A Northern Virginia gasoline station attendant was shot to death during a holdup early yesterday, prompting a massive manhunt by police who tracked four suspects with dogs and a helicopter and blocked off streets in a sweep of yards and homes in suburban Springfield and Burke.

After a seven-hour search by more than 30 Fairfax County and Virginia State Police, three suspects, all from Baltimore, were arrested and charged with killing 27-year-old Stanley Weinstein of Burke. The fourth suspect, a woman whom police know only as Sheila, is still at large. Police said she apparently boarded a Washington-bound, rush-hour Metrobus in Burke, about five miles from the scene of the slaying.

Police said the events began shortly before 4:30 a.m., when four suspects parked their Lincoln Continental outside the Springfield Holiday Inn near Rte. I-395, where it became mired in mud. The four then walked across the street to the Springfield Exxon station where Weinstein was working, police said.

Police said they still have no motive for the shooting, but one officer said the suspects apparently became angry when Weinstein told them he did not have a key to open the locked metal box where the night receipts were deposited.

Weinstein was shot once and robbed of his wallet, said police, who added that a customer discovered his body lying on the floor of a small storage area minutes after the shooting.

Because they could not move their car, police said, the suspects ran north along Backlick Road through deserted streets and parking lots. They were first sighted near Lynnbrook Elementary School in Springfield, police said. From there, as a state police helicopter hovered overhead, the suspects apparently ran along the Southern Railway tracks and through wooded suburban backyards until they reached Burke.

Police, who cordoned off streets and snarled traffic in their search, said several residents, including an 8-year-old boy, reported seeing the suspects near their homes. "It's a very large area and there were fragments of information coming in, and there are lots of places to hide around here. That's the only reason we didn't catch them sooner," said Maj. A. Barbee of the Fairfax Police Department.

Police said they are still searching for a handgun used in the shooting.

The four suspects were sighted by the helicopter pilot, who swooped down on them shortly before 7 a.m. near a treeless cul-de-sac of new split-level homes that borders the railroad tracks. One suspect was arrested in the garage of a home. Two others were captured nearly four hours later about a mile from the site.

The three suspects are being held in Fairfax jail in lieu of bond and are scheduled to be arraigned today in General District Court. Police identified them as Anthony Morton, 20, Jerry Prince, 18, and James Swinson, 24. Prince and Swinson are also charged with burglary.

Police said they believe that shortly after the first arrest a woman matching the description of one of the suspects was seen boarding a Metrobus at Lake Braddock Drive and Burke Lake Road. Police described the woman as short, heavyset and in her middle 20s, wearing blue jeans, a gray jacket, plaid shirt and a knit cap.

The manhunt attracted enormous attention from residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. Some followed the police cars to the latest sighting and others stood in their driveways, equipped with pocket cameras, taking pictures of an event one resident described as "the most exciting thing to hit Burke in a long time."

A key sighting occurred shortly before 10 a.m. when a 32-year-old Senate staff member, who requested anonymity because he is a former narcotics investigator, walked out the back door of his house to feed his chickens.

"The first thing I noticed was that none of the chickens was in the coop," said the man, who added that he was tossing feed into the pen when he noticed "a pair of legs sticking out of the top of the coop and someone scrunched up inside it."

"I didn't look any further," he said. "I just tossed another handful in and then turned around slowly and walked back to the house like I hadn't seen anything." The man alerted police who swarmed into his yard, rifles drawn, surrounding the tiny chicken coop and barn. The suspect was gone, but police found a plaid windbreaker in the coop; the dogs picked up its scent and led police off through the woods.

An hour later as police were clustered along Raintree Drive, about a mile away, 17-year-old Allyson Pieper returned home from Lake Braddock Secondary School with her friend Julie Foster, l8.

Foster said the two returned to Pieper's home when the school was closed because police were searching for suspects in the vicinity.

"Allyson got the key from under the door mat and started unlocking the front door, and I looked up and saw a man standing in her living room and I said, 'Come on Allyson, let's get out of here. There's a man in your house.' "

"I thought Julie was kidding that she was just trying to scare me," said Pieper. "But she started running." Pieper said she ran up the street and asked police to check her home. Police then surrounded the house and captured two suspects in the woods behind the Pieper home.

Police said that the bedroom had been ransacked and some articles, including clothing, were taken from the Pieper house, which was entered through a basement window.

Minutes after the arrests Allyson Pieper's mother, Janet, a teacher at Fairfax High School, returned home because she had been unable to reach her daughter by telephone.

"I'm just so glad she's okay and she didn't go in the house," Janet Pieper said.