Bernard Lancaster had attended parochial schools in Washington and graduated in 1992 from Gonzaga College High School, an academically challenging Catholic institution.

Rodney Taylor did not graduate from high school and spent most of his adult life in and out of jail, according to relatives and D.C. Superior Court records.

Lancaster and Taylor came from the same Northeast Washington neighborhood, they hung out on the same streets, and they became friends. Soon after Lancaster graduated, court records show he too got in trouble with the law.

Last weekend, both were shot to death. Homicide detectives are navigating a web of neighborhood intrigue to determine whether the slayings are linked.

Lancaster's body was found Friday night in the back seat of a car in the Hillcrest area, a quiet residential neighborhood in Southeast Washington. The 20-year-old had been shot at least once in the head and apparently had been stabbed in the face. Witnesses said his hands had been tied behind him and his head draped with a cloth.

Just before midnight Saturday, Taylor, 26, was fatally shot. He was slain in the 1700 block of Lyman Place NE, the heart of the neighborhood where Lancaster and Taylor lived.

Taylor's great-grandmother, Elnora Shaw, said a relative had told detectives that on the night Taylor was killed, he expressed concern that some people in the neighborhood believed he had killed Lancaster. Taylor denied being involved in his friend's death, Shaw said.

Yesterday,, six young men who were friends of both victims said they knew of no bad blood between Taylor and Lancaster. Instead, they were concerned that one person was responsible for both slayings and that some of them might be next.

"We're hoping it wasn't somebody trying to get the rest of us," said one of the six, who, like the others, would not give his name.

They all had gathered in front of a red-brick apartment complex in the 1000 block of 17th Place NE.

The men said they were not part of any street gang or crew. But police say, and graffiti in the area suggest, that the block is a stonghold for what is known as the L Street Crew.

Spray-painted tributes to Lancaster, whose nickname was "Brains," adorned the plywood that covered some windows of apartments in the block. They read "Rest in Peace B" and "We Miss You B For Ever." Some of the same buildings had "L St Crew" spray-painted on them. Police said the L Street Crew has sold drugs on the block in recent years.

Although the motives for the two killings were unclear, it was apparent from court records, friends and relatives that Taylor and Lancaster had been familiar with drugs and guns.

In late June 1992, just after he graduated from Gonzaga, Lancaster was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Last February, he was charged with carrying a pistol, which is illegal in the District. Altogether, he had been arrested three times and charged with seven offenses, all of which were dismissed or dropped by prosecutors, according to court records.

Taylor had been charged with more than a dozen crimes, most of which were dismissed or dropped by prosecutors, according to court records. Taylor was scheduled to have a preliminary hearing next month on a charge of possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

Lancaster's mother, Loryn Lancaster, a Labor Department employee, said she had saved a $9,000 college fund for her son and would have helped him go to college out of town. Instead, he moved out of her house, attended the University of the District of Columbia off and on and stayed in the neighborhood, she said.

A family friend suggested yesterday that the neighborhood may have been his undoing. "If {Lancaster} had been away from this environment, I think he'd be alive today," said Valencia Howard.