The men came to Roy Mason's door asking for directions, but they pushed their way in and ordered the 75-year-old to sit down. They robbed Mason and his wife with help from a young woman who walked into their suburban Chesterfield County home, stole a PlayStation and left. The men threatened to tie up the couple but Mason talked them out of it, pleading for mercy for his wife, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

"We was lucky," Mason said. "I think that's what they were planning on doing — tying me up and getting rid of me."

What happened the rest of that bloody first week in January suggests that Mason was right.

On New Year's Day, friends arriving for a chili party at Bryan and Kathryn Harvey's Richmond home found the house on fire. The bodies of the couple and their daughters, 9-year-old Stella and 4-year-old Ruby, were found in the basement, bound in duct tape, beaten, their throats cut.

Five days later, three members of another Richmond family were found killed in the same way. Mason recognized one of the victims as the woman who helped rob him.

Police believe the killings were the work of two ex-convicts suspected in a violent crime spree that began in November. They are suspected in two other killings.

Ricky Jovan Gray, 29, faces trial Monday in the Harvey slayings, and his nephew, Ray Joseph Dandridge, 29, is to stand trial next month in the killings of Percyell Tucker, 55, his wife, Mary Baskerville-Tucker, 47, and her daughter, Ashley Baskerville, 21. Both face the death penalty if convicted.

The gruesome killings shocked a community where Bryan and Kathryn Harvey had been beloved figures.

Bryan Harvey was a guitarist and singer for the critically acclaimed duo House of Freaks, which released five albums between 1987 and 1995. Kathryn Harvey co-owned World of Mirth, a quirky toy and novelty store, and was the half-sister of actor Steven Culp, who played Rex Van De Kamp on ABC's "Desperate Housewives."

Police initially said nothing appeared to have been stolen from the Harvey home; later, they said robbery may have been the motive. The Baskerville-Tucker home was ransacked.

Mason identified Gray and Dandridge as the men who robbed him and Baskerville as the woman who helped them. Police have confirmed there was "an association" between the suspects and one of the victims in the Baskerville-Tucker slayings.

JoAnn Barnes, Baskerville's aunt and the sister of Baskerville-Tucker, said she doesn't think her niece had anything to do with the killings.

"Ashley was a good person," said Barnes, 53, of Richmond. "If she was with them, I don't know. But I don't believe she would put a hand on anyone."

Gray and Dandridge, of Arlington, were captured Jan. 7 at the Philadelphia home of Dandridge's father.

Dandridge had been released from prison Oct. 26 after serving 10 years for robbery, according to Virginia Department of Corrections records. Gray was released in 2002 after serving six years for robbery, firearms possession and cocaine possession.

They are suspects in the Nov. 5 killing of Gray's 35-year-old wife, Treva Terrell Gray, who was found asphyxiated near woods in Washington, Pa., about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh.

Treva's mother, Marna Squires, said her daughter had decided to leave her husband of less than a year a few days before she was killed. She said Gray was prone to violent outbursts, such as screaming at a family cookout because the bathroom was not clean.

Gray and Dandridge also have been charged in the Dec. 31 slashing assault and robbery of an Arlington man, and are suspected in the Dec. 18 slaying of a Culpeper woman who was found shot and hanged with an electrical cord in her basement, where a fire had been set.

Police and attorneys on both sides of the case are under a gag order, but Gray's attorneys revealed at a pretrial hearing that they will argue that childhood sexual abuse may have led to Gray's violent behavior.

A woman who identified herself as a relative of Gray's said the family did not want to talk about him.