Willie T. Jones, his ugly secret reaching back to destroy him, decided to become a fugitive a few hours after hearing of the indictment.

"That's it," he told his wife, Linda. "There's no chance for a fair trial."

"Hang in there," she said quietly.

"It's too hot."

In the early morning of June 7, as Linda Jones dozed, her husband left their Homestead, Fla., apartment. The former state trooper took his car, clothes, photographs of the children, a typewriter and the beginning of his memoirs. He thought his life had turned into a fascinating, if twisted, tale. m

Willie Jones is the subject of a nationwide manhunt. And his life has become the bizarre tale he imagined.

There is the crime: lewd and lascivious assault on a minor. The on-duty trooper sexually molested an 11-year-old girl Jan. 9, 1979.

There is the trial: Jones pleaded no contest and got a suspended sentence.

There is the outcry: police, prosecutors and the judge were criticized for being soft on a former cop.

There is charge II: in the tense aftermath of Miami's recent riots, a special Justice Department team reviewed the Jones case. On June 6, a grand jury indicted Jones, who is white, on charges of violating the black girl's constitutional rights.

There is Willie Jones' fear: cops don't do well in prison, especially white cops who have molested black girls. "A federal indictment didn't mean a year or two," said Linda Jones. "A federal indictment meant death."

She is nervous, pained, angry. "He was being used as a white example," she said. "They wanted white meat to appease the black meat."

It initially was thought that Jones, 30, had fled with his 27-year-old wife and their three sons, ages 6, 3 and 1. But Linda Jones said that she simply moved in with friends to avoid harassment.

The FBI believes Jones is hiding in the Southwest. He faces a 15-year sentence for violating probation, and two years if convicted on the federal charges.

FBI agents are confident they will find Jones, but his wife believes he is too sharp to get caught.

"It took them two years to catch Patty Hearst, and she was robbing banks and everything," she said.

She expects Jones to return when things cool down.

The Jones have been married eight years. In the past 18 months, Jones worked only occasionally, doing some printing work and selling business cards. Linda Jones supported the family as a waitress. She says they grew closer because of the scandal.

Still, Willie Jones kept the truth from his wife.

"He said those newspaper stories were lies," she recalled. "He said, 'I never touched her.'"

He told others differently.

"He had picked up an 11-year-old girl and he admits to placing his hand between her legs," wrote a psychiatrist who examined Jones. "He denies trying to harm her and he cannot explain what actually happened to him."

The Homestead girl's version to police: Jones accused her of stealing candy and took her to a remote field for the purpose of "searching" her. He told her to remove her shoes and rubbed her feet. He told her to remove her blouse. She stripped to her T-shirt. He told her to take off her pants. She began to cry. He gave her a towel to dry her eyes. He placed his hand between her legs. She cried again. He drove her home.

"He began to feel disassociative, 'like I was in a play and no longer a police officer,'" Jones told a psychologist who further reported: "He realized he had the desire to see her naked. He was shocked by this realization and told her to put her clothes back on.

"She then got in the front of the car and he gave in to the impulse to reach over and touch her in the vaginal area [through the clothing], still in the guise of conducting a search. He remembers thinking to himself, 'What the hell.' After he had done this, he realized he was doing 'the most forbidden thing possible' and took her home."

Jones' suspended sentence called for three years' probation and required him to seek outpatient psychotheraphy and contribute $50 a month to the girl's psychological treatment.

The girl now lives in Columbia, S.C. She recently was interviewed by former state attorney Richard Gerstein, a court-appointed special investigator in the case. Gerstein said the girl now adds to her account that Jones fondled her breasts. "We found her to be highly traumatized and psychologically withdrawn," he said.

Linda Jones, like her husband's family and friends, still finds the incident difficult to believe.

"It was never a sex case, never a sex case," said Jones' sister Darlene.

Cpl. Al Chinn, Jones' supervisor with the Highway Patrol, says, "What with the macho image of a policeman, he could have gone out and robbed a 7-Eleven and it wouldn't be as bad as this. Nothing could be more embarassing and demoralizing in the world than this."

Willie T. Jones, raised in Norfolk, Va., Miami, and a town near Allentown, Pa., quit school at age 17 to join the Marines. He served four years, becoming a sergeant.

He wanted to stay in the uniform and, like an uncle who helped raise him, he decided to be a policeman. He joined the Public Safety Department. He was dismissed after his probationary period, records show, because of excessive absences.

He joined the Highway Patrol.

But seven years later in January of 1979, Jones was ready to quite police work.

"He felt like it wasn't what it used to be," said his wife. "It's cracked up to be in the elite cops of law enforcement. It was full of petty harassment and back-stabbing."

Jones passed a course toward becoming a realtor. He still liked the uniform, but he was disgusted with the $1,200-a-month salary, endless paperwork and overtime hours that didn't draw overtime pay.

The Willie Jones who assaulted the 11-year-old girl was a nervous man with a bad stomach who drank cofee with one hand and ate Gelusils with another. He complained about money and didn't want his wife working during her third pregnancy.

He had asked his supervisors if he could moonlight as a realtor. They said no. He talked of quitting the force.

The pressures kept expanding.

The incident led to the plea. The plea led to publicity.

"He felt like other people thought he was scum," said his sister Carolyn. "He didn't want to show his face."

Linda Jones says there were times of depression, times of hope. There were times he planned for the future, times he felt he would never escape the clamp that had become his life.

She says they saw sudden promise when four white ex-policemen were acquitted May 17 in the beating death of a black insurance executive, Arthur McDuffle, in Miami.

"The day the McDuffle cops were found innocent, everyone called and said maybe there's hope for you," she remembers. "But then the riots started."

The Jones case was one of the sparks in a Miami set aflame.

Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti came to town. He ordered a special team of attorneys and FBI agents to review cases of possible police misconduct.

Willie Jones told his wife to expect the worse. He waited.

They got the news on the TV after a quiet day at the beach.

"Where can I send you money?" Linda Jones asked as he gathered his belongings.

"Don't worry about it," her husband told her.