Franklin E. Agee's friends at the drug store and the corner submarine sandwich shop shake their heads, angry and bewildered at the thought that someone Agee apparently trusted would stab him to death.

Agee worked two jobs to help pay the household bills for himself and his mother and sister, and was the first college graduate in his immediate family. He was a night manager at the AB Liguor Co. store at 1803 Columbia Rd. NW, where he was found dead by store employes shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday in the closet-sized, paper-cutter back office.

Gold chains were still around his neck, a gold watch, estimated by one friend to be worth $500 was still on his wrist and a gold diamond ring adorned one finger.

An undetermined amount of money had been taken from the back office, but the cash register and store safe were intact, according to the store owner. The store key was dangling from the front door lock inside the store, leading his friends and employer to believe that the person who stabbed Agee several times and left him to bleed to death, lying face up in a red leatherette armchair, was someone familiar. D.C. police will not comment on the case.

"It gives me cold chills just to think about it," said Alice Bailey, manager of Al's Sub-Preme sandwich shop two doors down from where Agee worked.

She described him as the quintessential nice guy whose death has shaken her trust in people and made her more cautious than ever -- even in neighborhoods like the one, where the regulars look out for each other and keep watch.

"I don't think anyone around here could say anything bad about him," she said, her eyes misting as she stared out the window at the store-front buildings undergoing renovation, changing from mom and pops shops and bohemian boutiques to French restaurants, theaters and antique shops.

"White, black, Spanish -- everybody knew Frank and gave him a lot of respect," Bailey said. "He took time to listen to people, to try to help when they had problems. Everyone is asking, 'Why him?'"

Gregarious, well-dressed and a lover of fine clothes made of silk and wool is how acquaintances described Agee.He grew up on Butternut Street NW, just east of Georgia Avenue and was a 1972 graduate of the old Western High School and later of the University of Maryland. He had recently been hired full time as an assistant legislative librarian for the Steptoe & Johnson law firm here.

Agee's father died when the youth was barely 10 years old and his mother, Sarah, now 64 and recently retired as a housekeeper at an office building downtown, raised Agee and three other children alone.

When she worked, Frank would pick her up around 10 p.m. after he closed the liquor store and would drive her home to Wheaton in his silver-colored Toyota Celica, always shiny clean.

Frank's sister Grace, 24, said that for years Frank, the oldest of her brothers, had assumed the duties of the man of the family, paying the majority of the rent and other bills.

"He was devoted to my mother, like we all are," said Grace, sitting in Frank's bedroom painted white with rust-colored carpeting. The bulletin board on the wall was filled with clippings, cards and other pieces of paper -- the places he hoped to visit, the parties he planned to attend and the numbers of friends to call.

"When my uncle died nine months ago, Frank was the one who handled all the details of the funeral. He moved back home when I planned to move out so that he could take care of my mother."

Milton Klein, who owns the liquor store, said he feels a special loss.

"I know it had to have been someone that he knew, he never would have let a stanger in after closing," said Klein, who first hired Agee 10 years ago to work odd jobs after high school.

"This guy was like my son. I trained him. I watched him grow up. I helped him because I knew whatever money he earned would help the family, and they are a proud family that never wanted to go on welfare," Klein said.

"I gave both my [real] sons money for a down payment on their first houses and I promised to help Frank, too," Klein said. "During the past couple of weeks, Frank had talked about buying a condominium at the Albemarle building at 18th Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW. I told him to buy a place to live because it made more sense than throwing his money away in rent."

One of his friends and former co-workers, architect Warren Ashe, described Agee as the confidant of many, always willing to listen to others' problems. His own often went unnoticed.

"He really cared about people," said Ashe. "I know he participated in the Big Brother program and took his little brother to concerts. Everybody loved him.

"You would remember him for his smile, his bouncy walk, his firm handshake, no matter how he was feeling."