Police officers were called to 309 N. Third St. around 5 p.m. after Patricia Stevens' son found her body on the floor with a blanket over her.
Investigators said there were no signs of forced entry into the home, but they declined to comment further on the case, including a motive or how the 74-year-old might have died.
Stevens was married to Lee Austin Stevens, who died in June 2005. She had lived in the home, near Smithfield's downtown, since then.
Authorities said Stevens' son had gone to pick up his mother for a dinner date Thursday evening.
"We were shocked. The whole neighborhood was shocked," said Al Wellons, a longtime family friend. "She was just a lovely lady. She was a great mother, a great wife."
The case has neighbors alarmed, and police urged residents Friday to take extra safety precautions.
"The neighborhood is worried if it was a criminal act and if there is anybody in the neighborhood," Wellons said.
Extra officers have also been on patrol and were to patrol the area Friday night, police said.
The State Bureau of Investigation and the Johnston County District Attorney's Office are assisting in the homicide investigation, authorities said.
Smithfield police are asking for the public's help in the case and are offering a reward.
Anyone with information about it should call the Smithfield Police Department at 919-934-2121 or the Smithfield Police Department Tip Line at 919-989-8835.
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