A 34-year-old Illinois fugitive, arrested Halloween night in West Virginia for the ax murder of a prison farm foreman, says he shot, stabbed or poisoned 12 Washington area homosexuals -- four in Arlington and eight in the District of Columbia -- during a 30-victim death spree some 10 years ago, according to law-enforcement officials.

It was unclear last night, however, whether any of the purported Washington area killings had occurred, police said.

Authorities in West Virginia and Illinois say Bruce Allen Davis, who escaped Oct. 24 from the Menard Correctional Center near Chester, Ill., detailed his story of the purported murders during a two-week interrogation by sheriff's deputies in Fayette County, W.Va., the locality where he spent his boyhood and ended his flight.

They said police jurisdictions from San Francisco to San Juan are searching records to confirm any such slayings, which Davis says took place between 1969 and 1971 as he criss-crossed the country, a homosexual drifter torn between violence and love.

Nick Howell, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Corrections, said at least five of the slayings purportedly committed by Davis actually occurred, in circumstances close enough to Davis' version to lead police in those localities to believe him the murderer.

But others may never have occurred at all. Cpl. Charles Bryant of the Fayette County Sheriff's Department said, for example, that Davis told him of shooting or stabbing four homosexuals in 1971 in separate incidents near the Iwo Jima Monument in Arlington.

Sgt. Frank Hawkins of the Arlington Police Department said no such bodies were ever found. Arlington homicide detectives said yesterday that they have sent for transcripts of Bryant's interviews with Davis.

Bryant said that Davis told him of killing eight men in the District of Columbia around 1970 while in the service. He told of picking up and killing several of his victims in Georgetown and throwing their bodies in the C&O Canal, Bryant said.

D.C. police, however, who sent two officers to West Virginia last week to interview Davis, said they were unable to confirm any such killings.

The information Davis provided was sketchy, they said. Police have sent for records of unsolved homicides from the time Davis claimed to have committed them.

Howell said that Davis, before his escape, had been serving a 25-to-45-year sentence for strangling a Roman Catholic priest in Chicago. He had previously served five years in the D.C. Department of Corrections for the 1971 slaying of his best friend, according to authorities here.

It remained unclear yesterday just how long Davis lived in the Washington area.

Bryant said, however, the prisoner told him of working as a librarian in Maryland and of taking courses in adult education and communications at the University of Maryland between 1969 and 1971.

Much of that time, however, Davis was wandering around the country, Bryant said, adrift in the homosexual underworld and supported by male lovers.

Bryant said Davis told him that the purported murders "had been on his mind a long time," and he wanted to talk about them. He appeared to have no idea exactly who or how many men he had slain in all.

He said he knew his victims, Bryant said, only as nameless individuals he had picked up, usually the same night, in some gay bar.