Thirteen people saw Ronnie Hall shoot Thomas Lafayette White. White had a grudge, and he came looking for Hall at the Lacy Boulevard crap game, already heated at midday in September 1976, in a junkyard down a pitted road in Baileys Crossroads.

Hall had losing dice on the plywood table and a .45 stuck in his belt when he saw White coming, and he was in no mood to hassle. He said nothing, just reached for his gun. The three shots that echoed across a field of weeds set two mangy shepherd dogs to howling, and the game scattered. When the police arrived, the only one left was White, dead at 24.

It took the county two years to bring Hall to trial. No one would testify. Finally, the commonwealth's attorney persuaded an eyewitness to talk. He was so scared the judge had to clear the courtroom. After the trial, the witness moved to another state.

Even today, with Ronnie Hall doing time in Camp 26 near Haymarket for second-degree murder, mention of White and Hall inspires one man who saw the shooting to swear he isn't who the mailman says he is. But that's how it is around Lacey Boulevard, and around Munson Road and Moncure Street, blighted back lanes of the suburbs where the code is inner city.

This is where Thomas Lafayette White grew up, where he got a five-inch knife scar on his right biceps, here he got shot in the gut and refused to go to the hospital, preferring instead to raise his T-shirt and show the infected wound to the dudes.

White came to the Crossroads an infant, left by his mother with the county. He was raised in a yellow clapboard house on Munson by a foster mother named Minnie Peyton, who'd already raised other foster kids and worked 36 years and two weeks as a teacher's aide in the D.C. schools.

"Tommy was a good boy until he found out I wasn't his real mother," says Peyton, now 94. "After that, Tommy got into that dope and running around the neighborhood. He was a real smart-mouth. Thought he was the man of the Crossroads."

The day before the shooting, Peyton remembers, White and Hall came to the house. White had been drinking. "He came in spittin' and cussin' and I told him to shut up and get out," Peyton says. She closed the door on him and he put his hand through the screen, then reeled around and broke a window.

Hall had known Minnie Peyton a long time and, like many others in the neighborhood, called her Mom. He yelled, "I told you not to be messin' with Mom!" and the two went at it on the lawn.

The next day, White came to Peyton's house looking for Hall. White had a gun and he waited in the woods across the street. "He fired it once to let us know he had it," Peyton says. A few hours later, he was dead.

"All I know is I had done my part by him, and he didn't respect me or himself or nobody," Peyton says. "I said, 'Let the Lord take him in His hands and do what He will with him.' "