Neil McNeil, director of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism's student-operated Washington news service, was shot to death by his estranged wife, who then killed herself at their Northwest Washington home Tuesday evening, the D.C. medical examiner's office said yesterday.

McNeil, 54, who died from a gunshot wound in the neck was found in the living room of the couple's home at 2845 29th St. NW, and his wife Doris, 57, was found in a basement utility room with a 9-mm automatic handgun beside her body, according to the medical examiner's office. She died from a single gunshot wound in the chest.

The couple, who had been married for 31 years, was separated at the time of the shooting, police said. Mrs. McNeil left "an explanation" of the shootings, but police would give no further details except to say that the couple was having domestic disagreements.

Police discovered the bodies shortly before 5 p.m. Wednesday after receiving reports from colleagues of the McNeils that they had been unable to contact the couple. They had been dead about 24 hours, according to the medical examiner's office.

McNeil, a former reporter for several newspapers including the defunct Washington Daily News, joined the Medill faculty in 1961. In 1966 he moved to Washington to become the first director of the Medill News Service, a widely respected enterprise where students work as Washington correspondents for 15 newspapers and eight television stations around the country.

Mrs. McNeil worked as an assistant registrar at Mount Vernon Junior College. The couple has two adult children.

Benjamin H. Baldwin, a Northwestern University professor and long-time friend of the McNeils, was quoted by United Press International as saying, "He knew everybody of importance both in government and in the journalistic circles." McNeil, a native of Houston, had an autographed picture of former President Lyndon B. Johnson in his office addressed to "my old friend." Johnson got McNeil his first job at the El Paso Herald-Post in Texas, Baldwin said.