The day after a 23-year-old man was found dead in front of a Dupont Circle rose garden, neighbors on the one-block street recalled a similar killing there four years ago.

At 7 a.m. Saturday, District police found the severely beaten body of Edward Rusboldt, a resident of Michigan City, Ind., face down in front of the wrought-iron fence that hems in the Columbia Historical Society's flower garden on Sunderland Place NW.

Concerned about a woman who had left a Dupont Circle bar where the young man and others had been until 3 a.m. Saturday, Rusboldt searched for her and was never seen alive again by his friends, said his father Charles Rusboldt. The elder Rusboldt had talked with friends of his son who had been with him that night.

Edward Rusboldt had planned to travel back to Indiana later that day to attend his older brother's wedding reception, his father said yesterday. "The police said his wallet was taken and he was beaten up," said the elder Rusboldt, a service station manager and father of eight.

At 3:20 a.m. April 10, 1982, another visitor was killed on Sunderland Place, a tiny, dimly lit street lined with trees, the historical society's Victorian-style mansion, and town house offices, including that of well-known attorney Plato Ca- cheris.

In that case, Chantal Mouyal, 30, a physiotherapist visiting the United States from her home in Paris, was shot in the head and shoulder. Mouyal and a male friend were parked on Sunderland Place in a yellow Cadillac when the attacker approached, robbed the man of $60, forced him into the car's trunk and killed Mouyal.

An arrest was made in that case, but the disposition of the matter could not be learned last night.

Lit not by overhead street lights but by lanterns, and virtually empty when the businesses and the museum close, Sunderland Place was deserted yesterday. Six empty Budweiser bottles lined up along the south curb seemed to be the only things out of place.

A resident of the Lauren Condominium on 20th Street NW said in an interview yesterday that she heard commotion early Saturday morning. "I heard a yell at 4 a.m. I couldn't go back to sleep, and about a quarter to 7 a.m. I looked out my window and thought, 'My God, there is someone sleeping on the sidewalk.' He had a pinkish shirt and khaki-colored pants . . . . I waited and he didn't move, and then the police came around the corner."

The resident, who asked not to be identified because she feared for her safety, said, "People are frightened, especially the women. This is the second time this has happened."

The medical examiner has yet to determine the exact cause of Edward Rusboldt's death. Police said they have no suspect but believe that the killing occurred during a robbery.

News of the killing spread quickly through the neighborhood. Patricia Nicholls, who was putting a bicycle on the back of her car on New Hampshire Avenue, said, "It's inconceivable that that can happen around here. It really makes you feel you can't walk alone."

One block from Sunderland Place, in the core of Dupont Circle, James True sat on a bench surrounded by scores of others reading the Sunday paper, walking dogs and listening to radios. The killing, he said, "makes me mad . . . . It puts my life at threat, too."

A graphics designer and a 20-year Dupont Circle resident, True described his community as "real bohemian, a place with a real feel to it and great architecture." He agreed with two police officers patrolling the area that his neighborhood was safer than Georgetown, the other nearby late-night district.

Some neighbors said that the city should better light Sunderland Place because there were no neighbors on the street to watch those getting in and out of parked automobiles.

Charles Rusboldt said he hoped that news of his son's death will prevent further tragedy.

"If it keeps one person from getting hurt," he said. "If one person reads about this and doesn't walk down a dark alley or a poorly-lit street . . . . "