It was a simple call--check on a car that was partially blocking access at the Good News Bible Church--that led Montgomery County police on Aug. 29 to the scene of a gruesome homicide just a mile away.
Gloria Elizabeth Clagett's body was found in her upstairs bedroom; she had been stabbed repeatedly in the chest, and blood soaked the floor.
Four months later, Clagett's death is the only unsolved killing in the county this year, and police say that despite tracking down many leads, they have yet to settle on a prime suspect or suspects.
"When you've closed so many, it's like a thorn in your side," police spokesman Derek Baliles said of the unsolved killing.
Officials will say little about their investigation of the death of the 67-year-old widow who lived alone on Muncaster Mill Road, a semirural area where violent crime rarely intrudes.
Lt. Michael Garvey, the head of the homicide unit, said in a brief interview this week that there are no suspects in the case. But he refused to say whether detectives believe there was one or more killer or whether robbery might have been the motive. Clagett kept a gun in her bedroom, and it was found not far from her body, but police have declined to say whether she might have been reaching for it when she was stabbed.
At the time of her death, police said that Clagett appeared to have been startled as she smoked a cigarette and that she apparently struggled with her attacker or attackers.
No murder weapon has been recovered, Garvey said, and he would not describe the kind of knife that might have been used.
Officials have refused to release Clagett's autopsy.
At the same time, Clagett's death galvanized her neighborhood: Residents and former colleagues organized a massive yard sale in early October that raised about $9,000 for the reward fund in less than six hours in early October. The reward is now $10,000.
Linda Barlock, a former co-worker of Clagett's at the Montgomery County Recreation Department, helped organize the sale. She said people that turned out to buy televisions, blenders and other appliances at the sale but that it was also a time for those who knew the woman best to bond and heal.
Clagett's family declined to be interviewed for this report but in a statement described her as a "wonderful, caring, loving mother who devoted her life to her family."
The first hint that anything was amiss came in a Sunday morning call on Aug. 29 from Scott Taylor, pastor of the church on Muncaster Road: An unfamiliar blue Oldsmobile had been in the church's parking lot for days.
Montgomery County officers who arrived at the church traced the car to Clagett, and when they arrived at her house and knocked on the side door, they found it unlocked. There was no answer.
They walked in, up the stairs and found the 5-foot-2, 102-pound woman dead. Neighbors, who declined to be interviewed, told police they last saw Clagett on the Wednesday before she was found dead, about the same time Taylor said he noticed the 1994 Oldsmobile Cutlass sitting in the parking lot.
Clagett had been a fixture in the neighborhood since the 1970s. She was active in the parents organizations of her three children's schools, car-pooled them and others to ballet classes, piano lessons, football and baseball practices and worked on the political campaigns of Idamae Garrott, who served in the Maryland legislature and on the Montgomery County Council.
Five years before her death, Clagett retired from the recreation department--where she had helped residents register for physical fitness classes--to spend more time with her family. Not long after she retired, Clagett's husband, Clinton, died after a long illness.
Friends said Clagett's three grandchildren were the center of her life, and she helped raise them.
But she remained busy with her own interests. She played bridge with a regular group of friends and belonged to a duckpin bowling club.
Sherry Martin, who worked with Clagett at the recreation department, said she is still too rattled to drive past Clagett's home, which she used to drive past almost every morning on her way to work.
There are too many memories, and too little time has passed, she said. "A lot of my friends keep asking me if they [the police] have solved this. Have they found the person who did this?
"When I tell them, 'no,' they're horrified. I'm horrified. It looks like this person will go unpunished, and that's really hard to deal with."
Barlock said Clagett's death has changed her outlook on crime.
"You pick up a newspaper and read about someone who's been murdered. You put the paper down and figure it happens all the time," Barlock said. "But when it's someone you know, well, you suddenly have that connection.
"I'll never read about another murder the same way."