KILLEEN, TEX., OCT. 17 -- Attention turned today from the bloodied cafeteria, where George Hennard did his killing, to the quiet town of Belton 18 miles east, where the apparent loner spent his last days, mowing the lawn, washing his pickup truck and making obscene gestures at women.

Police offered no motive for Wednesday's catastrophe, the nation's worst mass shooting, which left 23 people dead, including Hennard. Police said he shot himself in the head with his last bullet. Seventeen people suffered wounds; eight were otherwise injured.

"Hennard is the only one who truly knows, and he can't communicate with us now," said Killeen Police Chief F.L. Giacomozzi. "The whos, whys and whats -- we may never be able to figure them out."

But police did say Hennard, who turned 35 Tuesday, appeared to have "a problem with women." Federal specialists in criminally deranged personalities are being consulted, Giacomozzi said.

In a rambling four-page letter, dated June 6 and mailed from Nevada to two women who are sisters and were Hennard's neighbors in Belton, he referred to "treacherous female vipers who tried to destroy me and my family."

Neighbors described him as meticulous and neat, constantly cleaning his truck and doing yard work.

"He wasn't lazy," said Pauline Kelly, who lives two doors away. "He was a real worker, always keeping everything up. But what happened inside that boy's head, I don't know."

Details about Hennard are sketchy. He is believed to have been unemployed, though he once served as a merchant seaman. He was arrested for, but not convicted of, marijuana possession in 1981 in El Paso. His parents are divorced -- his mother, Jeanna, lives in Henderson, Nev., and his father, George, is an orthopedic surgeon in Houston.

For several years, Hennard had been living in a large, two-story brick colonial house owned by his parents, according to neighbors in Belton. The house, where he spent most of his last hours, has been for sale for two years.

As police continued to probe for a motive, men and women who survived the lunchtime rampage at the popular Luby's Cafeteria told and retold their stories.

One of the most unusual involved Luby's employee Mark Mathews, 19, who climbed inside a 15-foot-long dishwasher and spent the night, afraid to emerge because he could hear people moving about but could not see what was happening. Police found the 6-footer stiff and sore this morning.

Sam Carney, an attendance officer with the Killeen school district, sat at his desk early today, wearing sunglasses and shaking with grief and anger.

"That son of a bitch destroyed my life with one shot," Carney said, weeping, as co-workers comforted him. Carney's wife, Pat, director of elementary curriculum for the school district, was among 14 women and eight men killed in the horrific 10-minute rampage.

"His wife was his whole life," said Sam Wink, also a district attendance officer. He was sitting at a table with the Carneys and three other co-workers when Hennard rammed his truck through the front window and completely into the crowded cafeteria, stopping about 12 feet from the table.

Police said Hennard was armed with two 9mm semiautomatic pistols -- a Glock 17, a model favored by many law-enforcement officers, and a Ruger P89. The Glock holds 17 bullets and the Ruger 15.

Police said they were bought in February and March, while Hennard was living in Henderson, and legally registered. Giacomozzi said that police "found nothing to indicate he was capable of or intended to" commit such a crime and that Hennard may not have owned other weapons or been under a doctor's care.

"I thought somebody had just lost control of his truck," Wink said. "I heard popping, and I thought the truck was going to explode." The popping sound was Hennard firing at patrons from inside the truck cab.

Hennard stepped out of the vehicle "wearing jeans and a pullover shirt with clips of ammo all over him," Wink recalled.

Several patrons remember Hennard saying, "It's payback time. It's payback time. Is it worth it? Is it worth it?" as he calmly walked through the cafeteria, taking aim and firing while patrons scattered.

Many victims died at point-blank range, police said. Sgt. Bill Cooper of the Texas Department of Public Safety told the Associated Press that he saw Hennard approach an elderly woman as she shielded her wounded husband. The woman looked at Hennard, then bowed her head and Hennard shot her, Cooper said.

Authorities said more people might have been shot had three Killeen plainclothes officers and two uniformed highway patrol officers not stormed into Luby's -- some from a meeting at a hotel next door -- and fought a brief gun battle with Hennard. An autopsy revealed that Hennard was hit four times by police bullets but killed himself with a bullet to the head.

In his letter to the sisters, Hennard wrote that he had found "the best and worst in women" in Belton. "You and your sister are the one side," he wrote. "Then the abundance of evil women that make up the worst on the other side. I would like to personally remind all those vipers that I have civil rights too . . . . I will no matter what prevail over the female vipers in those two rinky-dink towns in Texas."

It is unclear which towns he meant or why the Belton resident chose Luby's in Killeen for his crime. Ralph Erben, chairman of Luby's Cafeterias Inc., which operates 151 restaurants throughout Texas, said Hennard apparently never worked for the chain or even applied to work there.

Jana Jernigan, 19, and her sister Jill Fritz, 23, said they were not surprised when they heard that it was Hennard who had terrorized Killeen.

Fritz said they had mailed the letter to their father, a hospital president in Madison, Tenn., who had a staff psychiatrist analyze it. In the margins of a copy of the letter displayed to reporters, the psychiatrist had written: "Pent up anger." "Grandiose sense of power."

The sisters, who attend Temple Junior College, said Hennard's peculiar behavior intensified during the last few weeks.

"Three weeks ago, he came to the bank to talk to me," said Jernigan, who works at People's National Bank in Belton on Fridays, handing out popcorn. "I gave him some popcorn, then he stepped back and looked at me for 15 or 20 seconds with this big old smile on his face," she said. He had "scary, piercing eyes," she added.

Last week, the sisters said, Hennard made an obscene hand gesture to each of them on a separate occasion. "That's when we got real scared," Fritz said.

Jernigan said her mother, Jane Bugg, 46, a medical secretary, suspected that Hennard was following Jernigan because Bugg saw him at a department store and in various parking lots in the weeks before receiving his letter.

"He used to run out to Jill's car, waving his arms at her," Jernigan said, "and then he started doing it to mother." She said her mother told her and Jill, "This guy is crazy."

Bugg went to Belton police when she saw the letter and asked Chief of Detectives Cecil Cosper to investigate Hennard, Jernigan said.

"They told her they would patrol our neighborhood and to be careful and they would get back to us," Jernigan said. Police did not contact them, nor did the family notice extra neighborhood patrols, she added.

"They weren't even going to release our letter to reporters," Fritz said, adding that the family gave police plenty of time to do so before releasing it themselves.

During the rampage, Wink said Hennard looked right at him. "He raised his gun to fire," Wink said. "He was smiling, kind of a grin, like a smirk. I will never forget it."

Special correspondent Elizabeth Hudson contributed to this report.

Police said yesterday that George Hennard used two 9mm semiautomatic pistols -- a Glock 17 and a Ruger P89 -- in his shooting spree at Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen Texas Wednesday.

Type: Glock model 17 auto pistol

Caliber: 9mm, 17-shot magazine

Length: 7.40 inches

Weight: 21.8 oz.

Price: $511.60

Type: Ruger P85

Caliber: 9mm, 15-shot magazine

Length: 7.84 inches

Weight: 32 oz.

Price: $325

SOURCES: Guns Digest, 1990; 1990 Guns & Ammo