First, neighbors heard the alarm. Then they heard the screams.
Police found Nancy Schmidt, 74, about 5:30 a.m. yesterday, stabbed repeatedly in an upstairs room of her Remington home, the victim of what appeared to be a botched pre-dawn burglary that shook up a neighborhood usually free of such violence.
She died at 6:20 a.m. at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
A law enforcement source close to the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is continuing, said investigators were checking leads that pointed toward a break-in as the possible motive. The rear door to the house showed signs of forced entry. Police said they do not believe anything was taken.
Schmidt lived a few blocks from the Baltimore Museum of Art and near the Johns Hopkins University campus.
Jason Rosenberg, 39, a neighbor, said he heard the woman's screams through the wall of his bedroom on the second floor.
"Her alarm went off - she was definitely in distress, and we called police," he said. "It was horrible."
Rosenberg said he didn't see anyone leaving her house but noticed later that a red shed in Schmidt's backyard "had been tampered with."
Another neighbor, who requested that his name not be used out of fear for his safety, said he and his wife woke to the sound of Schmidt's alarm. He said they heard a woman scream and called police. He said it sounded like the woman was crying for help and that he looked out his front window but didn't see anything unusual.
The neighbor, who has lived in Remington for five years and who considers the neighborhood "pretty safe," said Schmidt kept busy volunteering with an elderly women's group and with a church.
"She was just a quiet, nice woman," he said.
Yesterday, police investigators used a hand-held circular saw to cut a portion of the shed, and officials said they recovered evidence from the scene. They declined to say what it was.
According to previous Sun articles, Schmidt was divorced. Her longtime companion, Robert McMahan, died in April 2004. They were friends for 20 years before becoming a couple after their marriages ended, and the two traveled the country to compete in bowling tournaments.
Liz Schmidt, the victim's daughter-in-law, was at the West 31st Street house yesterday with her husband, who is one of Schmidt's three grown children. She learned that something was wrong when the alarm company called to inform them that Schmidt's alarm had sounded.
She said her mother-in-law liked taking care of others. "She dedicated [her life] to everyone else, whoever was in need," Liz Schmidt said.
"Her children are just devastated, devastated," she added.
Remington borders the Johns Hopkins University campus to the south. Schmidt lived in a group of rowhouses. Her home is across the street from the Johns Hopkins Community Physicians offices, a busy medical building that had a steady stream of visitors throughout the morning as police investigated across the street.
The back door of Schmidt's home is obscured from nearly every angle. A garage and a large red shed block the view from the alley, and neighbors' fences, bushes and structures shield the rear door, which police said showed signs of forced entry.
Lisa Spitler, a niece of Schmidt's companion, has known the victim for 15 years and said Schmidt devoted her days to helping others, including visiting a nursing home every Tuesday. She said Schmidt had worked in a hospital before retiring a few years ago.
Spitler is planning a vigil at 8 p.m. tomorrow in front of Schmidt's house.
Helena Dahlen, 45, never met Schmidt, but knew her by sight and would often see her park her car and unload groceries.
"She seemed very independent," said Dahlen, who lived around the corner, on Cresmont Avenue.
Dahlen, who has lived in the neighborhood for a year and a half, said she felt "perfectly safe" in Remington.
Joan Floyd, president of Remington Neighborhood Alliance, heard about the stabbing in the morning and said she felt "shock, horror and disappointment at the level of brutality that people are willing to treat each other with. The woman died a horrible death, one of our neighbors."
Floyd, who did not know the victim, said she received calls during the day from residents concerned about the killing. She said Remington has had about four other homicides in the past 18 months and that to her knowledge, none has been solved.
"I sure hope that's not going to be the case with this one," Floyd said.
According to crime statistics from the Baltimore Police Department's Web site, the Remington neighborhood has been hit mostly by property crimes over the past month. From March 15 to about April 13, one robbery, a burglary, five stolen cars and 10 thefts from automobiles have been reported. A person was robbed near Schmidt's house at West 31st Street and Remington Avenue, the statistics show.