Patricia McCaughan had adorned her Aldan Borough home with Christmas decorations, including a lawn sign with a simple request: "Santa, stop here."

But McCaughan's last visitor didn't bring gifts or holiday cheer.

Instead, Delaware County authorities believe that her last visitor - someone McCaughan likely knew - beat the 44-year-old widow to death inside her home on Rively Avenue.

Then, left the home, locking the door behind him on the way out, police said.

"Nobody deserves a death like that," said Colette Rickards, McCaughan's neighbor. "It's just not right. I don't care who you are, you don't deserve to die like that.

"It's vicious, brutal, and whoever left her there to die - it's just the most callous thing you can do."

McCaughan's death was ruled a homicide yesterday, the first in nearly a decade for the tiny borough in eastern Delaware County, according to Sgt. Michael Camarota.

It's a neighborhood where some residents didn't always lock their doors, said Rickards' daughter Lauren.

"We're all really shaken, and none of us really know how to handle it," she said. "I'm sure we're going to start locking our doors now."

Aldan police went to check on McCaughan, who suffers from epilepsy, Wednesday afternoon after family members said they were unable to reach her by phone. Inside, they discovered a gruesome scene.

"She was found sitting in the dining room area . . . on the floor," Camarota said. The county medical examiner's office conducted an autopsy yesterday and determined that McCaughan died as a result of blunt-force trauma to her head, he said.

A "person of interest" has been taken into custody, Camarota said, but he had not been charged as of last night.

Neighbors are still on edge, wondering who could have committed such a brutal act. They described McCaughan, who moved into her twin home a few years ago after her husband died, as a quiet person who liked to do yard work and walk her dog.

She was last seen alive on Sunday.

"It's just so sad. I feel so bad for her family," Colette Rickards said. "It's awful to lose a child or a sibling."

Wayne Merkle, who has lived on the street for 17 years with "good, respectful, neighborhood people," said the borough is in shock.

"It has always been a community of closeness," Merkle said.

In recent months, however, there were warning signs at McCaughan's home.

She had recently changed the locks and installed an alarm system, police and neighbors said.

McCaughan also told one neighbor, who asked not to be identified, that she recently kicked her boyfriend out of her house after discovering that he had stolen her jewelry and was using her credit cards. Camarota declined to comment yesterday on who police are questioning, but he said the homicide doesn't appear to be a random home invasion, as some neighbors had feared.

"We think she knew her killer," Camarota said. *