One year after leading Northern Virginia in homicides and posting the county's second-highest total at 13, Prince William had five homicides in 2002, only two of which have been linked to county residents.

The significant drop in homicides again reflected the widely variant nature of Prince William County's deadly crimes, as annual homicide numbers have ranged from a high of 14 and a low of two within six years. Police have long said that homicides in the county follow no particular trend, instead reflecting what are often unpreventable or unforeseen circumstances.

"Our trend is that the homicides always fluctuate, sometimes dramatically from one year to the next," said Police Chief Charlie T. Deane, adding that all the homicide investigations last year ended with an arrest. "We are pleased that we were successful in closing the five cases that we had last year."

Three of last year's homicides were part of two separate crime sprees. A double slaying Jan. 2 was among drug-related shootings up and down the East Coast, and a killing Oct. 9 was part of the Washington-area sniper shootings.

The two other homicides were more conventional for Prince William. One was an alleged domestic slaying in July and the other an April shooting with possible ties to drugs.

There were 13 homicides in the county in 2001, 6 in 2000, 14 in 1999, 7 in 1998 and 2 in 1997. Police have not yet compiled overall crime statistics for 2002, but are generally able to report homicide information because there are relatively few cases.

Because the number of homicides in the county is relatively low, the rate varies dramatically. In 1999, with a record 14 homicides, the county had one killing per 20,000 residents. Last year, there was one homicide per 60,000 residents.

"There's no real pattern to the number of homicides here," said Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D). "Last year was well above average, and this year we returned to average. Most of our homicides are the result of domestic violence."

The first slayings of 2002 took place Jan. 2, when Romanno A. Head and Robert I. Morrison, both 22, were shot in their Dumfries apartment during an apparent drug-related attack. Police said Head and Morrison were corralled into their bathtub and shot at close range along with another man, who survived.

Police in New York City later arrested Jamel Saleks Crawford, 23, and Joshua Wayne Andrews, 20. Authorities have linked them to a month-long shooting spree that left three dead in Prince William and four others wounded from Stafford County to New York. Police said that Crawford and Andrews had engineered a drug rip-off scheme and that they killed Head and Morrison as part of their plan.

Crawford and Andrews have been charged with capital murder in Prince William and are being held on other charges in New York.

Matthew Allen Ruane, 18, was shot to death outside his Dale City home April 29 in what police think was also a drug-related attack. Four men were arrested in the case; two remain charged in Ruane's killing and are scheduled for trials in February and March.

On July 29, Ethel Lee Frimpong, 35, was killed in her Woodbridge home during what police said was a fight with her husband. Yaw A. Frimpong, 24, hit his wife over the head with a 25-pound dumbbell, police said. Frimpong is charged with murder and is scheduled for trial this month.

The last slaying of 2002 occurred Oct. 9, when Dean Harold Meyers of Gaithersburg, 53, was shot while pumping gas at a Sunoco station on Sudley Road north of Manassas. Meyers was the ninth person shot in the Washington-area sniper spree that began a week before his death, and he was the seventh person to die as a result.

Two weeks after Meyers was shot, police arrested John Allen Muhammad, 42, and John Lee Malvo, 17, as they slept in a blue Chevrolet Caprice at a Maryland rest stop. Muhammad and Malvo have been linked to 13 shootings in the Washington area -- 10 of which were fatal -- and a total of 21 shootings across the country.

Muhammad is scheduled to go to trial on capital murder charges in Prince William in October. Malvo is facing capital charges in Fairfax County in a shooting there Oct. 14.