The body of a female was found yesterday in a suitcase inside a dumpster at a Loudoun County apartment complex, and the death is being investigated as a homicide, sheriff's officials said.

Loudoun Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson said a maintenance worker tossing trash into the dumpster at a South Riding apartment complex about 11 a.m. spotted the suitcase, opened it, found what he believed was a body and contacted authorities.

Sheriff's investigators yesterday had not identified the person or determined how she died. They said the body is female and is not that of a child.

"This investigation is in the very early stages," Simpson said. He said the body will be taken to the Virginia medical examiner's office for an autopsy.

Yesterday afternoon, yellow police tape cordoned off some parking lots at the Abbey at South Riding complex, which is just south of Dulles International Airport. Detectives and crime-scene technicians combed the area for clues. The green dumpster, hidden by a white fence, sits in a corner of the tidy complex.

Deputies went door-to-door in the complex and asked drivers pulling in whether they had noticed anything unusual in recent days. Simpson said that the trash was last removed from the dumpster Friday but that it is unclear when the suitcase was tossed into it.

If the death is determined to be a homicide, it will be the second slaying in Loudoun this year.

On March 22, Donald Nicholas Shomaker, 15, a freshman at Broad Run High School, was fatally shot in the basement of a friend's Ashburn house, sheriff's officials said. Shomaker's friend and former classmate Matthew Lathram, 17, has been charged with murder in the shooting, but Loudoun's top prosecutor said the investigation has shown that the shooting was accidental and that Lathram is expected to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

Sheriff's spokesman Kraig Troxell said detectives are asking anyone who saw anything suspicious in the area or spotted the suitcase in the dumpster to contact the Loudoun sheriff's office at 703-777-1919.