DALLAS An elderly woman who hadn't been seen since Thursday was found dead in her East Dallas home on Saturday.

Now police are asking for help after determining that she was murdered.

The victim, 79-year-old Avanell Cowgill, had lived in the home in the 11300 block of Earlywood Drive for more than 50 years. Officers who went to check on her welfare Saturday found the back door was open and Cowgill was dead inside.

Police had been called to the address after neighbors saw newspapers piling up in the front yard.

Cowgill volunteered four days a week at Casa Linda United Methodist Church in Northeast Dallas. Pastor David Rangel says he last saw her on Thursday.

The pastor learned of her death at 7 o'clock Sunday morning and announced her death during the service.

The first reaction was, we need to pray: Pray for the family, pray for the church, and pray for the persons who did it, Pastor Rangel said.

Cowgill was a long-time church member. She would have opened the church doors by 9 o'clock and handed out bulletins for churchgoers.

To have the willingness to say 'I want to do it,' you have someone like that working with you and serving the Lord... it's just awesome, Rangel said.

Cowgill's neighbors were flabbergasted at the tragic news.

It's just outrageous. The entire thing is outrageous, that someone would go into her house or that someone would do anything to her, said neighbor Jerry Calder.

She was a sweet old lady,'added Sam Tucker. She was just a quiet, wonderful woman that would never hurt a fly.

Investigators said there were signs that the killer had stolen things from the residence, but they weren't yet sure what was taken, or when Cowgill was killed.

Anyone with information about this case or who has observed suspicious activity in the neighborhood southwest of Northwest Highway and Jupiter Road is urged to contact Dallas police at (214) 671-3647.

Oak Farms Dairy has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the responsible party.

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