Washington National Opera singer's slaying leaves family with questions

By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The final play of the opera singer was "Hamlet," the Shakespearean meditation on murder and ghosts and madness, at the Washington National Opera in the early summer. His own slaying, a few days later in or near Fort Dupont Park, apparently played out to an audience of one, that of his killer. His funeral, in Prince George's County, drew more than 1,000 mourners, who wept for the loss of his Pavarotti-size persona, his booming laugh, his oh-so-sweet tenor.

The facts taken from the last weeks of the life of Don Diego Jones, a 14-year veteran of the chorus at the Washington Opera, married man and a proud new parent, make for the stuff of tragedy, as if lifted from the librettos of the classical operas he loved. But, as has become clear in the two months since he died, the last hours of his life play out more like a violent crime mystery that, so far, cannot be solved.

On the last-known morning of his life, June 7, a Monday, the 43-year-old, 280-pound Jones called his mother to say good morning. He then called in sick to his day job as a social worker with special-needs children for the state of Maryland -- a minor toothache, he told his wife, Charita. He kissed her as she left for work, dropped off their infant foster children at the babysitter's and returned to his townhouse in Temple Hills around 8:30 a.m.

A few minutes later, he called his mother-in-law with a soaring, a cappella rendition of "Happy Birthday" and -- this part was vintage Jones -- surprised her by saying he was taking her to lunch as a birthday present.

"He said, 'Now get dressed up because I want you to look nice,' " Jessie McCrae remembers. "I said okay. That's how Don was, he was always dressed up. It was about 9:15, maybe 9:20. He said he'd come get me about 11:30."

And then, the man vanished.

"As far as we know," McCrae says, "I was the last person to talk to him."

Nearly 36 hours later, Jones's body turned up "in a wooded area" in Fort Dupont Park, a police document reports. The crime scene was four miles from his home, a national park his family says he had no history of ever visiting. The police report said he had been shot several times, had no identification on him, and had "no visible signs of life" when his body was found by a passerby at 4:40 p.m.

What had befallen him?

When men are killed in public parks, there is an almost automatic suspicion that drugs or sex is involved, but Charita Jones said her husband did not drink, smoke or do drugs. Court records show he had no arrest history. In 10 years of marriage, and in the two months since his death, she says, neither she nor his family has uncovered anything to suggest he was leading a double life.

Further, police have released little information about the killing, and what they have said is contradictory.

The initial report, filed the day his body was recovered, when Jones was listed as a "John Doe," said he was found in woods near the "Minnesota Ave. SE/Randle Circle SE" intersection, a grassy area with picnic tables and open areas leading back to acres of dense woods.

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