Rudolph Valentino Jones, 27, walked stealthily from his cell -- past three jailors -- and escaped from a District of Columbia jail in the basement of police headquarters last night. Police officials said Jones escaped because the lock on his cell malfunctioned and his jailors, busy with other duties, did not notice him.

Jones, 6-foot-5, about 240 pounds, bearded and sporting a green army fatigue jacket had been arrested about 1 p.m. Sunday on three narcotics, violations, and was taken to the central cellblock at 300 Indiana Ave. NW, a holding facility for prisoners awaiting bond and arraignment.

No one noticed the escape until about 7:22 p.m., police said. One officer, who asked not to be identified, said the lock on Jones' cellblock did not close and Jones apparently waited for his chance. It came when the officer manning the front receiving desk -- the exit from the cellblock -- left his post to do some paperwork on another prisoner awaiting bond.

A second officer in an adjacent office did not see the escape, police said. The third officer making rounds near the police garage saw Jones walking toward an exit, but told other officers later that he assumed Jones was the man who was scheduled to be released on bond.