Raised in an area of Baltimore City considered among the most dangerous in the country, longtime homicide investigator Ted Jones, a retired Maryland State Police trooper often tasked with covertly gathering intelligence, has a remarkable story to tell.

In fact, he wrote a book — “Protect and Serve: Reflections of a Maryland State Trooper.” Jones, now chief investigator for the Charles County State’s Attorney Office, plans to publish in the spring.

From undercover prison stints, to immersing himself into Charm City’s open-air drug markets, to posing as a car salesman, Jones’ work required him to wear a number of different hats. Sometimes he wore his hat backwards and dressed down, discretely documenting as narcotics changed hands, his gun concealed in a folded newspaper, while an FBI surveillance team watched his back from an inconspicuous van parked across the street.

“You have no clue that I’m the police, and I don’t want you to know I’m the police, how about that?” Jones said. “Because when I really get into what I’m doing, working homicides, you can’t go into the hood doing what I do, advertising that you’re the police.”

“I don’t want you to know who I am,” he added. “Because lives depend on it, mine especially.”

Awards and citations accumulated throughout his career are kept out of sight, tucked away in a drawer at home — he insists he was just doing his job. All but one: an award from the Federal Bar Association’s District of Columbia chapter which he proudly displays. In 1998, Jones, who had just recently been assigned to the federal task force investigation, elicited a confession that cracked a cold case and revealed the culprits responsible for the heinous act that left three young women dead, shot execution-style in a secluded area off of Route 197 in Laurel.

The confession yielded three convictions. Dustin Higgs, the principle perpetrator who ordered Willis Haynes to shoot the women, became the first of only two people from Maryland to receive a federal death sentence, according to the Death Penalty Information Center and court records. Today, he awaits lethal injection as a death row inmate at Terre Haute Penitentiary in Indiana. Haynes is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Victor Gloria, who told Jones how an argument during the early hours of Jan. 27, 1996, turned into a triple homicide, pleaded guilty as an accessory after the fact in exchange for his testimony.

When Gloria had first met Jones, it was at a car dealership. Gloria was accompanying Haynes who had used a bad check and a fake name to essentially steal a vehicle from the dealership months before, and had returned to exchange his temporary tags for a permanent license plate. Jones, provided with a company shirt and office space, had Haynes fill out paperwork, which was actually chemically treated paper that lifted his fingerprints. The ploy worked and proved he was not who he was pretending to be.

Haynes and Gloria were later arrested, Gloria on federal drug charges. He had unknowingly sold marijuana to a Prince George’s County detective in a controlled buy earlier in the investigation. When brought in for questioning at an FBI facility, Gloria was surprised to see Jones, the guy from the dealership, who now identified himself as a state trooper.

“It’s about those girls, isn’t it?” Gloria blurted out, as Jones remembers. Up until this point, the investigators had only a mere suspicion that he might know something about the killings. As it turned out he was there, and his testimony was overwhelmingly corroborated by evidence already on file that pointed to Higgs as the main suspect.

“I said, ‘as a matter of fact it is about those girls. You didn’t think we forgot about that did you?’” Jones recalled. “… and he gave me a full confession as to what he knew. He wrote it out; I took it. I came out of the interview room, fist pumped the air a hundred times. Yes, yes, yes.”

After nearly three years and countless hours of investigation, Jones had found the missing piece to the puzzle.

“That made the case,” said retired Prince George’s County Det. Mark Coulter, a member of the task force known for his uncanny ability to find people that often did not want to be found. “That confession was very critical. It explained the narrative past everything that happened the night that the murders were committed.”

“This guy’s name was mentioned nowhere in any of the reports I read,” Jones said, “but the reason he knew so much about it was because he was present when they were murdered. He was in the van while they were murdered.”

“When he said it’s about those girls, I almost fell out of my chair,” Jones said. “… But I had to keep it cool.”

Gloria laid out the horrific details of how it all went down. The three men, Higgs, Haynes and Gloria, had picked up the three women from Washington, D.C. for drinks back at a Laurel apartment. Later in the night, Higgs got into an altercation with one of the women who rebuffed his advances, and the women left, one making threats as they exited. When Higgs saw her outside writing down his license plate number, he grabbed a handgun and told Haynes and Gloria to come on.

Feigning an apology, Higgs told Tamika Black, 19, Tanji Jackson, 21, and Mishann Chinn, 23, that he would drive them back into the city, and convinced them to get inside his blue Mazda MPV van, court records show. Higgs, however, had a much more sinister plan in mind. When he drove right past the exit ramp that would have taken them directly into Washington, D.C., and instead continued on, eventually turning into an isolated area near the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, the women assumed that they had been tricked and would be made to walk from there. When asked if that was his intention, he replied, “Something like that,” and handed Haynes a silver .380 caliber handgun, and watched as the women were taken from the van and shot one by one, a scene Gloria witnessed through the backseat window of the van. The gun was later thrown into the Anacostia River, never to be recovered.

“I had gotten confessions before, but none like this. This was simply over the top for me,” Jones said. “Any death is unfortunate, but this was the heinous murder of three women that were completely innocent. It was violence against women at its worst.”

Years earlier, when Jones first learned of the murders from a morning news report on TV as he dressed for his shift, it struck a cord, and he found himself wishing he could work the case. He had just recently lost a loved one, his niece who had been shot and killed by her abusive husband. Little did he know, he would solve the case nearly three years later.

“I didn’t do any of this by myself,” Jones said. “People gave me the opportunity, people supported me all along the way. You can’t do these things by yourself. Trust me, I just came in towards the end of this case and was successful in getting the confession, but the credit goes certainly to [U.S.] Park Police who worked it initially and my fellow task force officers.”

This is but one chapter in Jones’ career with the Maryland State Police, a career that took him all across the country. He brought down an insurance fraud mill in Baltimore, conducted 24-hour surveillance on a suspected target of the D.C. sniper during his 2002 killing spree, assisted in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, and helped solve the murder of his fellow trooper and close friend who was gunned down in an undercover operation gone awry.

“When we had the task force together, there were a lot of investigators that I worked with, and one thing I will say about Ted is that he has the type of chemistry where he could work with all investigators,” Coulter said. “And he took that same chemistry and he used that in doing his job.”

“There’d be people out there who didn’t want to talk to anybody for any number of reasons, but they felt comfortable with connecting and talking with Mr. Jones,” he added. “I wouldn’t have wanted to work with anybody else when it came down to the type of work we did. The guy was excellent.”

Today, Jones wears a different hat yet again, as a civilian. As chief investigator for the Charles County State’s Attorney's Office, he provides various investigative assistance to the agency’s prosecutors, and is dedicated to preventing young people from entering the courthouse through “the wrong door,” as he calls it. He often travels throughout the county with State’s Attorney Anthony Covington and engages the community. Last year in June, they spoke at a NAACP town hall meeting discussing at-risk youth and what can be done to help prevent them from entering the criminal justice system. Born from that discussion was the office’s soon-to-begin “Think About It” campaign, an idea presented to Covington by Jones.

“I enjoy seeing young people excel ... I’m very encouraged by that, and I try to encourage them and try to help in any way possible,” Jones said. “They’re the future to a better community, the young people.”

The campaign aims to educate youth in the community, especially at a school setting, about the potential consequences of being arrested, how it will affect them later in life, and explains how the law works, including a mock traffic stop with audience participation.

“Protect our women, protect our children, and protect the elderly, everyone else can fend for themselves for the most part,” Jones said, reflecting on his career. “My passion, my focus was on safe communities, keeping everybody safe, to protect and serve. To bring closure, if there’s such a thing to someone who has lost a loved one, to bring accountability to whoever is responsible for taking one’s life through our established justice system,” he continued. “That’s what mattered to me."

“That was my mission,” he said. “I lived it every day.”

Twitter: @Andrew_IndyNews

Twitter: @Andrew_IndyNews