It was still dark yesterday morning when Joanne S. Valentine pulled up in front of her waterfront home in Anne Arundel County and apparently made a fatal mistake.
She noticed a car behind her and went back to investigate, police said. There, in her driveway, in the midst of her quiet, affluent Arnold community, she was gunned down.
The assailant fired twice, and one of the shots hit her in the head, county police said.
Mrs. Valentine's husband, Vincent, was expecting her to return as usual at 4 a.m. after closing their two well-known nightclubs in the northern end of the county. He and their sons, Vincent, 15, and Nicholas, 13, were asleep upstairs.
The wild barking of the family dog, Riptide, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, woke Mrs. Valentine's mother-in-law, Anna Wagner, who lives next door to the family.
She went downstairs, flipped on the outdoor lights and saw Mrs. Valentine lying in a pool of blood. Mr. Valentine and the two boys were kneeling over the body, screaming and weeping.
"He was just screaming over the top of her and yelling, 'Joanne. Joanne. Oh my God, Joanne's been shot. Joanne's been shot,' " Mrs. Wagner said.
Mrs. Valentine, 47, was taken to Anne Arundel Medical Center and then to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where she died about 7 a.m.
"You see this on TV, and you never, never know that this can strike in your own back yard," Mrs. Wagner said in a shaking voice last night. She pleaded with anyone with information that could lead to the killer's arrest to call the police.
When police fanned out through the Broadwater neighborhood in search of clues, they found a pizza delivery car that had been stolen at gunpoint earlier by a robber wearing a Ronald Reagan mask.
The 1980 Toyota Corolla, which was stolen shortly after 11 p.m. Saturday in nearby Kimberly Woods, was found eight blocks from the Valentine home on Broadwater Road.
County police were unsure yesterday whether the car theft was related to the slaying. The theft appeared to be the latest in a series of crimes by well-dressed robbers disguised as former Presidents Reagan and Nixon, who have held up three restaurants and a bank in the past month, they said.
The slaying shocked and saddened friends, family members and neighbors in Broadwater, a tree-lined community on the banks of the Magothy River.
Longtime residents of the neighborhood recalled Mrs. Valentine as a warm, friendly woman who was devoted to her sons.
She worked until late at night at the family-run establishments, Rumblefish, a bar and cafe with a dance floor in Glen Burnie, and A. L. Gators, a popular nightclub on Fort Smallwood Road.
Yesterday, a handwritten sign was posted on the door of Rumblefish. "Due to death in the family, the club will be closed Sunday and Monday. Thank you."
People who live near the Valentine home, a two-story contemporary with a built-in swimming pool and a sun deck facing the Magothy, said they had felt so safe in Broadwater -- until yesterday -- that they often left their front doors unlocked.
"I've lived here just about all my life, and there's never been nothing more than an occasional break-in," said a woman whose sons are friends of the Valentine boys.
"I'm floored. I'm just shocked at what happened to her, and I'm worried about those two boys, the effect it's going to have on them. Their mother meant everything to them."