It was a murder case that tested the ingenuity and resourcefulness of homicide investigators Tom Kilcullen and Bill Corboy. There was no body to prove that a murder actually had been committed in the District, and to compound matters the D.C. police department refused to pay for their trip to Harrisburg, Pa., to interview witnesses and gather evidence.

So they took a vacation day, jumped into Kilcullen's station wagon and drove to Harrisburg, where they spent hours with the FBI and local police piecing together a case against two men who abducted a young woman, drove her to the District, raped her in a hotel here, then shot her to death and dumped her body into the Potomac River.

No trace of Patsy Gaisior was ever found, but when the two men accused in her death came to trial in D.C. Superior Court -- one in August 1983 and the other seven months later -- prosecutors won convictions on the basis of Corboy and Kilcullen's investigation, much of it conducted on their own time.

It was the sort of dedication that had earned the homicide investigation partners a reputation among other detectives, prosecutors and even public defenders as "the perfect team."

Then it all came apart. Corboy and Kilcullen fell out of favor with their superiors and their partnership was disbanded. They were transferred to a different shift and their days off were changed. Corboy was eventually dropped from the homicide squad and sent back to a foot patrol in the 4th police district. Last year, while on duty, he was thrown from a motorcycle in an accident that left him partially disabled and his future in doubt.

"It was a tragic and stupid loss for the city," said a ranking prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office. "He was born to be a homicide investigator."

Now, the city's Public Employees Relations Board has upheld a hearing examiner's ruling that Corboy and Kilcullen were unfairly harassed and improperly punished because of the anti-union animus of police officials. Those officials, including Deputy Chief Alfonso Gibson, head of the department's Criminal Investigations Division and one of the city's top police officials, subjected the pair to arbitrary threats, reprisals and discrimination, the examiner found.

The decision was hailed by Corboy's and Kilcullen's colleagues, one calling it a "monument" to their "fortitude, gumption and tenacity."

"They really did make a perfect pair. There was almost too much talent there to stay together," said another prosecutor, adding that the story of their partnership is about being "broken up and broken."

At 28, Corboy was the youngster, detailed part time to homicide, where he pored over old case jackets with a seemingly photographic memory for detail. His colleagues considered him one of the best new investigators the department had ever had, with innate investigative skills that earned him a nickname: The Future.

Kilcullen, now 42, was the savvy veteran, a teacher at the prestigious homicide school who had solved 88 percent of the 156 cases he had investigated in 12 years in the homicide branch -- one of the best arrest rates in the department. He had a knack for recognizing and nurturing talent, colleagues say, and in Corboy he saw the makings of a great detective, someone who could carry on a tradition of excellence.

Once "The Future," Corboy is now called "The Yo-Yo," a reference to the changes in his fortune that started in the fall of 1983. It was then, after being on a "temporary detail" to the homicide branch for 2 1/2 years, that Corboy started asking about being promoted from officer to detective, with the accompanying pay raise, and being assigned to the squad full time.

He asked the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, to look into his status. Deputy Chief Gibson called Kilcullen on the carpet for giving his young partner "bad advice" about going to the union, according to the PERB.

Both men filed an unfair labor practice complaint in December 1983 with the PERB and were criticized by their superiors for being disloyal. The two were split up and Corboy was later transferred from the homicide squad.

The change in partners, the hearing examiner later found, "was intended to teach Officer Corboy and Detective Kilcullen a lesson . . . primarily as a punitive measurement."

After Corboy was transferred from the homicide squad, he was sent to the 4th District. Last October, as he was returning a stolen motorcycle to the police station, he rounded a corner and hit some gravel on the road, and the motorcycle spun out from under him.

Doctors put two three-inch pins in his left knee to bolt seven fractures together. Now he walks with a limp and is assigned to a desk. He has no police powers, no badge, no gun. Instead of investigating murders, he answers telephones.

"My authority has been suspended because of my condition," he explained recently. "If someone calls in with a tip, I log it in. I just answer the phones, or if there is substantial information, I can do some background investigation in the office."

Although the hearing examiner ordered that the police department "and all its agents and officials shall cease and desist from taking reprisals, retaliation and discriminatory actions against Officer Corboy and Detective Kilcullen," he did not order any corrective or punitive measures.

Chief of Police Maurice T. Turner Jr. said in an interview last week that the department would comply with Corboy's wishes to return to the homicide branch but that any move depends on his physical condition. Turner said Corboy would be promoted as soon as he "can pass a physical" and his leg does not prohibit him from performing police duties.

The labor dispute pitted Corboy and Kilcullen against the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia and codefendants Deputy Chief Gibson, Lt. John Harlow and Capt. Jimmy Wilson, who was then head of the homicide branch and is now inspector in charge of the department's Internal Affairs Division.

Papers filed with the PERB about the unfair labor practice complaint, are replete with contradictory statements made during 12 days of bitter testimony last year.

According to the hearing examiner's decision, which PERB upheld last month after an appeal by the police department, the examiner frequently chose to believe Corboy and Kilcullen's version of the facts and "did not credit" the testimony of the police department's witnesses.

A key element were notes taken by Corboy and Kilcullen after conversations they had with officials and others in the homicide branch.

On numerous occasions when witnesses for the police department said they could not recall details of conversations or contradicted Corboy and Kilcullen's version, the partners offered their notes to support their testimony.

The police department countered that the notes were "reworked statements" that had been "cleverly distorted" by Corboy and Kilcullen.

As a result of the allegations, Corboy and Kilcullen asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Gordon to testify as a character witness in their behalf. When Deputy Chief Gibson learned of Gordon's plans to testify, he called U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova and said it would "strain relations" and would not "serve to foster a unifying and amicable relationship" between their offices, according to memos on the call written by Gibson and diGenova.

The hearing examiner later found that, while the phone call "could be perceived as threatening," it did not prevent Gordon from testifying. "It is reasonable to conclude, however, that the telephone call was an effort to impede the proceedings in this case," the examiner wrote.

And, in every instance in which the notes were offered as evidence, the hearing examiner deemed them accurate. The examiner also pointed to numerous occasions when he could find no "credible" evidence to support the police department's version of events.

Gibson called the PERB ruling a "departmental matter" and said he did not want to discuss it. Inspector Wilson said he has "always honored the role of the union" and that changes in Corboy's and Kilcullen's assignments were "made with the intent to increase the effectiveness of the total [homicide] unit." Lt. Harlow is on leave and could not be reached for comment.

Police Chief Turner said that in his opinion, the hearing examiner did not question the "veracity" of police officials, but simply ruled that the officials were "retaliatory."

Turner said he has not yet decided if he will punish the three officials who the PERB said violated Corboy and Kilcullen's rights. "If it does come, it will probably be a reprimand . . . . It could be a written warning" placed in their personnel files.

Gary Hankins, labor committee chairman of the FOP, said last week, "There should be disciplinary action against the people found guilty of the violations, and there should be stern action.

"Police officers are especially sensitive to hypocrisy because we chose a profession that has as its goal the equal application of the law and the protection of the weak against the strong. To see these kinds of problems in our own ranks rankles a police officer and shakes his faith not only in the department but the very basis of our profession."

One legacy of the case has been a notice posted on police department bulletin boards throughout the city reaffirming the right of officers to use the FOP to settle grievances. The notice, which the PERB ordered posted for 60 days, states that "Improper efforts by any officials of the department to discourage such communications or to intimidate members are unlawful and will be punished."

In the homicide branch, where Kilcullen and other detectives still phone Corboy for advice on cases, most are looking forward to his return.

"If someone in my family was murdered, or I was murdered, I want Corboy to work it," a longtime veteran of the branch said. "If Corboy comes back and says I've exhausted all the means, I'm satisfied with that."

Meanwhile, Corboy divides his time between answering phones and going to a physical therapist to try to regain full use of his leg. Doctors, who had said he would never be a police officer again, now say it should be about two years before he's well enough to return to full duty.

Corboy is more optimistic. "When I go down to the therapist's office, I work just as hard there as anywhere else," he said. "I hope by the end of the year to be strong enough to run again and go up and down stairs."