A Stolen Soul

Yong Jones looked to the sky and saw her husband and son standing before a polished golden gate. Laurence Jones Sr. wrapped his arm around his son and told him: ''C'mon, Junior, you shouldn't be outside.''

The father pushed the gate open. Then he and Laurence Jr. walked beyond it, disappearing into a white cloud.

Yong stood by her husband's freshly dug grave as the vision faded. Later, she would wonder whether it was the tranquilizers or her mind playing tricks on her.

It was a crisp September morning, and she had just buried the man she had dearly loved and married 31 years ago. He died two years after their son had been murdered in Baltimore, shot in the face during a robbery.

Doctors said her 58-year-old husband had suffered a heart attack. Yong was certain he had died of a broken heart.

Their sorrow over their only child's murder had tormented both Yong and her husband. But it hurt even more to know that after nearly two years the Baltimore police had not found their son's killer. And as more time passed, Yong knew chances were good there would never be an arrest.

Too distraught to return to her job at a local paper mill, Yong quit. Now she rarely left her home in Bangor. The only trip she made each day was to the cemetery.

Her obsession to save her son's soul had robbed her of her appetite and sleep, but since her husband's death Yong had grown more restless. She had begun sleepwalking in her empty Bangor home. Sometimes she awoke in the darkness sitting on the second-story deck outside her bedroom. Above: Yong Jones visits the site of her husband's and son's graves in Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor. Larry Jones Sr., 58, died almost two years after their son was killed; Yong Jones believed his death resulted from a broken heart, and the bitterness he felt over his son's unsolved murder.

Fearing that Yong might fall, her younger sister, Yong Im, who lived next door, began staying with her sister. Before they went to bed each night, Yong Im tied the bottom of her nightgown to her sister's bedclothes so she would feel a tug if her older sister left the bed.

Yong Im also began cooking dinner for her sister, preparing Yong's favorite Korean foods: spicy vegetables, beef soup, rice and seasoned fish.

For most of her life, Yong had mothered Yong Im. A shy, quiet woman with large brown eyes, Yong Im had vague memories of her older sister carrying her on her back as the two of them fled the bombs that rained on Inchon during the Korean War.

Now, Yong Im hoped to repay her sister, caring for her as if she were her own child. ''Eat, eat,'' Yong Im told her sister each night. But Yong could barely eat more than a few spoonfuls. Often, she vomited the little bit she had swallowed.

Worried that Yong would soon end up joining her husband and son, Yong's close friend, Brenda Lawson, stopped by even more frequently than she had over the past two years. She tried to bolster Yong, telling her that their fight was far from over.

Brenda suggested they turn to the media and the public for support in getting her son's case solved.

One night while visiting with Yong, an idea popped into Brenda's head.

''What about a petition drive to pressure the police?'' she said.

''What if no one wants to sign it?'' Yong asked.

''This is Maine,'' Brenda said. ''People here care about one another. They care if someone's son or daughter is murdered. They'll sign it. Don't worry.''

The two women toiled from early afternoon till midnight, calling and writing more than a hundred civic groups and churches in towns large and small in the Bangor area.

Within a month, nearly 1,700 people had signed a petition urging the Baltimore police to keep the Laurence Jones Jr. murder case open and to renew their efforts to find his killer.

Hundreds of the families and strangers also agreed to contact the Baltimore police. As letters and calls deluged the Baltimore homicide office, an exasperated Sgt. Roger Nolan called Brenda.

''I can't answer all these letters,'' Nolan moaned. ''I'm not getting any work done.''

''I'm sorry, sergeant, but people in Maine really care about this murder,'' Brenda told him. ''They want this case solved.''

Besides putting pressure on the police, the petition gave new hope and strength to Yong. Each day, as new pages of signatures arrived at her home, Yong taped them together. In the middle of the night, she ran her fingers over the names, reading each of them aloud.

''All these strangers care about my son,'' she told herself.

Night after night she would fall asleep, clutching the petition in her arms.

On the last day of February, Brenda and Yong delivered the petition to Republican Sen. William Cohen's office in Bangor. Two of Cohen's staffers took it to Baltimore and planned to deliver it to the police commissioner during a press conference.

But the commissioner refused to meet with them. He wanted no part of the media's glare. The police felt harassed.

''We continue to investigate this case with no leads, no witnesses, no weapon,'' police spokesman Sam Ringgold told the Baltimore Sun. ''It's a difficult homicide to solve, as many of them are. To suggest the department has not aggressively pursued the case or pushed it off to the side is not true.''

Ringgold later asked a Baltimore Sun reporter about Yong. ''Who is this woman from Maine? Who is she connected to? Is she friends with the governor up there?''

''No,'' the reporter answered. ''She's just an ordinary lady who worked in a mill in Maine.''