When a break finally came in the murder of Scott Crist, 13 years after the young engineer was slain in a flurry of bullets in a Baltimore suburb, police believed they had solved nothing more than a tidy if unsettling fratricide-for-hire.

Two men told detectives that they carried out the slaying for Crist's brother, a Pennsylvania man who was the sole beneficiary of the dead man's life insurance policy and stood to inherit the remainder of their late mother's estate.

But as detectives prepared to arrest David W. Crist, they found their work was only beginning.

Now, one year after arresting Crist on charges that he plotted the death of his only brother, police also have reopened a decades-old inquiry into the sudden death of Crist's father. Investigators say they are taking a hard look at the circumstances of his mother's death, too. And at the passing of her wealthy fiance, as well.

But what has truly shaken people in this remote community, famous only for its celebration of children, are the charges that Crist, 37, tried to kill both his young daughters for the insurance on their lives.

Diane Crist was 9 years old in 1993 when her father pushed her into the path of a pickup truck he had hired a woman to steer down a lightly traveled road at a prearranged hour, according to that woman's testimony.

Diane, who is deaf, survived because the woman lost her nerve and swerved at the last second, the woman testified.

Diane's sister, Miranda, was only 4 years old in 1990 when her father, trained as an electrician, told her to grasp the shiny part of an exposed wire in the family kitchen, Miranda testified. Crist then went to the basement and flipped on the power, police charge. The girl survived with a severely burned hand.

Her life was insured for $142,000; Diane's, for $200,000.

Crist, who is being held in the Lycoming County jail on $700,000 bond, has pleaded not guilty to two counts each of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child. In the case of his elder daughter, he is also charged with soliciting criminal homicide.

After trial on those charges, he faces extradition to Baltimore County, where prosecutors said they will seek an indictment on first-degree murder in the death of Scott Crist. They said David Crist could face the death penalty if found guilty.

Crist's Pennsylvania attorney declined to address specifics. He has filed for a change of venue, citing extensive pretrial publicity.

"It's what we call a swearing contest," said William Miele, the chief Lycoming County public defender. "Who you going to believe? Are you going to believe the various witnesses for the commonwealth, or are you going to believe my client and whatever his witnesses say?"

So far, potential jurors have heard only the worst, a drip-drip-drip of accusations that began with the confessions of the self-described hit men, then bloomed into charges of attempted child murder that cast suspicion on every event that ever transpired anywhere near the accused, including deaths that authorities acknowledge may well have been natural.

One attorney in the case said that the sweep of David Crist's alleged and supposed misdeeds conjures a villainy seldom found outside Shakespeare, in a hardscrabble setting more reminiscent of John Steinbeck. Others find irony enough in seeing the charges surface in Williamsport, the birthplace of Little League.

The Crist kitchen overlooks Carl E. Stotz Field, named for the local man who in 1939 pioneered the organization. Just across the Susquehanna River, a Little League Museum features highlights of the World Series played here each August, in the largest of the many ball fields scattered at the base of Bald Eagle Mountain.

"I think this case demonstrates that any community, no matter how serene and traditional, is capable of home-growing this kind of ruthless criminal," said Williamsport Mayor Steven Cappelli.

The "home-grown" aspect of the Crist case carries particular resonance in Williamsport, which in recent years has considered itself coarsened by outside forces. Once an industrial center so upbeat that the high school teams are named the "Millionaires," the city has endured not only the familiar Rust Belt decline but also a peculiar challenge born of its own wholesome image.

In the last 10 years, Williamsport has become home to a substantial number of recovering drug addicts and their families, who settled here after completing a drug treatment program in an adjoining county. A few were specifically directed to the city by Philadelphia judges.

Lycoming County officials say "the influx," as residents call the migration, brought an array of problems better known to the inner city. Locals blamed the newcomers for a rise in everything from drug dealing to loitering.

But Cappelli, a Republican recently elected on a platform that emphasized public safety, said the Crist case stands apart.

"You're talking about individuals who are clearly indigenous to our population," said the mayor, who attended junior high with the confessed getaway-car driver in Scott Crist's slaying. "They were born and raised here. They were not part of migration from a metropolitan area, like Philadelphia or Camden. . . . It's something that, directly or indirectly, we as a community must take some responsibility for."

The problem is that apparently no one outside a tight circle of self-described accomplices suspected David Crist. And in testimony and police interviews, they say Crist coerced them into doing his will by threatening to reveal their own complicity.

Police said they suspected, but did not charge, Crist in connection with the 1983 arson of his own record store, which burned before it ever opened. Investigators point out that Crist received an $80,000 insurance settlement and posted bail for the man eventually convicted of setting it. Tryon Eiswerth, who served three years in prison for the arson, later broke open the Scott Crist case by confessing that he drove the getaway car to the slaying.

Although Crist also collected a $133,000 death benefit from his brother's slaying, he did not emerge publicly as a suspect until the day of his arrest. And police say they were floored to hear, first from Eiswerth's girlfriend, the allegation that their suspect had also made attempts on his daughters.

"Why would anybody do it? There's not enough money in the world to replace your own children, if it's true," said Maryalice Crist, holding back tears in the art-frame store where her husband was arrested last April.

Torn by the charges, Maryalice Crist said that her husband was a hard-working father loath even to discipline his children. But she added that she did weary of signing life insurance papers.

"He said he wanted them for college purposes and all that," Maryalice Crist said. "They were different policies from different companies, and he said, Well, they talk you into things.' "

The family of six included two boys ages 2 and 6 from their marriage, as well as the girls Crist fathered during an earlier relationship. Both girls now live with their mother, Kathy Millhouse.

"He put my children through hell," Millhouse said.

Investigators say they came to suspect the worst of Crist only slowly. But today, they say, they regard as serious an informant's report that Crist planned to do away with Maryalice Crist, who said that she did not know until police told her that her own life was insured for $200,000.

"Let's just say that we're not overlooking any statements made about the defendant by anyone," said Thomas A. Marino, Lycoming County district attorney.

David Crist was only 10 years old in 1968 when his father, Mellard, a salesman and postal clerk, was found dead of a fractured skull at the bottom of the stairs in his comfortable, two-story home. The death was ruled accidental, but district attorney investigator Todd Prough said the inquiry has been reopened, along with those into two later deaths.

Mellard Crist's widow, Catherine, eventually became engaged to a successful local businessman, Alexander Gruenberg, who manufactured Gruenberg industrial ovens. He died on the couch of the Crist home in 1976 of what was ruled a heart attack.

"We're wondering about that," said son Alex Gruenberg.

Gruenberg left his business to Catherine Crist, who sold it for several hundred thousand dollars before her 1981 death, at age 58, of what was described as natural causes. David Crist told authorities that he found her body, the day before he turned 23, in bed after not getting an answer on the phone. Her will divided a $300,000 estate equally between her two sons.

Only a year apart in age, the brothers were far from close, according to those who knew them.

David Crist had returned from four years in the Navy to the companionship of high school students who allegedly looked to him for drugs and morning rides to school. Scott Crist was a self-disciplined engineer who worked at Bendix in Baltimore but returned to Williamsport each weekend.

His fiancee, Wendy Lou Baker, told police that Scott did not hide his displeasure when he found David using marijuana in the house, and Scott once hauled out to the roadside the belongings of a male friend to whom David had offered temporary shelter. So powerful was the younger brother's disapproval of David that for Christmas in 1981, he gave him a package of coal and twigs.

"Really," Baker said.

At the same time, Scott tried to control his brother through their mother's will, according to Baker. She said he asked the executor to make David responsible for maintenance of the house, in hopes the financial pressure would spur him to get a job. Scott met with the executor on the weekend he was killed, Baker said. When he left for Maryland late Sunday afternoon, Tryon Eiswerth and Daniel Larue Pepperman were right behind, they told police. Each said David Crist promised them $2,000 and drugs in exchange for killing his brother.

In Baltimore County, the pair found Scott Crist outside his Cockeysville apartment. He had just lifted a garment bag out of his car when Pepperman, whom he had never met, strode across the lawn and fired five shots from a .25-caliber pistol, police said. Scott Crist described his assailant before dying on an operating table.

Thirteen years later, Eiswerth unburdened himself of the secret to a detective while jailed on a bad-check charge. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and awaits formal imposition of a 20-year sentence.

Pepperman admitted his role to a Baltimore County detective. He was sentenced in Towson last month to life plus 15 years for first-degree murder.

It was when police were checking their stories that Eiswerth's girlfriend, Lisa Cohick, first mentioned a plot against David Crist's daughter Diane.

"Quite frankly, I'm surprised one of his kids didn't end up dead in their cribs," said Susan H. Hazlett, Baltimore County assistant state's attorney. "He had enormous amounts of life insurance on his kids when they were very young. I mean 8 days old."

Detectives are still running across new policies as they canvass insurance companies, according to Hazlett and Lycoming investigators.

"He was broke and needed the insurance money," Cohick testified at a preliminary hearing in Diane's case under a promise of immunity. Cohick said that Crist first broached shooting the girl and blaming a hunter's stray bullet, but that he settled on a plan to throw her in front of the truck that Cohick would drive. He promised Cohick $5,000 for the job, she said, adding that she feared for her own children if she did not go along.

"He had her by the shoulders, and you could see she was struggling," Cohick testified about the scene she allegedly approached on a rural road where Crist had faked a flat. After the driver swerved, according to a police affidavit, Diane ended up in the ditch crying, "Help me! Help me!"

The deaf girl could not make herself understood at the emergency room where her father took her that day with an injured foot, police said. Detectives interviewed her through an interpreter.

The alleged attempt on Diane's younger sister, Miranda, emerged from a police search of emergency room records. At a preliminary hearing where she burst into tears when Miele, the public defender, asked why she did not call Crist "Dad," the girl testified she heard a "click" when her father went downstairs after telling her to hold the 220-volt wire. Roused from a nap by Miranda's screams, her stepmother said she found the badly burned girl traumatized and confused. Crist reportedly said he had been in the basement toilet.

"They're doing well," District Attorney Marino said of the girls, who are expected to testify against their father in separate trials. "Those kids are tough. They're resilient."

Baltimore County prosecutors say they are waiting for Pennsylvania to finish with Crist before they pursue formal charges and note that they intend to seek the death penalty in the case. They were seeking it against Pepperman, who confessed to pulling the trigger, until he promised to testify against the man he said hired him.

"The hardest thing is what I'm going to tell my kids when they get old enough to understand," said Maryalice Crist. "It even makes me mad at God." CAPTION: David W. Crist, left, during his arrest in the contract slaying of his brother. Daniel Larue Pepperman, right, has admitted to firing the shots that killed Scott Crist. CAPTION: David W. Crist, above left, during his arrest in the contract slaying of his brother. Daniel L. Pepperman, below right, confessed to doing the shooting.