A Stolen Soul

Yong Jones whispered the words over and over, as if they were a sacred mantra. ''Justice. American justice.''

Though her husband, Laurence Jones Sr., had died believing their son's killer would never be found, Yong still clung desperately to the ideals her husband had taught her. Laurence Jones, a Korean War veteran who served 20 years in the Air Force, often told his Korean-born wife there was no better country than the United States of America.

''Here, there is justice for all,'' he'd tell her. ''In America, democracy works. The voice of people is heard.''

Two and a half years had passed since her son, Laurence Jr., became homicide victim No. 313 during the most murderous year in Baltimore's history. After writing and phoning hundreds of politicians and police in Maine and Maryland, pleading with them for help in solving her son's case, Yong and her friend Brenda Lawson had turned to the people of Maine for help. They had gathered nearly 1,700 signatures from Maine citizens, urging the police to work harder to find Laurence Jones' killer.

Yong prayed that the voice of Maine's people would be heard. But as the spring of 1996 folded into summer, police still had no new leads. Though she grew more despondent, Yong continued talking to the spirit of her dead son. She assured him she had not given up on freeing his soul.

Eager for any positive news, Yong was encouraged when Col. Steven Crumrine showed interest in her son's case. In early 1996, Crumrine was promoted to oversee Baltimore's Criminal Division.

A career cop with 24 years of experience, Crumrine made it his priority to review the division's unsolved cases. When he got to the file on Laurence Jones Jr., a colleague told Crumrine: ''This is a case we've gotten a lot of letters and calls on.'' Above: Yong Jones prays and sobs before the altar at the Columbia Street Baptist Church in Bangor. Near the third anniversary of her son's 1993 murder, Jones went to church to speak to God about her plans to kill herself in an attempt to draw attention to the unsolved slaying.

Intrigued, Crumrine took the case home to read. He wasn't the first top official to review the file. The hundreds of letters, the calls, and now the petition had prompted plenty of the department's brass to peruse the case.

After reviewing the file, Crumrine learned little progress had been made on the murder since homicide detective Donald Ossmus Jr. had retired from the department in the spring of 1994. Ossmus had been the first detective to investigate the homicide. The two detectives who took the case over after he left had little luck coming up with fresh leads.

Crumrine decided to reassign the investigation to John ''J.T.'' Brown, a detective who worked in the department's Cold Case Squad. He believed that if anyone could come up with fresh leads, it was Brown. The detective was a hard-working, smooth-talking veteran cop who had a knack for cracking cases that nobody else could solve.

''Do everything you can,'' Crumrine told Brown in July.

Confident that Brown would somehow find the killer, Crumrine made Yong a promise.

''We will solve your son's murder for you,'' he told her.

Despite Brown's efforts, the summer swept by. As the trees began to burn with color, the detective was no closer to making an arrest.

In October, a month away from the third anniversary of her son's murder, Yong paced back and forth in the darkness of her home. She asked herself, ''What haven't I done to save Junior's soul?''

One evening, a rash idea struck her. ''What if I kill myself?''

Yong believed that if she went to Baltimore and committed suicide on the same street where her son was murdered, it would draw attention to the case, and maybe help to solve it.

Unsure whether to carry out her plan, Yong sought guidance in her church. Alone in the quiet sanctuary, she talked to God.

''I know if I commit suicide I can't go to Heaven, but, Lord, I can't take it anymore. I'm Korean. I can't change my beliefs. I need to know my son will rest in peace. Please, Lord, don't let my death go in vain.''

Yong also spoke to Junior, explaining that she must end her life to rescue his soul. She heard his voice pleading with her: ''Mom, you don't have to come join me. I don't want you to go to Hell. Don't do this, Mom.''

She told no one about her suicide scheme, not even her friend Brenda Lawson, who had agreed to go to Baltimore with her.

Four days before she and Brenda were to board a train in Boston, Yong made her friends promise that they would pursue her son's murder if she didn't come back from Baltimore.

One of those friends was Mark Woodward, an editor at the Bangor Daily News, who had supported Yong in her quest for justice.

''Just in case I come back from Baltimore in a pine box, what are you going to do?'' she asked him.

''I hope you don't come back that way,'' Woodward told her. ''But if that happened, I would pick up where you left off.''

Before she went to bed that night Yong told her son: ''It's OK, Junior. Momma's going to be with you soon.''