A 66-year-old woman employed as a housekeeper by a Northwest Washington couple was found beaten to death yesterday in the Massachusetts Heights house where she worked, shocking residents of one of the city's most exclusive neighborhoods, D.C. police reported.

The body of Teresa Nelson of 8500 16th St., Silver Spring, was discovered about 12:30 p.m. by her employer, Christina Hawkins, in the dining room of Hawkins' house at 2829 Woodland Dr. NW, according to police.

Nelson had been "viciously and brutally" beaten to death, police said. The possibility that the woman was also sexually assaulted "has not been ruled out," police officials said.

They said the second floor of the three-story house had been ransacked and that some jewelry was missing from the residence, which is flanked by the Fellowship Foundation and the Embassy of Guatemala.

Ewald Herman Nelson, the woman's husband, said last night that he had talked with his wife by telephone from their apartment about 11 a.m. yesterday.

He said he told her he would stop by the Hawkins' house on his way to an early afternoon dental appointment and drop off letters that had arrived that day from his wife's brother in Colombia.

"When I went to deliver the letters, as I was going up the front steps, I saw Mrs. Hawkins coming out of the garage," Nelson said. He said he gave the letters to Hawkins, who police said was returning from a hairdresser's appointment, and asked her to deliver them to his wife.

Police said that as Hawkins entered her house, she found the front door ajar.

"I turned around and was going to my car," Nelson said, "and she Hawkins called to me" and asked him to come into the house.

He then went into the house with Hawkins and saw his wife lying on the floor. He said she was wearing a housedress, had what appeared to be bruises on her left temple and forehead and that one of her undergarments was tied about her neck.

Nelson, a licensed practical nurse, said he tried for several minutes to revive his wife.

"I touched her and she was still warm. I started giving her CPR cardiopulmonary resuscitation . The air went in and was coming out for a while," he said. " . . .I put my ear on her chest, but it was too late."

Police said Nelson, a native of Spain who had been in the United States since 1972, was hired 10 days ago as a housekeeper for Richard H. Hawkins Jr. and his wife.

Hawkins, 71, is a retired Foreign Service officer whose assignments included Spain, Canada, and Australia. Police said Hawkins was playing golf at the time of the slaying.

Police said another housekeeper employed by the family apparently had left the house about noon and returned to her home.

Nelson said that his wife had trained as a physician in her native Spain and was in private practice there before going to Colombia, where she was employed by a pharmaceutical company for 14 years.

He said she came to the United States after friends advised her she could earn more money in this country but that she had been employed in domestic positions largely because of her poor English.

The area neighborhood in which the slaying took place home to many influential government, diplomatic and business officials. Among those who live on Woodland Drive are Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), former senator Hugh Scott, businessman True Davis, former Federal Reserve Board chairman William McChesney Martin and lawyer John Depray Muir.

Neighbors described the Hawkinses yesterday as an elderly couple who "stay to themselves."

According to a neighbor, a security consultant for the CIA and Department of Defense, Woodland Drive is constantly patrolled by the Secret Service because of the embassies in the area.

The attacker "must have been a nut," he said. "Almost everything is guarded. Professionals don't come in and hit the hottest area of Washington."