Sixteen people were slain in Fairfax County last year, many of them in domestic disputes, police said.

The number of homicides was slightly higher than in 2001, when 14 people were killed, police said. At the same time, detectives investigated a triple shooting that was committed in 1995 but went undetected until last year.

Nearly 500 people died in homicides in the Washington area last year -- a 12 percent rise from 2001 -- with the District and Prince George's County registering the biggest increases. Fairfax's suburban counterpart across the Potomac River, Montgomery County, reported 32 slayings -- the most since 1994.

The city of Falls Church and Fairfax City reported no homicides in either 2001 or 2002.

Fairfax County police said three of the slayings committed last year have been linked to gang violence. Another killing is believed to be drug-related and one is connected to the series of 13 sniper shootings throughout the Washington region in October that left 10 dead. But as in years past, domestic disputes or those between acquaintances led to most of the deadly crimes.

"Luckily, living in a suburban area like this, we don't have the turf battles," said Lt. Bruce Guth, who heads the department's homicide unit. "It's much more random. What sets people off at any given moment . . . you just don't know."

Police officials said the homicide rate, which has remained fairly steady over the past several years, is low considering the county's population has topped a million.

Last year's first homicide was reported in March, when 60-year-old Leslie Beesley was stabbed to death in his Gum Springs area home, police said.

Beesley's killing remains unsolved, making it one of only four 2002 cases that have not been closed when the suspect was charged or committed suicide.

Guth said detectives have strong suspects in several of the open cases, and the investigations are continuing. "Because of the numbers, we can dedicate the time and personnel to the investigations from A to Z," he said.

Police reported two cases of murder-suicide in 2002. In June, Suhail Ilyas, 53, killed his young sons, Zak, 11, and Aaron, 14, before killing himself in their Alexandria area home, police said. Last month in Springfield, Jose Febo, 30, shot his father, Manuel Febo, 57, before turning the gun on himself, police said.

Fairfax last fall also was the scene of one of the sniper shootings that terrorized the Washington region. On Oct. 14, Linda Franklin, 47, an FBI analyst, was fatally shot outside a Home Depot store at Seven Corners.

Sniper suspect John Lee Malvo, 17, is awaiting trial on a capital murder charge in Fairfax in connection with Franklin's slaying. A preliminary hearing in his case is scheduled for Tuesday. Malvo's co-defendant, John Lee Muhammad, 41, is facing the same charge in Prince William County in connection with an Oct. 9 fatal shooting at a Manassas gas station.

Although there were 16 slayings last year, county police statistics list 21 homicide victims. The other five killings were committed in previous years but went undiscovered or were not classified as homicides until last year.

For example, Brenda Hill was last seen alive on Dec. 27, 2001. Her body was found last May wrapped in a blanket and plastic under her trailer. Police believe she was killed in 2001. Her former boyfriend, Guy Favorite, is awaiting trial on a murder charge.

Detectives also uncovered a 1995 Falls Church triple shooting last year when the killer's ex-girlfriend phoned in a tip. Edward Y. Chen, 27, pleaded guilty in December to three counts of murder and was sentenced to 36 years in prison.

Chen admitted in court that he shot his parents and older brother to death inside their Great Falls home in 1995, then left their bodies inside the house for nearly four years. Chen later dumped the bodies of his father, Wu-Hung Chen, 53; his mother, Yeh-Mei Chen, 52; and his brother, Raymond, 25, in the Chesapeake Bay.