When police arrived at Nightsong Farm (14005 Fitzwater Drive) in Nokesville, they found the caller on the property and a woman dead in a stall with a horse.
The woman, Gabriella Mello, 51, of Seminole Road in Woodbridge, was a client of the hunter-jumper barn Nightsong Farm.
"The caller said that he had stabbed a lady and he was out here when police arrived," Prince William Police Chief Dennis Mangan said. "He couldn't advise why. He just killed her and called police."
Mangan added, "There were no witnesses that we know of."
The suspect, Jeffrey Charles Gadd, 25, of Georgetown Road in Broad Run, was a stable hand at the 55-horse stable.
The Fauquier resident had been employed by farm manager Sabrina Droescher for about five years at various other equine facilities. When Droescher took over Nightsong in January 2003, Gadd was hired there, too.
Gadd led the police to the alleged murder weapon: a silver pen knife, the kind used to cut baling twine. Police said Gadd had blood evidence on his clothing, but at press time the results were not back from the lab.
The criminal complaint against Gadd, which was signed by Prince William Master Detective James Moore, states that, when officers arrived on the scene, Gadd had what appeared to be blood on his clothing.
"He (Gadd) advised the officer at the scene he had stabbed a female in the barn," the document states. "When I arrived on the scene, the suspect started telling me what happened. He stated that he just went off and stabbed her three times in the neck."
Mangan said Mello had died from her wounds.
Gadd was charged with murder and remanded to the Manassas Adult Detention Center without bond. This is Prince William's 10th homicide for 2003.
A search warrant was issued to Gadd's residence, where he lives with his parents, but police did not disclose whether anything pertaining to the case was found.
Droescher cannot fathom a reason for the crime.
"I don't even think they knew each other," Droescher said. "They may have spoken to say 'hi,' but that's about it."
Droescher said the young man she knows is not a killer.
"Jeff was always very patient and kind with the horses," Droescher said. "He was a hard worker. He worked 12-hour days. He loved his job and the horses."
Droescher added, "I don't think Jeff ever smoked a cigarette, did drugs or even drank a beer in his life. He comes from a very religious family."
Droescher is concerned that people have gotten the wrong idea about Gadd and Mello.
"There was no relationship, no love triangle. She was a lovely person with a bubbly personality, and Jeff was not a transient or a bum or on drugs," Droescher said.
"People are saying all sorts of things about both of them, and they are simply not true," she added.
When the police arrived last Wednesday, Droescher was having lunch in Nokesville.
"I was down the street at Joe's Pizza," Droescher said. "They would not let me on the property when I got back and would not tell me what happened.
"I couldn't understand what had happened. At first I thought there was a riding accident, but knew no one was riding or getting a lesson at that hour."
Droescher said after many hours the police told her and others what was going on, but it wasn't until 11:30 p.m. that she was able to feed and turn out the horses located in the stable where the killing had taken place.
At the stable, Mello was simply known as "Gabby."
The daughter of Ralph and Adelina Mello, she was born in Naples, Italy, and spoke several languages.
A 26-year veteran flight attendant of Delta Airlines and the now defunct Pan American Airlines, she started riding horses late in life.
Riding instructor Peggy Smith of Nightsong knew Mello well.
"I taught her for many years," Smith said. "She was at Cedar Ridge (now Cedar Run) at Oakridge down the street. She followed me to the different stables.
"She wasn't about competing, she just loved to ride. She was a true horsewoman."
Smith added, "Gabby was a very special person. She had so much patience.
"She liked the kids. Not all adult riders like being around kids--she did. She didn't mind having lessons with them. Gabby always said she learned a lot from the kids."
Smith said Mello was the last person she would expect something like this to happen to.
"She loved people, she loved the diversity in people and appreciated the different cultures," Smith said. "I can't imagine her having an enemy in the world.
"Her death is so unexpected, so incredibly senseless. I am just mystified by why this happened. I want to know why."
Smith said the stable community is devastated by Mello's death. She held an impromptu memorial service at Nightsong last week to help her clients, especially the children, deal with the crisis.
"We are so close-knit," Smith said. "She was part of our family. I keep thinking I am going to wake up and this is going to be just a bad dream."
Mello is survived by Philip and Carolyn Mello, of Sterling, Alex and Mindy Mello, of Charlotte, N.C., and Ted and Linda Mello, of Jacksonville, Fla.
A 1 p.m. service will be held at Galilee United Methodist Church.