Five women were found shot to death last night in a row house in a relatively quiet section of northeast Baltimore, police said. A homicide detective said the death toll was believed to be the highest in a shooting incident in the city's history.

The victims were not identified, and no motive could be learned immediately for the killings in the 3500 block of Elmley Avenue.

However, police said they believe the attack on the women was not a random act. "It appears the victims in the case were clearly targeted," a Baltimore police spokeswoman said.

The killings appeared to mark the highest death toll in a single homicide incident in the Washington region in the last decade. They raised the homicide death toll to 10 in the past three days in Baltimore, a city where homicide rates have not fallen as rapidly as elsewhere.

Shortly after the killings, occupants of a vehicle that appeared similar to one seen leaving the scene were apparently involved in a carjacking attempt at a fast-food restaurant two miles away on Greenmount Avenue in the Memorial Stadium area, police said.

An off-duty school police officer shot at them, but they fled and were believed unwounded, police said.

At least one of the women lived in the two-story house where the five bodies were found, police said. Police said it was possible that two or more of the victims were related, but that was not clear last night.

Officers were sent to Elmley Avenue, in Baltimore's Belair-Edison neighborhood, after a dispatcher logged a call at 7:32 p.m. reporting the sound of gunfire.

Police entered the house and found the bodies, but spokeswoman Ragina Cooper would not say where in the house each was found.

Neighbors on Elmley, a block of almost identical two-story row houses built 60 years ago about two miles southeast of the stadium, said they believed the house in which the killings occurred had been sold in the past year.

One said she understood that it had been bought by a mother with a small child; she said she believed several other people also lived in the beige house, with its front porch and small front yard.

One woman who answered the telephone at her parents' house on Elmley said she hurried there out of concern when she heard about the shootings.

"We see them coming and going," she said of the residents of the house where the bodies were found. She said she would say hello to residents of the house but had virtually no other dealings with them.

Another neighbor said she found the new owners of the row house to be unobtrusive people who made "no noise" and "no commotion," but a third resident complained that visitors to the row house sometimes double-parked their cars in Elmley Avenue, making it difficult for her to use her own car.

Homicide has become a political issue in Baltimore. During the recent mayoral campaign, a death toll that stubbornly refused to fall below the 300-a-year mark was cited as a major challenge to civic leadership. The figure remains below 300 so far this year.

In the District, four people were shot to death in a Southeast Washington apartment on April 9, 1985. At the time, that was said to be the largest number of people killed in a homicide in the city in a dozen years.

In 1988, five people were killed execution style in a drug-related robbery at an apartment development in the Landover area of Prince George's County.