Brad Baker, 31, had always dreamed of owning his own farm. The thought of managing one of Northern Virginia's biggest was such "a great challenge" that he left a doctoral program at Virginia Tech to take charge of Fauquier County's 1,900-acre Kenloch Farm.

But Baker only managed ten days on the job. In a brutal murder that has sent fearful rumors flying through the rural, horse country town of The Plains (pop. 400), he was found unconscious and dying from shotgun blasts to the head and lower abdomen in a remote Kenloch farmhouse on New Year's Eve, according to Fauquier County authorities.

Baker was taken to Fauquier Hospital in Warrenton and subsequently flown by U.S. Park Police helicopter to the Washington Hospital Center where he died at 2 p.m. on Thursday.

"They found his pocketbook laying on a radio, untouched. Robbery wasn't the motive," said an town resident who is familiar with the farm. "It's very shocking. People are wondering way he was killed . . . and wondering who's going to be next."

Fauquier Sheriff Luther Cox appeared confident yesterday about apprehending a suspect. Said Cox: "I know what the motive was, but I don't want to speculate now. Somebody had a grudge against him . . . We're going to solve this."

Baker, a bachelor who lived alone, was found in the living room of the two story, three-bedroom frame house by a friend with whome he had planned to celebrate the New Year, said Fauquier authorities. He had been shot twice with his own shotgun, Cox said, adding that he believed the shooting occurred between 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.

Although Cox said that "the house was not torn up," there was evidence that the front door had been forced open. Baker was alone when he was confronted by his assailant, investigators said. The house is located off a dirt and gravel state road on eastern end of the sprawling farm, well away from security guards who patrol the rest of the estate, police said.

The house is located on the old Roland Farm, annexed by the Currier family who owns Kenloch and are related to Paul Mellon, the prominent philanthropist. "This is a dreadful thing," said Clyde Bergen, business manager of the farm. "No one really knows what we're dealing with here. No one seems to have any idea as to why he was killed."

But colleagues and professors at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, as well as others in The Plains, said that Baker had fired at least two Kenloch workers. Sheriff Cox said that he was aware of only one dismissal and Bergen said that "there was no connection whatsoever" between the dismissal and the shooting.

Baker had earned a master's degree in Public Administration at Indiana University in 1978, according to Dr. Ralph G. Kline, professor of agricultural economics at Virginia Tech. Baker had completed one year of a three-year doctoral program in agricultural economics at Blacksburg when he decided to take the position at Kenloch, Kline said.

Friends at Blacksburg described Baker as an aggressive, but unabrasive man constantly involved in school projects. According to one colleague, a pet phrase of Baker's was "Let's go on and get our hands dirty on this if that's what it takes."

He served as editor of "The Rag," a bi-weekly newspaper geared toward the school's agricultural department, the colleague said. Kline said he also worked with the Virginia Department of Agriculture with "a very intense interest" in legislation that would provide grants and funds to beginning farmers."

Said Kline: "This is so tragic. It's hard to realize that something like this can happen, but I guess this shows it can."

Baker left Virginia Tech with the knowledge that he could return to complete his doctoral work. He was deeply interested in organic farming, a trait that apparently fit in well with current plans for the Kenloch Farm.

"Those girls [Currier family] are environmentalists and wanted to turn the clock back to 1925 . . . . just natural stuff, no insecticides or anything. tFor a guy like Baker, that would have been easy, but not so easy for people who are used to more modern farming," said one The Plains resident.

Baker's major tasks at the large farm would have involved the Kenloch's herd of Hereford cattle, as well as handling all fee, hay, grain and pasture land.

"He was very aggressive, but not in a bad way," said one Blacksburg graduate student. "There was very little that he let stand in his way."