For years, the Portuguese alien called Tony kept to his suburban Virginia life style, his past apparently behind him as he built a small contracting business and devoted himself to his wife and two small children.

Last Friday night, the past caught up.

At 9 p.m., Arlington police knocked on the door of a small apartment at 1405 N. Scott St. and arrested Antonio Marinho Antunes, 35, as a "fugitive from the justice of France," as it was phrased in court documents.

Antunes, described by shocked neighbors and friends yesterday as a quiet, gentle man, was the object of a 12-year search by Interpol, the international police organization, for his alleged role in a May 1967 murder in France for which he was convicted in absentia in Paris in 1970.

During much of that time. Antunes lived openly in Northern Virginia, his residence at the Scott Apartments within a few blocks of the Arlington courthouse and police station. He listed his name in the Portuguese fashion -- Antonio Marinho -- in the phone book, and occasionally appeared in local courts to collect debts owed to his business, Maderia Construction Co. Inc., of Crystal City.

His wife of seven years, Rosa, said yesterday that he had told her after their marriage in 1973 that he was wanted in connection with the case, but that they never discussed it otherwise.

At a hearing yesterday in federal court in Alexandria, U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. refused to set bond for Antunes pending a later hearing on his possible return to France. A French Embassy official said Antunes, if extradited, would face a new trial in France.

He was given a life sentence at the June 2, 1970 trial in Paris he did not attend.

According to Interpol, the murder occurred after Antumes and a fellow Portuguese argued with five youths during a soccer game on May 14, 1967, near Stains, a small town about eight miles north of Paris.

"After an exchange of insults, one of the men fired several shots on the youths, fatally wounding" one of them, an Interpol bulletin said.

Antunes and the second man disappeared immediately after the incident, Interpol said.

Antunes' later whereabouts remained a mystery although he remained a subject of police interest in the 127 countries that cooperate with Interpol. But someone clearly remembered him. Several weeks ago, Interpol officials in Washington were informed by police in Paris that Antunes was living in Arlington.

He was arrested without incident as he was preparing for bed, his wife said yesterday.

"I don't know how I will manage without him," his wife said tearfully The couple's children Victor Manuel, 5, and Agostinho, 4 sat in the front row of Bryan's coutroom yesterday and smiled at their father as he was returned to his cell at the Alexandria jail.

Rosa Antunes said she had trouble caring for the children because of a back problem suffered last October. "He [Toney] carried me home in his arms when I left the hospital" last fall she said.

Bryan said yesterday he could grant bond in extradition cases only in extraordinary circumstances, which he said did not apply to Antunes, and gave French officials until mid-April to file a formal request for his return to France.

The family's friends, meanwhile, expressed shock at the news of Antunes' secret. "He was a fine man, a wonderful neighbor," said Alice Diaz, who also lives at the Arlington apartment building.

Said another: "He was one of the loveliest people I know. Whenever someone tried to cheat him in business, he just expressed hurt at the unfairness of it all. He couldn't understand why someone would want to harm him."