It rained again this spring on March 21, just as it did the year before, a steady and determined downpour that brought back frustrating memories for Lt. Mike McQuillan, commander of the homicide unit for the Prince George's County police.

Five years ago to the day, about 6 a.m., McQuillan found himself standing in the dark, pouring rain by the side of a two-lane road in Glenn Dale.

A passerby had discovered the body of a teenager in the 12100 block of Daisy Lane. McQuillan was at the crime scene along with his detectives, trying to find any clues that hadn't already been washed away.

The police quickly identified the victim: Julie Lynn Ferguson, 17, a junior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, a pretty student with straight dark brown hair who had been reported missing the night before. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death as strangulation. She was fully clothed and there was no sign that she had been sexually assaulted, police said.

Detectives soon determined that Ferguson had been last seen alive about eight hours earlier at the Greenway Shopping Center in Greenbelt, about five miles from the tree-lined stretch of Daisy Lane where her body was found. It was clear that she had been kidnapped.

But by whom and for what purpose? That eluded police. Investigators interviewed dozens of people and devoted hundreds of hours to the case but couldn't come up with a motive, much less make an arrest.

Five years later, Ferguson's slaying remains unsolved.

And although murders become exponentially more difficult to solve as the years go by, Prince George's detectives say they have made steady progress in the case and quietly have developed some strong new leads.

At a news conference last week, McQuillan said investigators have identified "a possible suspect," although he declined to name the person or to give other details.

He also said police are looking for three people who may have been involved in the kidnapping.

The three people were riding in a four-door Volkswagen Jetta, red or burgundy, which was seen in the Greenway Shopping Center about the time Ferguson disappeared, McQuillan said. Witnesses have told police that they saw Ferguson lean toward the car to talk to the people inside, although they don't know what happened to her after that.

Another witness reported seeing a vehicle matching the description of the Jetta a few hours later, about midnight, parked on the side of Daisy Lane with its lights on, in the same spot where Ferguson's body was discovered.

Police described the three people inside the Jetta as a black woman in her late teens or early twenties, with short hair, wearing white tennis shoes and a dark-colored jacket that covered her thighs; a black man about the same age, also with short hair, cleanshaven and wearing a multicolored silk shirt; and a third man who was scarcely seen by the witnesses.

"We feel comfortable that the three occupants of that vehicle are involved in one way or another in Julie's murder," McQuillan said.

"We don't know what happened at the shopping center. We don't know if she was snatched there or if she was confronted with a weapon and ordered in [a car]. We don't know the motive. But somebody out there knows who did this. Someone out there knows what happened to Julie Ferguson."

Ferguson worked at the Greenway Shopping Center as a sales clerk at Linens 'N' Things. The night she disappeared, her friends had promised to pick her up when she got off work about 9:30 p.m. so they could give her a ride to an evening wake for a friend's mother, who had died in a car accident on St. Patrick's Day.

Ferguson's friends were a bit late. When they arrived shortly before 10 p.m., they found her purse and a Coke bottle sitting on the concrete curb by the store. But Ferguson had vanished.

The friends called her mother, Pat Ferguson, who lived less than a mile away and had talked to her daughter briefly on the phone 30 minutes earlier. She raced over to the shopping center and immediately feared the worst.

"When I saw her stuff on the sidewalk, I was frightened from the get-go," Pat Ferguson recalled in an interview. "I had a feeling in my stomach--I can't even describe it. It was this gut feeling, a bad, bad, bad feeling that this was really bad."

At 7 a.m. on March 21, 1995, as the rain fell, Greenbelt police officers told Pat Ferguson that her daughter had been found but that she was dead.

Two days later, about 1,300 people gathered at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, just across the street from where Ferguson was kidnapped, to pay their respects at a vigil. Students later created a "peace garden" outside the high school entrance, which includes a dogwood tree and tulips planted next to a granite memorial. It reads:

"In Loving Memory

Julie Lynn Ferguson

March 20, 1995

May This Tree Grow And Flourish In A World Of Love And Peace."

Police ask anyone with information about the death of Julie Ferguson to call Prince George's County Crime Solvers at 301-735-1111.