A retired Army colonel and director of American University's Foreign Area Studies was arrested yesterday and charged with murder in the slaying last week of his wife of 43 years.

William (Bull) Evans-Smith, 64, was arrested at his Loudoun County estate at about 1:30 p.m. without incident, according to a spokesman for the Loudoun County sheriff's department. The arrest came after a grand jury convened yesterday by Loudoun prosecutor William Burch indicted Evans-Smith on a charge of murder in the April 15 death of Barbara Evans-Smith, 64.

Evans-Smith was released on $100,000 property bond late yesterday afternoon, officials said. No trial date has been set.

Barbara Evans-Smith was found strangled, a nylon stocking wound around her neck, on a bedroom floor of the couple's secluded home at their 70-acre Crooked Run Farm in Hamilton. She was clad in a nightgown and bathrobe.

The county medical examiner said last week that Barbara Evans-Smith had been dead for at least four hours before her body was found at about 11:30 a.m. that Monday.

In a lengthy telephone interview last night, William Evans-Smith asserted his innocence and spoke of his wife as if she were still alive. He spoke angrily of the way he was treated by police, saying they would not let him see his wife's body before an ambulance took her away, despite his plea to be allowed to "express my reverence to her."

"I'm completely washed up," Evans-Smith said. "It's an absolute nightmare." Asked whether he was innocent of the crime, Evans-Smith replied, "Of course I am."

He described his wife as a "very, very fine woman" -- an artist, musician, intellectual, bird-watcher, gardener and childhood sweetheart and partner with whom he built stone walls and fastidiously maintained their home.

"It is absolutely beyond my comprehension," he said of the week's events. "We had been through a lot together. I'm extremely upset, of course, at this tremendous loss."

The news of the arrest shocked neighbors of the couple, who were highly active in civic affairs in western Loudoun County.

Evans-Smith was a land conservationist who ran for county supervisor as a Republican in 1975. He is also known for his love of fox hunting.

Neighbors said they thought the couple had a close relationship.

"He always was very affectionate with her," said B. Powell Harrison, a longtime friend of the couple. "I thought he was an ideal husband. They were a very fine couple, really."

Neighbors also described Evans-Smith as a blunt and strong-willed man. "I think Bull didn't suppress things on his mind," said Joseph M. Rogers, who said he had known the couple for 15 years. "He was very frank and didn't wait till the next meeting to tell you he disagreed with you."

Maj. Charles A. Cooper of the Loudoun County sheriff's office said yesterday that investigators had interviewed about 75 people since the slaying.

He said that preliminary indications at the crime scene were that the Evans-Smith home had been burglarized and that the victim had been raped before the killing. Further investigation and a report from the medical examiner showed that there had been neither a rape nor a burglary, Cooper said.

William Evans-Smith has worked at American University for 17 years, according to university officials. The Foreign Area Studies program he supervises has a staff of 40 and prepares handbooks about foreign countries for the Army.

"He was a very professional person," said Robert L. Norris, the university's vice provost.

"He's a highly educated man," said Harrison. "Everybody in the community has been helped by Bull Evans-Smith at some time over the years."

The couple had three grown children and lived in a brick and fieldstone house hidden from the main dirt road and overlooking pastures, woods and a creek. The estate, off Rte. 725 and near Rte. 704, is valued at $367,000.

In a memorial service for Barbara Evans-Smith last Friday, attended by several hundred of the couple's friends, Rogers said, William Evans-Smith rose in the Goose Creek Friends Meeting House in Lincoln to speak of his wife.

"It was a history of their happy association together," Rogers said. "It was very emotional."