An Arlington man was charged with first degree murder yesterday in the death of a 28-year-old woman whose body was found under an overpass on Rte. I-66 near an apartment the man and the woman shared.

Arlington police identified the victim as Pearlene E. Bowles and said they had arrested Vernon A. Clarke, 33, who shared an apartment with her and two children in the Colonial Village West complex, in connection with her death.

Sgt. Frank Hawkins of the homicide unit said that the investigation was "concentrating heavily on the apartment" in the 1700 block of North Veitch Street as the scene of the crime. He said that the exact cause of Bowles' death would not be determined until an autopsy is completed.

Neighbors said police told them Bowles had been stabbed and said officers were seen retrieving bloody sheets and clothing from a trash bin at the complex. Hawkins said he could not comment on how wounds on Bowles' body may have been inflicted and the neighbors' accounts of the sheets and clothing.

"This is like a bad dream and any minute now I'll wake up . . . " said Mary McGill, the victim's mother. "As far as I knew, they were getting along pretty good."

Irene Gipson, the victim's grandmother, said Bowles worked for the Army in Alexandria as a secretary. Neighbors said Clarke was unemployed. The couple shared a three-bedroom apartment with Bowles' 10-year-old son and their 5-year-old daughter, relatives said.

Maureen O'Shea, a neighbor, said she and neighbors knew there had been "some tension sometimes" between the couple, and that Clarke had once "wondered whether the relationship should continue."

O'Shea said Clarke knocked on her door at 6 a.m. and asked her to watch his daughter. "He told me his wife had not returned home and he was going out to look for her." O'Shea said others told her Clarke said Bowles had left the apartment around 1 a.m. and had not returned.

Police said they received an anonymous call at 4:37 a.m. that a woman had been hit by a car near the North 21st Street overpass. They dispatched a squad car and officers found Bowles' body in a westbound lane of the highway.