Curtis Jones, the 21-year-old Seat Pleasant man charged Wednesday with killing his girlfriend, who was bludgeoned then set afire last March, was suspected from the start, police said yesterday.

It took seven months of what Maryland State Police described as sorting through "rumors and tidbits" before Jones was arrested near his home in the 600 block of 63rd Street. The investigation required repeated interviews of more than 100 persons, who included friends and neighbors of Jones and 18-year-old Dawn Anderson, the woman he is charged with killing, police said.

Jones, a former janitor who is unemployed, is accused of bludgeoning Anderson to death, then setting her body ablaze in a parking lot in Anne Arundel County. He is being held under $100,000 bond in the Anne Arundel Detention Center.

Anderson, a karate expert and graduate of Bladensburg High School where she was a cheerleader, was last seen by her parents at about 11 p.m. on March 21 when someone picked her up at their Capitol Heights home to go to a party.

"It was a very difficult case," said State Police Sgt. Pat Drum. "The parents were watching TV, they heard a horn blow and Dawn leaves. Where do you go from there?"

Her body was found by Anne Arundel firemen responding to what they thought was a small brush fire in a secluded area of the Queenstown Recreation Center in Severn. The body was burned so badly it took police three weeks to make positive identification..

A turning point in the investigation came last month, police said, when they got a tip that Jones, wearing blood-stained clothing, visited the home of a friend less than 24 hours after Anderson disappeared.

Jones, a friend of Anderson's for "a few years" and who is known to the family, told police that he was at a Washington nightclub with a friend on the night of the slaying, according to police.

State Trooper Kenneth Ward, who concentrated on trying to solve the slaying, said there was no known dispute between Anderson and Jones at the time of the killing, adding that he had no idea why she was killed or if it was planned.

Jones' case is expected to be presented to an Anne Arundel County grand jury.