Tracey Helms, a 25-year-old mother of two, was buried last week by anguished relatives who said she was just trying to help.
"She was a peacemaker," said Helms' mother, Sherry Bower. "She loved to try to get peaceful endings to things."
Michael William Blount, 27, remained jailed without bond Friday on charges of murder and second-degree kidnapping.
The New York Times reports that the slaying has energized foes of domestic violence around the nation.
Helms had allowed his wife, fellow waitress Holly Wright Blount, to stay at her home after she complained he was abusive.
The two women ended their shifts about 2 a.m. Saturday, and when they returned to Helms' home in Monroe, Michael Blount was waiting behind a tree with a shovel, Holly Blount told police.
She said Helms ran toward the house to get her husband and call police. Michael Blount hit her over the head with a shovel, then hit her at least once more, police said.
He forced his wife into a car and drove away, authorities said. She was later released unharmed and her husband was arrested.
Helms' husband, D.J. Helms, and their two children, ages 4 and 6, were asleep in the house and heard nothing, family members said. Her husband found her body after he awoke that morning.
Helms was the 48th victim of domestic violence this year in North Carolina, the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence said. It is unclear how many were killed trying to protect someone else, but experts said Helms was not the first.
"Domestic violence is all about power and control," said Union County district attorney Ken Honeycutt, who has led a prosecution program to stem domestic violence. "When the abuser sees someone interfering with this ability to control, they lash out at that person."
Michael Blount, of Monroe, had several drug convictions and was convicted in 2000 of misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon and assault on a female in an incident involving another woman, records show.
His new wife left on the evening of Oct. 15, when she called police to escort her as she picked up belongings from the motel room the two had shared. She stayed in Helms' home for two nights, and did not file a restraining order.
D.J. Helms said he had no idea his family was in such danger. "I probably wouldn't have let Holly stay if I'd known she'd bring danger to my household," he said Monday.