A 63-year-old secretary in the office of Sen. John A. Durkin (D-N.H.) was found fatally stabbed yesterday in her Capitol Hill apartment, D.C. Police said last night they had no suspect and had established no motive.
The body of Marie Holiday Owens, a Capitol Hill employe since 1942, was discovered by a relative in Owens' second-floor efficiency apartment at 215 Constitution Ave. NE at about 12:15 p.m., homicide squad detectives said.
She had been stabbed several times in the chest and appeared to have been dead for several hours, police said.
Durkin issued a statement saying he was "very disturbed and saddened" by the death of Owens, who had worked in his office as a general secretary and typist since 1977.
He said Owens was a "fine woman" who "worked very hard" and was "like a grandmother" to the Durkin staff.
One staffer in Durkin's office described Owens as a friendly, outgoing woman who "always remembered everybody's birthday," but at the same time "she was a very private person."
A widow who lived along, Owens had served in many positions on the Hill, including at one time as deputy sergeant-at-arms for the Senate. She also served as secretary some years ago on the Capitol Police Board -- the first woman appointed to the panel, which selects the Capitol police chief and formulates the policies of the force.
George Treasure, a clerk employed by the House and a resident of the six-story brick apartment building since 1967, said Owens was so careful that "she wouldn't give anyone a key to her apartment, including the resident manager."
None of the residents interviewed yesterday had ever been in her apartment or knew anyone who had.
"She always said it was too crowded or something like that," Treasure said.
"If anyone was ever considerate and helpful, she was. But she was always wary and careful."
Homicide detectives said they had little evidence to work with late yesterday.
An Owens relative, who asked not to be identified, discovered the short, heavyset woman lying on the floor of her tiny, cluttered apartment, police said. There was no sign of forced entry into the apartment, according to detectives.
Owens' body was fully clothed, and there was no evidence that she had been robbed or sexually assaulted, police said.
Residents said there have no other incidents at the building in recent years. But they said a back door to the building is often left open despite a hand-written sign warning residents not to prop it open and to check whether it closes firmly.
Owens did not show up for work in Durkin's office on Monday, but staffers said she had announced last Friday she planned to take Monday off.
Originally from Jacksonville, Fla., Owens came to Washington during World War II and first worked in a congressional stenographic pool for 12 members of Congress. Later, she worked exclusively as a secretary for Sen. Styles Bridges (R-N.H.).
In addition to her work on Capitol Hill, Owens obtained a master's degree in political science at American University several years ago and taught shorthand, English and public speaking for a time at Hine Junior High School.
Word of the killing was just beginning to pass through the building late yesterday as residents, most of them congressional employes, arrived home from work.
Standing in the dimly lit hallway outside the victim's apartment, one who knew her shook his head and muttered, "Its a hell of a thing, a hell of a thing."