A 72-year-old woman was found dead under her bed in a Columbia Heights apartment building yesterday, a day after a D.C. police officer had searched the apartment and found nothing.

Elizabeth Gaither's body was found about 1:40 p.m. in her first-floor apartment in the 1400 block of Girard Street NW after two other D.C. officers sent to check on her spotted a foot protruding from under the bed, said Cheryl Pendergast, commander of the 3rd Police District.

Police said the case was classified as a "suspicious death" pending an autopsy by D.C. Medical Examiner Jonathan L. Arden. Police detectives and crime scene workers could be seen entering the five-story brick building, part of the Claypoole Courts complex, yesterday afternoon.

Gaither was born in North Carolina but spent most of her life in the District, said her sister, Frances Pressley of Silver Spring. A mother of four, Gaither lived alone and was hampered by arthritis, diabetes and a hip replacement, Pressley said.

Lottie Gilliam, a neighbor who said she had lived near Gaither for 23 years, said she often brought Gaither dinner and groceries and talked to her about the Bible or old times in the neighborhood. Gaither often talked about how God helped her battle the pain of her illnesses, she said.

"She was a beautiful person, a kind-hearted person," said Gilliam, who said she called Gaither by her childhood nickname, "Little Bit."

"Yes, Lord, that was my best friend," she said.

Gilliam said she last talked to Gaither on Tuesday, when Gilliam promised to send over a plate of food on New Year's Day. On Wednesday, after calling Gaither throughout the day and getting busy signals, Gilliam and Pressley called police and asked them to check on her.

Pendergast said that a 3rd District officer and a building manager entered the apartment that day but did not find Gaither. The name of the officer who first checked on Gaither was not available yesterday.

"They said that she wasn't there," said Gilliam, who said that Gaither hardly ever ventured beyond the church, the store and the doctor's office. "She doesn't go anywhere without talking to me."

Yesterday, after another call asking police to check on Gaither, two 3rd District officers went to the apartment, Pendergast said. One of them saw Gaither's foot sticking out from under the bed, Pendergast said.

Pendergast said that there was no evidence of forced entry to Gaither's apartment and that it did not appear to have been ransacked.

Capt. Willie Smith of the 3rd District said that when the first officer went to Gaither's apartment Wednesday night, very dim lighting in the apartment hampered the search. Yesterday, he said, Officer John Dobbins opened up the blinds to let daylight into the apartment, allowing him to see Gaither's foot.

Pressley and Gilliam said they believed that Gaither was killed.

"She couldn't even bend down to go under the bed," Pressley said.