Four persons were found shot to death yesterday morning in a Southeast Washington apartment in what D.C. police said was the largest multiple homicide in the city in more than 12 years.

The bodies were discovered after one victim, Carolyn Resper, 26, failed to appear yesterday morning in D.C. Superior Court, where she was scheduled to testify as a prosecution witness in the robbery trial of her estranged husband and his brother.

The victims -- each of whom had been shot several times at close range, including once each in the head -- were found in Resper's apartment at 2839 Robinson Place SE.

In addition to Resper, police identified the victims as Juanita E. Beasley, 22, Resper's roommate at the Robinson Place apartment; Ronald Best, age unknown, of 2842 Robinson Place SE, and Reginald Harris, about 27, of 1314 S. Walter Reed Rd., Arlington.

Police said Best was Resper's boyfriend and Harris was Beasley's boyfriend.

In an informal discussion with court personnel Monday, Judge Carlisle Pratt, who was presiding over the trial in which Resper was scheduled to testify, expressed concern about reports that Resper had been threatened, according to a court source.

Sources in the U.S. attorney's office familiar with the case said last night, however, that prosecutors knew of no threats against Resper's life or safety, and one source described Judge Pratt's comments as "bizarre."

When Resper did not appear in court yesterday morning, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Reed, the prosecutor in the robbery case, dispatched two detectives to Resper's apartment. The detectives were led to her apartment by several of her relatives who live in the neighborhood.

Resper's oldest daughter, Laverne, 10, opened the apartment door and was the first inside.

"I saw my momma and her boyfriend on the floor," Laverne said later, "and it just looked like they were asleep."

The detectives rushed in and immediately secured the apartment.

"The detectives pushed her out the door and slammed it behind her. The next thing I heard was the detectives inside on the walkie-talkie saying, 'Call homicide,' " said Patricia Campbell, 28, a cousin of Resper.

Resper's and Beasley's bodies were found sprawled on the living room floor. Harris' body was lying next to them. Best's body was in the bedroom.

Preliminary reports indicated that the four had been dead from eight to 12 hours. The medical examiner's office said last night that they had been ordered not to discuss the preliminary autopsy reports.

Resper's apartment is on the second floor of a garden-style apartment complex, but police said they had received no reports from neighbors of any disturbance late Monday or early Tuesday.

There was no indication that force had been used to enter the apartment.

No weapon was found at the scene, investigators said.

Police said the slayings constituted the largest multiple homicide in the District since Jan. 18, 1973, when seven Hanafi Mulims were killed at the organization's 16th Street NW headquarters.

Three adults were shot to death and four children were drowned in that incident.

Resper's husband, Ronald Resper, 31, and his brother, Wayne Resper, 26, who are defendants in the robbery case in which Carolyn Resper was scheduled to testify, appeared voluntarily at police headquarters yesterday afternoon .

Ronald Resper was interviewed by homicide detectives for six hours and left headquarters about 10 p.m., officials said. They said his brother was interviewed for about three hours.

According to papers filed by prosecutors, Resper told police two years ago that her husband and brother-in-law had allegedly committed an armed robbery and burglary at A&A Towing Inc., where Ronald Resper was working at the time.

Carolyn Resper told police that her husband described to her how he and his brother allegedly held up the towing company shortly before midnight on Dec. 5, 1982, according to the prosecutors' papers. She said she decided to turn them in because she believed the company had always treated her husband well and because she believed that what the two men allegedly had done was wrong, according to prosecutors' documents.

Carolyn Resper first got in touch with police on Feb. 8, 1983, nearly two months after the holdup.

She subsequently testified before the grand jury that indicted her husband and his brother on armed robbery, burglary and The victims -- each of whom had been shot several times at close range, including once each in the head -- were found in Resper's apartment. other charges related to the break-in at the towing company, at 519 K St. NW, the prosecutors' papers show.

The case, which had been scheduled for trial on several occasions, was postponed several times in the last couple of years and, at one point in August 1983, according to the prosecutors' papers, Carolyn Resper told prosecutors that she had had a change of heart and no longer wanted to testify against her husband.

Prosecutors then filed a request asking the court to compel her to testify, saying that once Carolyn Resper had appeared before the grand jury and had waived her legal right not to testify against her husband, she could not revoke it.

In further discussions with prosecutors, Carolyn Resper changed her mind again, agreed to testify for the government, and was prepared to do so on Monday, when the case was originally called for trial, according to sources familiar with the case.

Alfreda Cooke, one of Carolyn Resper's sisters, said she believed that the couple had been married about seven years and had been separated for the last two years.

It could not be determined yesterday when the separation occurred or whether it was related to Carolyn Resper's testimony against her husband.

At the time Ronald Resper was arrested in February 1983, he told court bail officials that he was not living with his wife.Ronald Resper was fired from A&A Towing after he was arrested on the robbery charge, the company's general manager said yesterday.

Resper had been employed with the company for about five years as a driver and dispatcher, he said.

The trial of the Resper brothers was delayed Monday when Ronald Resper initially did not show up and instead went to a hospital emergency room, according to a court employe.

That afternoon, following his release from the hospital, Ronald Resper appeared in court, the employe said. A jury was selected.

"We were scheduled to start opening arguments . . . ," said the court employe, "but we never got there."

Ronald and Wayne Resper were at the courthouse at 9 a.m. yesterday for the resumption of their trial, but when Carolyn Resper did not appear as she had been instructed, police were sent to her home and found the bodies.

Henry Schoenfeld, Ronald Resper's lawyer in the robbery case, and other witnesses in the courtroom yesterday said that Resper began crying when he learned that his wife had been killed.

The trial was rescheduled for July 15.

Judge Pratt, meanwhile, ordered Ronald Resper to appear before him on April 30 for a hearing to explain why he failed to appear on time for the opening of the trial Monday.