Jeanette M. McClelland, had recently completed her craftsman's training as a graphics design proof-reader, and told friends and coworkers she someday wanted to work as a journalist.

Gladys Ross Bradley studied floral design in the federal Jobs Corps program, and worked for the past six years in the Washington post office.

Althea Byrd had worked her way up through the Woodward & Lothrop department store chain, and is currently listed as a personnel counselor at the Tysons Corner branch.

Alexandria city police are searching for a common denominator in the lives of McClelland, whose body was discovered Thursday night, Bradley, whose body was discovered last Friday, and Byrd, who has been missing for nearly a month.

A fourth victim, Aura Marina Gabor, 24, was found strangled early last August in the same area of Alexandria. That case has never been solved.

A fifth woman, who has not yet been identified, was found yesterday in a wooded section near Indian Head Highway and Oxon Hill Rd. Police say they do not believe that case is related to any of the others.

Police know that McClelland, 24, whom they say was stabbed to death, lived at 5445 N. Morgan St., in the same apartment complex as Byrd, 34. And that Bradley, 27, lived nearby at 5420 N. Morgan St. It is not known if the women knew one another.

McClelland was white and unmarried. Bradley was black, separated from her husband, and the mother of a seven-year-old child. Byrd, whose disappearance is being investigated by homicide officers, is black, believed to be divorced, and the mother of a young daughter.

All are described by people who know them as "quiet" and "thoughtful" people who were serious about their jobs and kept to themselves at work.

Beyond that, police say they have little to go on investigating the three cases that have frightened residents of the Holmes Run Park apartment complex.

Jeanette McClelland had lived nearly all of her life with her parents in Springfield, Va., and had become closest to them in the six months that she had lived in her own apartment, her father, Robert D. McClelland said yesterday.

"She would stop by the house on her way to work and talk to us," McClelland said, as the light from candles, lit during a brief power failure, reflected from the tears streaming down his face.

"Her mother has multiple sclerosis, and Jeanette would bring scholarly papers on the subject home for her mother to read," he said.

His daughter had been employed as a proofreader at the Bru-El Graphics company in Springfield working the 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift, he said. The company prints scholarly journals, a spokesman said. Robert D. McClelland heads a commercial printing firm in the same area.

"I had to explain this today to Jeanette's five-year old sister, Sarah," McClelland said. "As we took a walk in the woods I remembered that Jeanette used to sing to Sarah, so I told her that Jeanette had gone home to God because God needed a good singer," said McClelland, who said his family is very religious.

"I can't believe her attacker knew anything about Jeanette except that she was a young female in a parking lot without protection and that he was not going to be seen or recognized," McClelland said.

"I am a rational man, and our faith means a great deal to us. The Lord tells us that our lives have a purpose, and sometimes that purpose is served even in death. There has to be a reason for this, and perhaps that reason is that now society will try to make some sense out of the mentally ill. . . . This could have happened to anyone," he said.

Jeanette McClelland was a 1971 graduate of West Springfield High School, and a 1975 graduate in English literature from St. Andrews Presbyterian College, in Laurinburg, N.C., according to friends of the family.

Gladys Ross Bradley grew up in Emporia, Va., and joined the federal Jobs Corps program to study floral design, her sister, Katie Washington, said by phone from Emporia, yesterday. After working briefly for a florist in Richmond, she soon moved to the Washington area, and in 1971 started working at the main U.S. Post Office building in the District, according to her sister.

Separated from her husband, she had a 7-year-old daughter. "She was a lovely, beautiful person. She was a majorette in high school. She liked everyone," he sister said.

Althea Byrd had started on her vacation from the Woodward & Lothrop store in Tysons Corner on April 2, eight days before police listed her as missing, according to friends at the store.

"Althea is a compassionate person with terrific empathy for people," said Kate Donaldson, a collegue in the personnel section where Byrd interviewed applicants for employment.

"She would become traumatized over the health of her cat. She loved house plants. I keep telling myself she'll turn up. I keep telling myself she's taken an extended vacation," she said.