For 15 years, Edward J. Jagen donned various disguises to trap drug dealers, bust bank robbers and trip up other criminals as an undercover cop for the District's police department. He even dressed in drag once--lipstick, heels and all--to catch a suspected rapist.
But it's the costume that Jagen wears these days--a long cape and coat of feathered armor--that causes people to take notice.
Since retiring in 1984, Jagen, 50, has taken on the role of a knight in shining armor, out to rescue unsuspecting boys and girls from child abusers, molesters and other mean people. He goes by Sir Edward, taken from a character in a fairy tale he wrote called "The Good Knight Story."
In the fairy tale, a swashbuckling Sir Edward comes out of retirement to rescue missing children with the help of a magical mouse named MacAroni. He then uses his mythological tale to identify tricks that were used to abduct the children.
The way Jagen sees it, if you teach children to recognize potential danger, they will be less likely to become victims and even perpetrators of crime.
"What I do is empower children, so that they don't freeze up and panic when danger hits," said Jagen, a tall, friendly man. "When they have the power, they know to take two steps back and run or to say, 'Don't touch me.' "
It is this kind of thinking and the many unpaid years that Jagen has worked on behalf of children that last week earned him a trip to the White House, where he accepted the prestigious President's Service Award.
Jagen was among 21 who received the award reserved for people who demonstrate ways of bringing disparate elements of communities together through volunteer service.
Jagen was cited for developing the nonprofit Good Knight Child Empowerment Network Inc., a safety program based on his fairy tale and his own experience as a victim.
He said he was sexually abused as a child by someone he knew. As a police officer, he worked on his share of child abuse and pornography cases.
When it came time for him to retire, Jagen said, it was only natural for him to combine his law enforcement background with his love of mythology.
So he began his crusade, first by publishing his fairy tale, then by building the spooky castle he calls his kingdom off Rhode Island Avenue in Beltsville.
Housed in a former YMCA building, the kingdom rises from the roadside like a castle in medieval times. It's a place where children and even adults come to confront their fears and learn how to protect themselves from evil. They tackle these tasks by listening to Jagen's presentations, which often are laced with reverse psychology.
For example, if a criminal knows his subject is afraid, he will jump at the chance to exploit him, Jagen said. On the flip side, if a criminal senses a fighting spirit in a potential victim, he probably will move on.
Jagen does all this draped in his cape, his 6-foot-5 frame squeezed into a heavy suit of leather armor. By his side is his prized sword of steel.
Guests to the kingdom are invited to journey through elaborate haunted houses with names such as Hall of Angels, Gabriel's Garden, the Forbidden Forest, Pandora's Box and the Castle of Hercules, all of them built by Jagen's dozens of volunteers using donations and scraps.
Often, Jagen said, children enter the houses, frightened by the fake skulls, bloodied corpses, strobe lights and life-like monster mannequins. But once they leave, they realize that their fears were unfounded.
After the journeys, Jagen uses his sword to knight his students by tapping them on the shoulder and urging them to protect those around them. It's a pact that Amber Dye, 14, of Hyattsville takes seriously.
"I feel like I would know what to do if a stranger came up and offered me candy or something to go with him," said Dye, a freshman at Northwestern High School. "He gives you the confidence to stand up to people."
Jagen preaches from his kingdom and elsewhere in Maryland, including the Prince George's County school system, which has brought his program into the schools. He also travels the country to spread the Good Knight word.
Most of the Good Knight program's $200,000 annual budget comes from donations and grants.
Although it is difficult to determine the true impact of his work, supporters said Jagen has done much to help protect children from crime, especially in this age where school shootings and other violent acts of crime have young people on edge.
"I know we have had kids who've been through the program and turned down bribes to go with strangers," said Florence Foreman, assistant supervisor of psychological services and administrator of the Good Knight program for Prince George's schools. "I think we've saved kids from being abducted."
CAPTION: Edward J. Jagen was among 21 volunteers who received the President's Service Award.