Authorities say 74-year-old Patricia Stevens' body was found in her home at 309 North Third Street by her son around 5 p.m. Thursday.
On Friday evening, officers arrested 34-year-old Matthew Hagert Salentine, who lives a block away from Stevens, for the homicide.
Salentine is charged with one count of first degree murder, one count of armed robbery, one count of first degree burglary and three counts of uttering forged instrument.
Salentine was placed in the Johnston County Jail under no bond pending his first appearance in Smithfield District Court on Monday.
Police continued to canvass the neighborhood after arresting Salentine and investigators say burglary was likely the motive.
When Stevens' son found his mother Thursday, he told the 911 operator that her home appeared to have been ransacked.
"I just pulled up in my mother's driveway and she wouldn't answer the door - opened up the door. She's laying on the floor. Can you send someone over there please?" the man tells the operator.
Investigators have not said how Stevens died.
Salentine's neighbor says two weeks ago Salentine started acting funny, appeared to be preparing to move and had talked about getting inheritance money in the mail.
"He was sitting on the porch all antsy, antsy waiting for FedEx to get here with his money and so on and so forth, now I'm think maybe that wasn't true," neighbor Peter Russell said.
Russell's home was one of several hit during a recent rash of break-ins in the same time frame. He says he now believes the man he trusted as a son could be responsible and says the murder arrest has created more fear.
"People are starting to say, well maybe Matt was just smarter than the rest of us," he said.
Stevens was the widow of well-known Smithfield attorney Austin Stevens who passed away in 2005.
"We always called him the lawyer's lawyer. Anytime a lawyer had a question, we'd always go to Austin Stevens. He was respected and so was his wife Pat. She was a lovely lady," said family friend Allen Wellons.
Neighbors and friends are trying to come to terms with what happened.
"Everybody was shocked because one, Pat was in such good health. She exercised, took care of herself," said Wellons. "The neighborhood is very upset."
The SBI and District Attorney's Office were assisting with the investigation.