In a year in which the District of Columbia broke another murder record and apparently retained the sad distinction of having the highest homicide rate in the country, the 800 block of Bellevue Street SE attained its own dubious status: It was the most lethal block in the city.

From Jan. 13 to June 23, there were six killings on the block -- the result, police say, of a thriving drug market and a battle for turf between two gangs. It was the most homicides in any one-block area of the city last year, according to police records.

But while gunshots in the night are still heard on the street, the killing has abated -- thanks, residents say, to the end of the turf struggle, the addition of police foot patrols and improved security at a sprawling apartment complex where most of the violence occurred.

Located in the Washington Highlands area of Southeast, south of Wheeler Road near the Prince George's County line, Bellevue is a short street lined with neat two-story duplexes. At its southern end, it dead-ends at the 20-building apartment complex, which lies on a steep hillside.

It was there, at what was known until a few weeks ago as the Linda Pollin housing project, that most of the killings occurred.

The bloodletting began Jan. 13, when 19-year-old Wendell Wilkerson was found shot in the head behind a building at 803 Bellevue St., apparently killed while selling drugs. Five months later, the sixth and final killing of 1990 was recorded when Larry Fuller, 20, was shot by three gunmen.

Behind most of the violence, investigators say, was a struggle between two groups for control of the drug trade on Bellevue Street and in the surrounding area.

Police say the turf fight, which began in 1988 and had resulted in dozens of killings in the area, was fought by the Blackwell and Mathis gangs, two groups led by sets of brothers.

Together, the groups once ran the city's largest heroin operation, detectives said, but began feuding two years ago after the shooting death of one of the Mathis brothers.

Investigators say it appears that the Blackwell group emerged as the victor in the struggle last summer, a fact they say is reflected in the subsequent slowdown in the violence.

Police also mention another factor in Bellevue Street's troubles early in 1990: Orlando Stinson, who they say carried out a series of crimes in the area, was wanted for one of the killings and was a suspect in several other shootings.

Stinson himself was killed last summer, shot to death by FBI agents and D.C. police officers as he ran out the back of a house in Southeast.

By the end of June, the killings were over. About the same time, residents began efforts aimed at once again making Bellevue Street a safe place to live.

One of the biggest changes was at the Linda Pollin complex itself, which changed both its management and its name. It now is called Ridgecrest Heights Apartments.

The new managers worked to improve the conditions of the buildings and grounds, and made changes designed to drive away business from a once-thriving drug market in a parking lot behind the complex.

In July, the complex's management brought in a private security firm to help clean up crime in the project. Police began foot patrols.

And residents say they have begun to see more cooperation from residents when it comes to reporting crime. "This was the killing field," said Dorothy Ensley, president of the Ridgecrest Heights Residents' Association. "Things are better now."

Another change came Dec. 1. The unarmed members of the Nation of Islam began patrols on the grounds of the complex.

In addition to the patrols, members of the security group have gotten to know many of the complex's residents and have begun to hold self-esteem classes for teenagers, anti-crime meetings, and provide "manhood" and "womanhood" classes for residents, said Phyllis Turner, the resident manager.

Although there has been no killing since June, no one is calling Bellevue Street a garden spot. But residents say there has been a noticeable improvement in the neighborhood.

"It's a whole lot better now," said Joe Ward, a longtime resident of the complex. "Now you can walk through {the grounds} without thinking about it."

Earlier last year, Ward said, it was difficult to walk through the complex without being offered drugs by dealers or sex by women addicts eager to get money for their next fix.

"Every Friday night, Saturday night, there'd be stick-ups," he said. "Ain't none of that going on no more."

Ensley, the residents' association president, said tenants had a Christmas party for children of the complex, the first one she can recall in her 14 years living there. Residents also had a New Year's party, with the help of the Muslim security officers.

Residents still have daily reminders of the violence in the area, a reminder of the way things were during the first part of 1990. "We can still hear shots," Ensley said. "They're not as close as they were."