally to his eyes. In his hands, he holds his wife passport. Her hazel eyes smile out from the picture . . . Dorothy Elain Layton . . . born Dec. 29, 1938, deceased June 3, 1978. It is stamped "cancelled."