Cynthia Prather was in her 80s, but spunky and spry, even though she walked with a cane, friends say. Every Sunday, she sould put on her dressy clothes and head for Shiloh Baptist Church, where she was a faithful and active member of the Flower Club.

If she didn't have a ride to church, she would walk to 13th and U streets NW, near the house she had lived in for 40 years -- just one block from the heart of the District's drug-infested crime-ridden 14th Street corridor.

Leaning on her cane, Prather would hail a taxicab to the church, proudly climb the two-dozen or more steps to the main sanctuary, and take her seat in one of the front pews.

Yesterday Prather was found beaten to death in the living room of her home at 2006 13th St. NW. Although there was no sign of forced entry, police suspect that robbery may have been a motive in the killing, which outraged Prather's neighbors on the block of modest two- and three-story brick row houses.

"It's a sad thing," said Inez Drummer, who for 16 years has been living across the street from Prather. "She was a nice lady . . . In all the years I have been here I have never known anything like this to happen. I'm scared to death."

"She wasn't wealthly," said Ron Stewart, her next-door neighbor. Stewart is one of the few urban pioneers on the block. He moved in last July. "I can't imagine anybody harming her. Everybody around here knew her, even the street people. She was old, but she was spunky. She didn't take no stuff."

Although Prather's home is a block away from one of the city's highest crime areas, residents of the 2000 block of 13th Street NW way they can't remember a resident there even being bludgeoned to death at home.

The neighborhood has a number of retired and elderly residents who have lived there for years. In recent mont hs, those residents have been joined by young professionals who have renovated the sturdy row houses. Such renovations usually bring sales offers much larger than the older residents had ever expected, and Prather had apparently received some offers.

"She wasn't going to sell," said Stewart. "She said her husband bought the property 30 to 40 years ago."

Prather had a tenant in the basement of her home, which helped to subsidize her limited income, neighbors said.

It was her basement roomer, Mary Scott, who became suspicous about 7 a.m. yesterday when she noticed that the gate to a fence behind the house was open. Scott said she went out and closed it.

As she went back to the house, Scott said she saw Prather's back door open. Scott called a friend who is a Shiloh church member and often checks on Prather. The man entered the house and discovered Prather's body.

"It's a tragedy," said the Rev. Kenneth Burke, an assistant pastor at Shiloh, where Prather had been a member for 50 years.

"She was a very active church member," Burke said. "She had to walk with a cane. She would come to church after the service had started and would need assistance to walk down the aisle . . . She would literally drag herself up one flight of stairs. She really liked to come to church."

"She was well-known by everybody here at Shiloh," Burke said. "I was looking forward to seeing her (this coming) Sunday at our ground-breaking (for additional building).

Burke said several members of the church often checked on Prather and some members treated her like their mother.

Ron Stewart, her next-door neighbor, said Prather called him "son," and he affectionately called her "Mrs. C."

Many residents on the block never knew Prather's real name, but fondly recalled the nice, old lady who sat on her stoop on warm days.

"Sometimes I would pass by and she would say, "Sonny, bring me a soda,'" said a middle-aged man, standing in the liquor store on the corner near Prather's home. "I would take it to her and she would say, 'how much I owe you.' I wouldn't let her pay for it."