A chill rain was falling hard that morning, and by week's end the snow would come, and it would be the blizzard that most people would remember, not the murder. The house where it happened sits in an affluent enclave of Reston, virtually indistinguishable in its beige understatement from the dozen or so other homes clustered along Woodstock Lane, all contemporaries, with skylights carved in the cathedral ceilings and fenceless back yards bordering a small forest, where there murmurs a hidden stream. Bob and Connie Hiner lived in the first house, on the corner, which they had bought after much debate not long after marrying just 16 months earlier on a Hawaiian beach, Connie in her ivory sundress and Bob in his aloha shirt. They were quiet people who stayed pretty much to themselves, except for a polite wave now and then from the mailbox or the driveway that they shared with the next-door neighbors. That Christmas, the house had been bustling with relatives, but now, on this second day of 1996, it stood silent. The Hiners were both high-powered executives in the field of property management, an attractive couple with a Mercedes in the garage and a home gym in their finished basement. They wore clothes selected by a personal shopper and sought career advice from private coaches. Connie had taken a sabbatical for much of the previous year, doing some consulting work now and then, but mostly spending her time decorating the new house, reading books, and trying to figure out just who she was, and more importantly, who she wanted to become. She had just celebrated her 48th birthday. At least part of her future was happily resolved: On this otherwise dreary Tuesday, Connie was supposed to start work as chief operating officer of a real estate trust in Ohio. She would have to fly back and forth each week, but the commute was well worth it -- this was her dream job, she would have a chance to run a company for the first time, and the contract would make her a millionaire. Her suitcases were already packed. Bob left for work, as usual, around 7:10 that morning. Connie, he would recall, wanted to sleep just a little longer. The cabdriver rang the doorbell twice at 8 a.m. There was no answer, and he could hear no one stirring inside. He used his car phone to call the Hiners' number, but got only voice mail. He left a message, and waited out front a while longer before driving away, slightly annoyed to think Connie must have gotten another ride without bothering to cancel the reservation. When Bob Hiner came home for lunch that noon, he found his wife's body on the blood-soaked carpet of the master bedroom. On the evening news, they showed the yellow police tape outside the house and the shrouded gurney being bundled into an ambulance, and it was reported that the first murder of the year in Fairfax County had just happened here, on Woodstock Lane, where things like this were not supposed to happen. A worried neighbor provided a sound bite, expressing hope that the killer would prove to be someone close to the victim, that this wouldn't turn out to be a random crime, because if it were, how could anyone feel safe? Connie Hiner used to joke that she had never had an original thought until she left her native Louisville, where she was the youngest daughter of a used-car lot owner and his homemaker wife. She married a local boy just out of high school, but it quickly ended in divorce, and by the time she was 21 she was married again, living in Bethesda and expecting her first child. The pictures her friend Evie Ciuchta has from that time show a petite blonde with wide, inquisitive green eyes. Evie lived in the house behind Connie, was one month older and six months more pregnant, and the two became fast friends. Their social group centered on the Young Republicans, which made them something of a paradox among their peers in those rebellious anti-establishment years, and though they did in fact pass around some leaflets, Evie recalls, they were far more interested in the pizza parties than the politics. Connie back then was the quiet one. Not long after her only child, Brittany, was born, Connie's second marriage unraveled, leaving her with little money, a high school degree and a secretarial job. Moonlighting sometimes as a barmaid, Connie got a real estate license, then put herself through school to earn an accounting degree and later an MBA. Despite the struggle, she wasn't one to complain or ask for help; friends usually found out about a crisis in Connie's life only after she had worked it through on her own and had some decision to announce. Connie was always the listener, the keen observer. Her blunt manner and swift wit might be intimidating to those who didn't know her well, but family and friends relied on her unflinching pragmatism. "She could pull laughter out of bad," recalls Barbara Hagen Cupps, an old friend. "A hysterectomy? Good way to lose weight, and she'd get to stay home for six weeks and read." She dated now and then, and at one point had a live-in boyfriend who came with a huge gray cat, even though Connie hated cats, but in the end, it was the man who had to leave and the cat that got to stay. "He's a dog," Connie declared to bemused friends. With the same sardonic grin, she would decree that she was 5-foot-8, and would no longer be dealing with the slights that come with being 5-foot-3. Trying to forge a career in a male-dominated business world, she was only half-kidding. In 1983, Connie was hired by the National Housing Partnership, which had been chartered under federal statute during the Johnson administration to develop and operate low-income housing. Dressed for success in drab, mannish suits with prim little ties around her neck, Connie climbed through the ranks of NHP's property management operation, which oversaw thousands of public housing units, until she became senior vice president of finance. Her personal life was changing, as well. She had begun dating her friend Barbara's younger brother, Richard Hagen, and in the fall of 1982 they were married. Connie's rocky romantic history embarrassed her so much that even her own daughter -- by then a teenager -- didn't realize this was the third time until Connie's mother let it slip on the wedding day. Dick Hagen, in a restaurant not far from the house they once filled with antiques in rural Gaithersburg, fights back tears when he talks of his ex-wife. Connie loved wearing his old T-shirts, he says, and she was the queen of one-liners. "She could zing you. She liked to make people laugh." He shakes his head, squeezes his eyes shut in painful admonishment. "God, that sounds corny." "What happened to her is not going to be altered by whatever follows," he says. "You know, we all invent our own truths to some degree." When police asked to talk to him soon after Connie's death, Dick said, of course, then realized with dread what that really meant. "I was being looked at as a candidate for suspecthood. I was a good suspect: the ex-husband. I lived alone. I had no alibi. I was alone in my truck driving to work that morning; no one would remember seeing me." He told the detectives how much he had loved Connie, what a wonderful woman she had been. The police focus soon shifted elsewhere. They were opposites in many ways: Dick loved to ride horses, while Connie preferred to hug them and feed them graham crackers. He was philosophical; she wanted answers, not questions. "She was a black-and-white person," he says. "If she took a survey of her opinions on something, she'd have all ones and twos and nines and tens. Things appeared to her very clearly. One of her growths was that she was starting to appreciate shades of gray." At work, Connie was trying to learn how to be assertive without alienating people. She and Dick concluded that her style was the result of growing up in an era when girls didn't play team sports. "She didn't know how to win gracefully," Dick remembers. "She'd be in the meeting and make her point and wouldn't let up, give others a way out. She didn't understand that people's personalities are tied to their ideas." In 1990, a new vice president joined the NHP ranks, occupying a seat of power parallel to Connie's. John Robert Hiner was a former artillery officer in the Marine Corps who had an MBA and a degree in civil engineering. Married to his second wife, and the father of a young son, Bob Hiner ran NHP's field offices in 40 states, spending a good deal of time on the road. The son of a railroad man, he had moved often in his childhood. As an adult, he was considered a loner, not the kind of man to cultivate either back-slapping golf buddies or close friendships. Like Connie, he was deeply private. Connie fell into the habit of eating lunch with Bob Hiner and another colleague, and she clearly admired Bob's ambition and sense of quiet authority. Things at home weren't going so well anymore. After nearly nine years together, she and Dick still seemed happily married on the surface, but Connie, true to form, was keeping her troubles to herself. Dick had lost his job when the bottom fell out of the commercial real estate market, and after five months he hadn't shown much motivation to find anything new. Exactly when Connie and Bob began having an affair isn't clear; it was so discreet that even the third person at the lunch table didn't realize it until both had left their spouses and gone public. Brittany, away at college, came home to find her mother divorcing again -- no discussion, no drama. Connie's three dearest friends found out as the four women, including Dick's sister Barbara, drove to Cape May, N.J., for their annual week at the beach, and Connie, in the back seat, calmly announced, "I'm leaving." Hearing the news on a visit from Kentucky, Connie's mother teased her at the movies one afternoon, "Have you got another husband lined up?" Yes, Connie replied, as a matter of fact, she did. Dick Hagen says he was just as surprised as everyone else, and devastated. "It was a done deal before I knew it," he recounts. "I never understood." She told him she had developed feelings for someone else, but stressed that this was something she was doing for herself, that it was time to move on. Dick implored her for another chance, offering to go to counseling, but she was firm. They sold the antiques at a yard sale. Three years later, in 1994, Dick was dismayed to find a letter from Connie in his mailbox. She was in the process of transforming her life, she explained, and she wanted to repair the damage she had done. "I see now I avoid intimacy in order to avoid getting hurt," she wrote. She thanked him for what she called his greatest gift of love: letting her go. Dick called her, and they met for lunch downtown at Vidalia, lovers and strangers, distant yet intimate. Their conversation was delicate; both had moved on. "She told me if she could've gotten through that summer, we'd be married to this day," Dick recalls, his voice catching as he completes the thought. "Then she would still be alive." The transformation Connie had mentioned was the beginning of an intense relationship with an organization known as Landmark Education Corp., which was a somewhat kinder and gentler reincarnation of the controversial 1970s self-discovery movement known as est. Landmark drew a diverse mix of humanity into its fold, from dynamic, classic overachievers to fragile, chronic misfits. Connie embraced Landmark's abstruse philosophy. The concentric circles in her life now meant hosting an elegant dinner party for power executives on one hand, then spending hours on the phone trying to motivate someone whose business card read "angel healings" on the other. Dick Hagen stayed in sporadic touch with Connie after their Vidalia reunion, and when his father died just before Christmas 1995, Connie went to the funeral. Bob wasn't there, but Dick met his former rival just two weeks later, at Connie's own wake. "Either he was the bereaved husband suspected falsely of murdering his wife, or he had just committed this heinous crime and was going to have to carry off this act for the rest of his life," Dick concluded. "Either way, I pitied him immensely." More than two years have gone by since Connie Hiner's death, and Fairfax County has logged another 30 murder cases. Hers is one of a scant handful that remain open, a box stuffed full of notes on a detective's shelf, a mystery unsolved. The search for truth obsesses some, infuriates others. In death, she would have what she had so hungrily sought in life: a profound impact on her community, a mosaic of family, friends, acquaintances and strangers. Ultimately they would be united only by her loss. When homicide detectives arrived at Woodstock Lane that afternoon, they found Connie Hiner face-down alongside the bed, her blood seeping through the floorboards into the basement below. There was no evidence of forced entry, and nothing had been taken. Her purse was there, her Honda Accord was in the garage, her suitcases were still packed and waiting. The house had not been ransacked. Despite the heavy rain, no wet leaves or mud or grass appeared to have been tracked inside. Connie was naked, but an autopsy would show no signs of sexual assault. She had been bludgeoned and stabbed -- attacked, police believe, while she slept. "This was a crime of passion," says Detective Dick Cline, the primary investigator on the case and an 18-year veteran of the Fairfax County Police Department. "It was not your random burglary or execution or robbery. This appeared to be personal. Whoever did this was very, very angry. No doubt about it." Bob Hiner didn't seem angry or tense. To the contrary, investigators would find him quite calm and controlled. "Businesslike," Dick Cline sums up. They took him to a nearby police substation to wait while the crime-scene team scoured the property for evidence, searching her computer and address book, scooping fresh ashes from the living room fireplace, dusting for fingerprints, snapping pictures of Connie's body. In all, there were nine detectives, a forensics expert, a photographer and several patrol officers swarming the scene. Not many people emerged from their beige houses to see what was going on; there was no gawking crowd. "In that part of town," the supervising lieutenant later explained, "most everybody kind of keeps to themselves." At the police station, Bob Hiner, a balding and lanky 44-year-old, was polite but unable to provide any leads the detectives considered promising. Why would anyone want to kill your wife? he was asked. Bob paused a moment before answering. "It's a Washington thing. Just crime in general." Of the dozen or so murders Fairfax County averages each year, roughly half prove to be domestic. Bob Hiner's cool demeanor gave the detectives pause. Did you for any reason cause her death? they asked him. The question was phrased purposefully -- passive, not an accusation, open to any scenario, any mitigating factors. Bob didn't waver -- and hasn't since: No, he did not kill Connie. Would he be willing to take a polygraph? According to Cline, the response, initially, was yes. At NHP, colleagues were starting to wonder where Bob was. His house was just a few minutes from the Reston office, but hours had passed since he went home for lunch. Now a television station was on the line, seeking comment about the murder of Connie Hiner. Bob called shortly thereafter from the police station. Several colleagues, including two lawyers, gathered his belongings and raced over. In California, 26-year-old Brittany Mason was at work when someone called and asked for her boyfriend, who worked at the same firm. He took the receiver, and after a moment, she heard him say, "Oh, hello Bob." And then, "Bob needs to tell you something." In Louisville, Connie's older sister, Dee Dee, received a frantic call from a niece in Virginia, who had just recognized Connie's house on the 5 o'clock news. Connie's mother tracked down her son-in-law at the police station. He offered her no details, she recalls, "just gave me the bare facts." She wondered when, or if, he had planned on telling her that her baby was dead. At home in the pale-blue family room in Gaithersburg, where Connie Hiner had been laughing at a party just the night before, Evie Ciuchta was watching the same newscast. "I saw them wheeling a body out of a house and they showed the street sign that said Woodstock Lane, and people coming out of the house, and someone was saying a 48-year-old woman had been murdered." Evie began to scream. Never charged, never placed in custody, never read his Miranda rights, Bob Hiner was not officially a suspect. In police parlance, he was considered then and remains now "a person of interest." A shade of infinite gray. That same day, he retained Fairfax defense attorney Peter Greenspun, who says Bob is an innocent man who was devastated by Connie's death, however his demeanor might have appeared to police at the time. There would be no lie detector test, and any further contact the detectives wished to have with Bob would have to be through Greenspun. Still, police and counsel disagree strongly about the degree of cooperation from the widowed husband. After finding Connie's body that rainy Tuesday, Bob stayed at the home of an NHP lawyer friend for a couple of days, then returned to the house on Woodstock Lane. He had the carpet and floorboard replaced, and slept in the master bedroom. Brittany stayed in the downstairs guest room. They would receive mourners on Friday, and hold services on Saturday. An undercurrent of tension rippled through the Money and King Vienna Funeral Home as scores of relatives, friends and colleagues arrived to pay their respects. Connie's mother and two sisters were in one room, silently fuming because she had been cremated despite her Catholic upbringing. Bob Hiner and Brittany Mason stood side-by-side in the front room, greeting people. There was no casket. With Connie suddenly and horribly gone, the expansive and intricate net of relationships she had woven began to snag and tear. Her mother, sisters and oldest friends began to have doubts about Bob. At the same time, Brittany was adamant that he couldn't have been involved in Connie's murder. Both sides eyed the Landmark people warily. Her book club analyzed it all like an incomprehensible plot. People speculated privately about the murder weapon, which police had not publicly disclosed. Outside the funeral home, a police photographer took pictures of the mourners as they filed inside. "About 25 people from Landmark went," remembers Laurie Handlers, who was one of them, and had served as one of Connie's coaches. "There was Bob, barely speaking. No one knew him. And her daughter looked just like Connie. No one knew what to do. . . . Nobody said a word. You just walk through the procession and leave. We went to a Chinese restaurant down the block afterward. Everybody was totally freaked out. He was cold as a pole and looked so uncomfortable. Never even said thank you for coming." Jim Lindsay Jr., another Landmark associate, had an even more unsettling encounter. Bob, he recalls, "studiously ignored people coming up. I went up to say something to him and I was ignored. He turned his back on me." Gerald Bell, who was in one of Connie's book clubs, took offense at something else: He and some others overheard Bob saying he was going to have to do something about getting the alarm system fixed. "It was flippant," Bell felt. Outside, the snow was starting to fall. At 6 the next morning, as the blizzard hit, Bob began calling people to cancel the funeral. Connie's ashes were left at the funeral home. "We don't ask why' questions in here. Why' drives you insane." The Joan Rivers voice belongs to a woman with severely gelled hair, perched on a director's chair at the front of Landmark's auditorium in Alexandria on a recent weekend. A hundred people shift in their hard, narrow chairs, anxious to begin their journey of transformation. This introductory course, called the Forum, is scheduled to run from 9 in the morning till midnight or later, for three days, plus an additional evening session. Several monitors sit at card tables in the back of the room, all volunteers combing the room for "pockets of openness" that might lead to these new participants signing up for additional courses. Based in San Francisco, with 55 offices worldwide, Landmark reported revenue of $48 million last year. The business relies heavily on free labor, and Connie Hiner volunteered almost daily during the last year of her life. She yearned to find meaning in her existence, to make a difference, to touch people's lives in a profound way. Landmark, she believed, was the way to achieve that. The scene this weekend is part existentialism lecture, part talk show confessional -- Heidegger hosting the "Jerry Springer Show." "Look at who you're being in relationship with life," the Forum leader demands. "The Forum is about healing things, about completing things. The only way to access a breakthrough is to give something up." At the microphone, participants share tearful tales of incest, abuse, addiction, loneliness. Put the mirror to your face, they are all urged. Be authentic. Have an impact. The key phrase is this: "Consider the possibility . . ." Consider the possibility that the past is over. Consider the possibility that it doesn't matter anymore. There are facts, which are unalterable, and there are interpretations, which can be shaped and molded and recast until anger becomes resolve, until hurt becomes wisdom. At the end of the first day, participants are given a homework assignment: They must write letters taking responsibility for a bad relationship and "clean it up." When Connie Hiner faced this task, she wrote apologies to her ex-husbands. She acknowledged undermining Brittany's father in his attempts to establish a relationship with her. She told Dick Hagen their divorce was her fault. She signed up for additional Landmark courses. Through a series of classes and seminars, Landmark promises its adherents phenomenal "breakthroughs" by transforming the way people relate to one another and teaching them how to "create possibility" in their lives. After joining Landmark in 1993, Connie enrolled Bob, her mother, Brittany and reluctant friends, and was so zealous that she was reprimanded at work for her recruiting efforts. "Create your future was the catchall phrase she used," Evie Ciuchta recalls. "Oh, it does change you. It's the way you look at life and possibility." At least part of Connie's desire to take a sabbatical in 1995 was to immerse herself in a demanding six-month Landmark course designed to train future Forum leaders. At Landmark's understated brick learning center off Edsall Road in Alexandria, Connie was considered one of the best recruiters. There was no financial reward for signing up new clients; Connie just wanted others to share what she considered a life-altering experience. "You'll never be the same," she promised anyone who would listen. "It'll be the best thing you ever did." Connie had been searching for deeper meaning in life ever since Evie Ciuchta had known her, back as a young bride in Bethesda. For a while, she remained devoutly Catholic, sending her daughter to parochial school and attending Mass even on weekdays. As she grew older, Connie would devour New Age paperbacks and study astrological charts. At the time of her death, she was consulting at least three psychics. The concept of reincarnation also fascinated her; a few of her friends insist they can feel her presence still. Within Landmark, Connie remained something of an enigma. She earned a reputation as a wonderful listener and coach, but was not the type to raise her hand in a seminar and bare her own darkest secrets. Some who had known her for years and had shared their most heart-wrenching experiences did not even know the most basic things about Connie Hiner: how many children she had; how many marriages; where she was from. "She would get up and share mostly about business or the writing group she had started," recalls Alyce Shelton, who led one of the advanced Landmark seminars Connie took. Having "breakthroughs" is a main objective of Landmark work, but when asked what breakthroughs Connie had achieved, her former coach is stymied. "I know one," she finally offers. "She spoke of going to King's Dominion with her family and for the first time getting on a roller coaster and just letting loose at the top of her lungs, screaming. I'll never forget how excited she was, being a kid. It was the first time she really opened up and let loose, just to be free." Letting herself be more vulnerable, another friend and mentor agreed, was something the fiercely independent Connie was determined to do. Part of Connie's dramatic transformation was plain to see: Deciding to soften her look, she hired an image consultant who jettisoned her drab, boxy suits in favor of elegant outfits in beautiful pastels, like coral and cream. Her shapeless shoulder-length hair was cropped into a fashionable, highlighted bob. Connie kept Polaroid snapshots of herself modeling the new ensembles so she would be sure to match her accessories precisely. She had the image consultant update Bob's conservative style, too. Leaving NHP, Connie hired the consultant to help her choose the "right" casual clothes. The sabbatical was both a personal and a professional move. Connie and Bob, who had married in August 1994 after living together for a couple of years, were both senior vice presidents at NHP. But the company was undergoing significant reorganization, and the president's job would soon be up for grabs. Connie told friends that she and Bob were the heirs apparent, and rather than make NHP choose between them, Connie would make the choice for them and resign now. She was ready for a change, anyway. But relaxation and reflection did not come naturally to Connie Hiner, whose penchant for order once led her to hire workers to steam-clean her roof. Brittany laughs at the memory of her mother's first frenetic week of leisure. "She didn't know what to do. First she made a list of how many books she would have to read. She approached it in a really insane way." Connie soon saw the irony and surrendered. She and Evie Ciuchta would spend long hours shopping for furniture and objets d'art for the house on Woodstock Lane, and Connie indulged her love of literature by joining three book clubs, one within walking distance at a charming bookstore where the group would meet by a cozy fireplace to discuss books like The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields, which touched a chord in Connie with its theme of searching for self, of bearing witness to your own life. She highlighted passage after passage, which Evie Ciuchta now scrutinizes, seeking hidden meaning: ". . . What is the story of a life? A chronicle of fact or a skillfully wrought impression? The bringing together of what she fears? Or the adding up of what has been off-handedly revealed, those tiny allotted increments of knowledge? ". . . the moment of death occurs while we're still alive. Life marches right up to the wall of that final darkness, one extreme state of being butting against the other." Says Brittany of her mother. "She was awesome. My mom was the type of person who would want to get to know the guy in the tollbooth. She felt she was going to have an impact on people." When she didn't, she was crushed. Jim Lindsay would "get into it" with Connie now and then, especially when she pressured him to volunteer more time than he wanted to at Landmark. "When I pushed back, she would take it personally and be hurt," he says, recalling how she would then call their mutual coach, weeping with frustration because she wasn't making a difference. But Lindsay also discovered Connie's compassionate side when he shared with her the story of childhood abuse he had suffered. "She was very sympathetic," he says, "she could be with it." They spoke on the phone several times a week, he says. In the jargon of transformation, they would ask each other the same question: What is it you stand to create in your life today? "Joy and freedom" is the answer Connie always gave. Like most everyone else whose life she touched, Jim Lindsay cannot find closure. He finds himself imagining her death, speculating what the murder weapon might be. "In my mind, I see a claw hammer," he says. A few weeks before her murder, Connie lunched with David Low, the former president of NHP. What she told him later became part of the eulogy he wrote for the funeral that was canceled: "You know, years ago I used to see myself as the fixer' -- eventually things will get to the point where I have to come in and make everything okay. But I came to realize for that to work for me, others had to fail, and that's no good. So now I'm all about seeing everyone succeed." That last winter, when Connie celebrated her birthday at lunch with her three oldest friends, Evie thought she seemed down. "Bob says I'm in too many book clubs and need to bring in some income," she quotes Connie as saying. She took the Ohio job soon after. By all accounts, Connie was excited about the new opportunity. She rented a two-bedroom apartment in Columbus, and planned to live there three or four days a week. She arranged for a regular driver to take her to the airport. Her mother and girlfriends all wondered how Bob felt about the separation -- after all, even though it was her fourth marriage and his third, they were still basically newlyweds. Connie assured them it wasn't an issue; Bob traveled a lot, anyway, and they would try to choreograph their schedules. They would still have weekends together, though she also planned to keep volunteering for Landmark. Jim Lindsay, however, has a different story: Connie, he says, had been in tears during several of their recent phone conversations, and confided that Bob wanted a divorce. "She felt committed to the marriage and wanted it to work. She felt like she had failed before . . . She would be crying, He doesn't love me, I one more time have chosen the wrong guy.' " No one else in Connie's inner circle recalls any mention of marital troubles with Bob, and Bob himself denies that divorce had come up. Though Connie was known to keep a journal at times, none was found. The night before Connie died, she and Bob went to the Ciuchtas's for a small New Year's dinner party. Connie seemed bright and bubbly. As always, she and Bob appeared comfortable and content together. Even Evie, who finds Bob's behavior highly suspicious, concedes that he was always supportive, and seemed to love Connie, that "I never once heard him put her down." The other men talked about football, but Bob, who never said much anyway, sat listening to the women. Connie mentioned having spent her birthday and Christmas money updating her wardrobe for the new job, and said she hoped to achieve the commuter's ultimate fantasy of suitcase-free travel by keeping clothes and a duplicate makeup kit in Ohio. She had packed enough this time for 30 days, she added. Evie turned to Bob and joked, "Well, she is coming back, isn't she?" "Oh, yes, of course," Bob replied. Around the dinner table, Evie asked the guests what they thought the New Year held for them. Bob said he wanted to hire some good people. Connie said this was the first time she had complete contentment, that she had accomplished all she wanted. Dick Cline, with his silver brush haircut and fashionable clothes, is a cop more of the "Miami Vice" genre than the Joe Friday mold. He spends his Sunday afternoons moonlighting as a deejay on a country-western radio station, playing songs that assume life is less complicated than his day job suggests. He knows too well that beyond a reasonable doubt is often the closest you can come when you go searching for truth. And meaning is something best avoided altogether. In two decades of police work, Dick Cline says, he has never run across a case as baffling as the murder of Connie Hiner. Police interest in Bob Hiner, the detective says, stems at least partly from the impression that "he's done nothing to clear himself." How he didn't act is a matter of great interest, both to investigators and to those who long for resolution. Bob, they contend, seemed too nonchalant about the murder of his wife. Police have never heard him express curiosity about who might have killed Connie or why. Never has he asked in 21/2 years where the investigation stands or if there was anything he could do to help, according to Cline, nor has he pressured detectives or hounded them or demanded to know why they had failed to apprehend anyone. When Cline called Bob one time to talk, he received a letter from Greenspun in response, demanding that police never again contact Bob directly. A request to submit to a polygraph test was declined. "When a survivor doesn't call you ever to ask what I can do to help," Cline says, "that is out of the norm. That is a big red flag." Furthermore, police contend, Bob rallied Brittany to his side and she has not cooperated with them since. She hasn't spoken to detectives beyond a brief interview immediately after her mother's death, and, like Bob, has expressed no concern that they find the killer. All of which, from a police perspective, is suspicious. Why would an intruder savagely kill Connie Hiner, most likely in her sleep, when there is no evidence of burglary or sexual assault? Would someone have been able to slip unnoticed into the garage as Bob pulled away for work, and enter through a possibly unlocked door, which is the only apparent explanation for the fact that no rain-soaked traces of evidence were left behind? And why attempt such a crime at a time when the neighborhood would be busy with people going to work, jogging, taking children to bus stops, when a utility repairman was busy fixing a furnace right next door? Why, if someone had targeted Connie or stalked her, choose the morning that she was leaving town, when she had been home -- often alone, often at night -- for nine months before that? And how could someone gain entry to the house, commit murder and leave without a trace in the 50 minutes between the time Bob Hiner left for work and the cabdriver arrived? No look-alike crimes have appeared on national police databases, investigators say. Equally puzzling, though, is the lack of any apparent motive for Bob to kill his wife. Because Connie never arrived for her first day of work, she had no life insurance or other benefits. And if divorce was on the table, one of his ex-wives asserts, "Bob Hiner would do what he previously did on two other occasions: He would pack his bags, take nothing and leave." During their own 12-year marriage, the ex-wife adds, there was never any sign of rage or violence or instability. "If Bob Hiner walked into my house right now and confessed," she concludes, "I would not believe him." Nor would Carla Stoner, who worked for him at NHP and remembers him coming to work and going about his normal business the day of the murder. "I met with him that morning and I didn't see anything different," she says. And, like other associates who believe in his innocence, she considers Bob's reaction to tragedy perfectly in sync with his reserved personality. "I'm not surprised he's not laying his head on the table sobbing," Stoner says. "His approach is to buck up and handle things." David Low, the couple's former boss (NHP has since been sold), is also unable to imagine Connie's death as a case of domestic violence. "It just doesn't make any sense, is the answer," says Low. "I saw them time after time in a business and marriage setting and never saw anything to suggest anything but that they were very happy and very devoted. In his office, Bob always had classical music playing softly." "Bob suffered and continues to suffer greatly but privately," says Greenspun, who also indicated that Bob may have in fact sought grief counseling. The night after the murder, friends who tried to comfort Bob remember him seeming numb as they all sat drinking coffee late into the night, trying to absorb the shock. Bob Hiner himself is cordial when he answers the phone in his new home in Hilton Head, S.C., where he reportedly retired not long ago, at age 46. He declines to be interviewed, referring questions to his attorney, but he has one of his own: "Where does the investigation stand?" he wonders. "We're all in the dark. Part of me thinks dragging up a lot of stuff is no solution . . ." Within a few months of Connie's death, Bob began dating again. The image consultant, Mindy Peterson, took him shopping for new clothes; already trim, he was losing a lot of weight. A new girlfriend began staying at the house on Woodstock Lane that spring. An NHP colleague who had worked for Bob Hiner in a California field office, she left her husband of 10 years. Through his attorney, Bob says their professional relationship became romantic only after Connie's death. The woman's ex-husband says Fairfax police interviewed him about her relationship with Bob, and that afterward, he contacted his former wife. "I called her in Virginia, and I told her, for your own safety you might want to know that this detective called me, and they're looking at Bob. She said, I'll keep that in mind.' " Peter Greenspun is the coiled antithesis of Dick Cline's mellow deejay. The Fairfax attorney is outraged that questions about Bob Hiner's behavior are being asked, that authorities claim he has not fully cooperated. They were given any records they wanted -- credit card receipts, bank statements, phone logs -- and allowed access to the house on Woodstock Lane, all without court order, Greenspun points out. "There wasn't a question he didn't answer. They were not stonewalled in any way. They had complete access to Mr. Hiner and Mr. Hiner's background." If they want to talk to his client further, Greenspun adds, they can arrange it through him and take as much time as they like. "Bob Hiner has always and continues to deny any knowledge of, involvement in, complicity in or role of any nature in Connie Hiner's death," Greenspun declares. "He's devastated. He remains devastated that he lost her . . . There's no case against Mr. Hiner. There's not a shred of evidence against Mr. Hiner. That's the O.J. Simpsonizing of this type of situation: If you can't find who did it, it must be the spouse." People react in their own ways, Greenspun continues, and "the fact that he's not walking around with tears streaming down his face doesn't make him a suspect." Letting Bob say these things for himself, or talk about his relationship with Connie, or even how much he misses her, would serve no purpose, the attorney concludes. "Why should he? It's nobody's business, nobody's concern. He has the right to have private, personal recollections. If someone believes he was involved, they're going to no matter what he says." There were all kinds of leads for police to follow, Greenspun maintains. "There are fairly significant questions about this Landmark organization. There was also construction going on not far from the Hiner house. I hope they checked on the backgrounds of those construction workers." With friends and neighbors, Bob also raised the possibility that Connie was not the intended victim that morning. The previous owner of the house had served on a grand jury, he had learned. Could someone have been seeking revenge? Brittany wondered if the killer might be some disgruntled employee Connie had fired. Connie's mother was supposed to visit that last Christmas, but she ended up hospitalized in Kentucky. Her daughter called her five times on Christmas Day, Connie Munz remembers, but each conversation was cut short, and she is haunted now by the feeling that her daughter wanted to tell her something important but couldn't. The day before she died, Connie Hiner mailed her mother a thank-you note for a Christmas gift she had especially wanted: Dear Mom, you chose the perfect book for me, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. When I uncover the secret, I will share it with you. For a year after the murder, Bob stayed in the house he had shared with Connie, to the puzzlement of both those who believed in him and those who did not. "He said that whoever did this wasn't going to win, and they would if he left the house," a friend recounts. On Woodstock Lane, the children who lived up the street refused, for a long time, to go to sleep at night without locking their bedroom doors. Police met with anxious residents at the annual block association meeting. "You're in no more danger now than you were before," they were told. And in this, they found not answers, not truth, not meaning, but comfort. Brittany Mason, now 28, is considered the mirror image of her mother. Petite, with wide hazel eyes, an upturned nose, she has a natural poise even in shorts and bare feet, sitting on the floor, playing with her 6-month-old son, the grandchild Connie never knew. Like Connie, she is a Landmark graduate who firmly believes that people can create their own realities, that life is meant to be experienced in the present tense. Brittany has just moved into this hilltop house in a Southern California beach town and has not finished unpacking. But framed pictures of Connie, with Bob, have already found their place. Brittany grew closer to Bob after Connie's death; they spoke on the phone every day for the next year, Brittany says, sometimes more. "We felt we had to have a bond. We needed each other. We spent a lot of time with what-if scenarios." They have visited back and forth a few times since then and still chat occasionally on the phone. She no longer speaks to her grandmother or aunts, or to Evie Ciuchta, or Dick Hagen, or anyone else who expresses doubt in Bob Hiner's innocence. Including the police, whose initial questioning left her frustrated and resigned. "I try to say it in a positive way," she says. "I wasn't happy with the way it was going. I didn't think I was going to have impact, and I didn't think I was strong enough. I have a very close relationship with Bob, and I know Bob didn't do this with everything I am." Her mother and "Bob called each other all the time. They made a point of talking several times a day, just to see what was going on with each other," Brittany remembers. As for a temper, she notes, Bob "never even yelled." Over lunch at Clyde's one afternoon, Connie homed in on Brittany and her beau with penetrating questions about what they wanted out of life. They turned the tables on her. What did she want? "She told me she was the happiest she'd ever been," Brittany remembers, "that she was complete in her relationships, she had an exciting future, she was on top." Brittany offers simple explanations for the actions and reactions that stirred so much conjecture. Bob stayed in the house because the open investigation into Connie's death caused title problems that made it difficult to sell. They never hired a private investigator because they didn't want to have to replay Connie's murder every week, every month, checking in all the time, for years maybe, unable to move on. The mother she misses is in the kitchen at 2 a.m., sneaking chocolate doughnuts. She is offering her daughter sage advice on love and life, she is cozy and safe on a winter's night with her nose in a book, she is deftly managing a large corporation. She is not the victim of a brutal, unsolved murder. "Everyone made up their own meaning and comes away with a different story," Brittany is saying. "Certain events cause people to get suspicious. Bob and I had to make decisions . . . Deciding to have her cremated -- she and I had talked about that before -- canceling her funeral for the blizzard. All those decisions were Bob's to make, but he included me. Some people felt left out and got suspicious." Conflicting accounts of what became of Connie's remains added to the ill will. Connie's mother had wanted a proper burial, and a headstone in Kentucky. Evie Ciuchta and the circle of lifelong friends hoped to scatter the ashes at Cape May on their first trip there without Connie. Bob told people they were handling it in a personal way. Brittany claimed to have them on her mantel. "Bob and I asked the crematorium to dispose of the ashes, then we lied and told everyone I was going to keep them," Brittany offers. "Bob had the right to make that decision. We didn't want to carry them around. I didn't want to be 60 years old and carrying them around. I didn't want them buried. I didn't want a stone. I didn't want to go to Kentucky to visit a grave. I didn't want to have to take my kids there to visit a stone." Her voice is urgent and aching. When her grandmother learned that the ashes had not been claimed, Brittany relented and mailed the remains to Kentucky, where they are buried now, beneath a stone. "One of the things I learned is that people deal with death very differently," she reflects now. "There are people who need funerals, and people who don't. I think Bob and I were going about it the only way we knew how . . ." After the murder, Brittany made a decision that she did not want to know, did not need to know, the details. One morning while she was still staying, snowbound, on Woodstock Lane, she remembers Bob rummaging around kitchen drawers in search of the knife they used to slice bagels, and how she realized, when it was not to be found, that it was a murder weapon, now held by police. The other weapon, also recovered, was a hammer. Brittany cannot imagine her mother letting a stranger into the house or anyone evil into her life. Connie was careful. If Bob wasn't home, she kept the doors locked and the alarm set. She was adamant that her apartment in Columbus not be on the ground floor. That Christmas, she had asked for a portable alarm for the new place; it was packed and ready to go the morning she was killed. And her daughter, less cautious, can still hear her mother admonishing her: Brittany, you don't have to leave the door wide open. She jiggles the baby on her knee, nuzzles his downy head before putting him down for a nap. He has Connie's smile, she says. When he was born, doctors had concerns about his health and whisked him off for tests. Brittany remembers knowing everything would be fine; nothing bad could happen in her life again. There is more she needs to say. She remembers being horrified when she heard someone on TV, a neighbor, saying they hoped it was someone Connie knew who took her life. Brittany herself did not want to know at all. "I often talked to Bob about not caring to know what happened, because to me it was not about what happened, it was about her being gone. The desire to put the pieces together, to find out, was never important to me. It was not going to bring me closure to know who did it. If they caught him, I couldn't sit through a trial and hear described what happened. It would be too incredibly painful . . . I'd have a face. How scary would that be? They'd have a face. For me, it's much easier this way. I don't have to be afraid to turn around and see that face." The neighbor's gate keeps clanging out front, and Brittany, still unaccustomed to this new place, startles each time. She shivers, and jumps up to put on a sweater, hugging her arms to herself, feeling a chill on this clear and sunny day through her front door, wide open. On Woodstock Lane, a neighbor is musing aloud who killed Connie Hiner and what they used. Was it a baseball bat, a golf club, a two-by-four, a sledgehammer? "I think this is a prime one for Unsolved Mysteries,' " he decides. "There were some very interesting interviews on TV, the comments people made at the time," he remembers. "People were saying, Oh, gee, I hope it was someone within the family! We're less at-risk.' I said yeah, but we're all within families." A new family has moved into the Hiner house, and the homeowner's association president notes approvingly that they are more attentive to the yardwork. Police have ruled out any link to the grand juror who lived here before; it was a drug case in Alexandria, and the defendants never saw the jurors, much less learned their names. In an office decorated with Beatles posters and autographed glossies of country balladeers, Dick Cline has moved on to other, more recent murders demanding to be solved. But he still manages to pick away slowly at the Hiner case. Situations change, he reasons, relationships shift. Someone will remember something, or reveal something, or do something. One year after the murder, a handful of colleagues from NHP arranged a memorial for Connie, which Bob attended. They lit candles and called it a service of celebration. Detectives watched from the parking lot. Evie Ciuchta spent the day in Kentucky at Connie's gravestone, where Connie's mother and two sisters released purple balloons in bittersweet tribute. Purple was her favorite color. On Connie's birthday, her dearest friends still gather for their annual lunch, setting a place for her, ordering her usual glass of iced tea, despite funny looks the waiter gives them. They all laugh and cry, knowing they may never know the truth, but like most everybody else, they search for meaning still. Tamara Jones is a Magazine staff writer. CAPTION: FAMILY AND FRIENDS: Connie Hiner and her fourth husband, Bob, spent the evening before her murder celebrating New Year's 1996 together, left. Below: Close friends Marvine Kudis, Evie Ciuchta and Connie en route to Cape May in 1991. CAPTION: A WAY OF LIFE: In the last few years of her life, Connie had come to embrace the philosophy of Landmark Education Corp., a self-help organization. Above: a passage from a Landmark brochure. CAPTION: THE CRIME SCENE: Detective Dick Cline, right, has led the Fairfax police investigation of the case. Below: TV news footage of the Reston neighborhood and of the body being put into the ambulance. CAPTION: R.I.P.: After some confusion and conflict among family members, Connie's remains were buried beneath a gravestone in her native Kentucky.