Larry E. Murphy, Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton's top political aide and confidant, shot himself to death early this morning after shooting his fiance three times and assaulting her father at her family's suburban Richmond home, according to police.

Rescue squad members discovered Murphy's body in an upstairs bedroom at the home of Margaret Lynn Whitaker, 22, his fiance. Murphy, 34, Dalton's senior executive assistant, died from a single bullet wound in the head.

Whitaker, whom police found near Murphy, was taken to a nearby hospital, where she was described in stable condition tonight after several hours of surgery.

Police said Murphy, who had a permit to carry a concealed handgun, drew a .38-caliber pistol after William Whitaker, his fiance's father, ordered him to leave the house and threatened to call the police.

According to one account, Murphy pointed the gun at the head of Whitaker's mother and fired a shot at her father in an ensuing struggle. After hitting the father on the head with the gun, Murphy went upstairs and opened fire on his fiance, hitting her in the left arm, shoulder and right leg. He then turned the gun on himself.

Murphy's death leaves Dalton, now entering the final year of his four-year term, without the service of the low-profile aide who had advised him since Dalton was the lieutenant governor. Although other members of Dalton's personal staff of about 25 were better known than Murphy, none possessed the entre to the governor that Murphy had. He liked to boast to associates that he was the first aide Dalton would see in the morning and the last the would see at night.

The governor's office confirmed that Margaret Whitaker, or an unidentified friend of hers, had called the governor's chief bodyguard, State Trooper C. K. Highsmith, during the incident. Highsmith said he called local police and then went to the Whitaker house, arriving after the shooting.

Dalton, who was informed of the shooting at the Executive Mansion at 1:30 a.m., about an hour after the incident, issued a statement saying he was "shocked and saddened. My heart goes out to the families involved. All indications are that the incident resulted from a personal domestic situation." i

A short, heavy-chested man who favored blue blazers and boasted about having a court permit for his handgun, Murphy headed as the governor's staff at an annual salary of about $44,000. He was in essence Dalton's chief of staff, running the governor's administrative staff and controlling his appointment schedule.

"Larry was the man Friday for the governor," said Secretary of Public Safety T. Rodman Layman, a close friend. Another collegaue described Murphy as "the keeper of the keys, the fix-it man. When you wanted something done, he was the guy to see."

Friends said Murphy, who was divorced, first met Lynn Whitaker through her father, a local car dealer who contributed about $6,000 to Dalton's 1977 gubernatorial campaign. They said the romance was at times a stormy one, although the couple had made plans early last week to go to a party together last night.

But sometime last week, friends said, they had quarreled and Whitaker apparently had attempted to break off the engagement. That argument culminated last night when, according to an unofficial account, Murphy pulled up outside the Whitaker family home, trailed his fiance when she left and ran her car off a nearby road.

After a vehement argument, according to the account, Murphy had driven to the home, where her fiance's parents invited him in. After Murphy left, the Whitakers received a call from their Daughter, who said she was too frightened to come home. William Whitaker then left to pick up his daughter and a girlfriend.

While Whitaker was gone, Murphy returned to the house and apparently was there when his fiance returned. He again quarreled with his fiance, whose father then sent her and her girlfriend upstairs. Police said William Whitaker then ordered Murphy to leave and that the shooting followed.

While Murphy and William Whitaker struggled in the kitchen of the house, Whitaker's wife escaped to a next-door neighbor's house, where she called the police.

Wiliam Whitaker, who was treated for head cuts and released at a local hospital, was unavailable for comment today. His wife, contacted at her daughter's hospital room would not discuss the incident. "Right now, I'm trying to help Lynn." she said.

Police said they were trying to confirm a report that Murphy, after running his fiance off the road, had called his ex-wife in an effort to establish an alibi for the evening. When his ex-wife, who was not available for comment, told Murphy to call back tomorrow, he reportedly told her: "Tomorrow will be too late."

A North Carolina native who spent his high school years in Haymarket in western Prince William County and attending Osbourn Park High School, Murphy was the sixth child of a tenant-farming family. He went to Northern Virginia Community College for two years before attending Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond where he earned bachelors and masters degrees in business administration.

He was known to many as a humorless, demanding administrator whose chief attribute was an intense personal loyalty to the governor.

"Larry was a very intelligent and very aggressive guy and I guess you could say he wasn't very tolerant of people who were less bright than he was," said Chuck Noe, a local radio talk show host who knew Murphy when he attended a Richmond university.

Some held Murphy responsible for Dalton's apparent liking for the trappings of what critics have called "the imperial governorship." They blamed Murphy for incidents in which Dalton was criticized for allegedly extravagant use of state airplanes and limousines and for a flap last summer when the governor attempted to use state funds to buy a tent for his daughter's wedding reception.

Others claimed it was Murphy's idea to keep the governor relatively isolated from the media. A reporter granted a recent private interview with Dalton said Murphy continually held his hand to his throat to cut short the talk after the allotted 30 minutes were up.

Murphy's "fix-it" abilities were said to include being able to secure state jobs for friends and political cronies. He would attach his business card to state employment applications sent to the Department of Personnel and Training, a procedure that guaranteed the applicant at least an attentive examination by personnel officials.

One of those who was helped to a state job by this method was his fiance Whitaker, a local college student who was hired by the department's director as a part-time researcher last summer on Murphy's recommendation.

Although Murphy had been Dalton's top aide since 1975 when Dalton was lieutenant governor, he worked largely behind the scenes at the State Capitol, priding himself on his close relationship with the governor. His office was just outside Dalton's and he was a common, though often silent, fixture at meetings between. Dalton and a variety of guests.

Despite his low profile, Murphy became the focus of public attention last month when it was revealed that he had received about $4,700 in travel advances that he had not spent or paid back over a two-year period. Murphy quickly repaid $4,000 of the money and a state auditor's report later cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Friends said they had seen no indication in recent weeks that Murphy was undergoing any kind of personal crisis. If anything, said Public Safety Secretary Layman, Murphy had appeared more relaxed, even initiating several lunch dates after previously insisting that he had no time for lunch.

Many recalled that the last time they saw him was at a Christmas party at the Governor's Mansion just before the holidays where Murphy had appeared jovial and had toasted the governor.

"If anything was wrong, none of us saw it," said Charles Davis, the governor's press secretary.