Crime

Felon's two lives stun a congregation

Robert E. Jones, the church deacon, went to Sunday services weekly and played his guitar as the choir sang hymns.

Danny Chavis, the fugitive, was wanted for more than a decade after a woman was robbed of $9 and raped as she walked along Raleigh's New Bern Avenue in 1994.

The same man lived both lives.

Two years after his lives collided, a week after he was sent to prison, those in Richmond who knew Robert Jones still struggle with a sense of betrayal.

"All he did was deceive everyone," said LaVerne Robertson, the pastor of the Richmond church where Jones worshiped. "We didn't know who we were dealing with."

Danny Chavis, a one-time football player at Enloe High School, transformed himself into Robert E. Jones when he fled Raleigh shortly after the Jan. 4, 1994, attack on Jeanie Friar, who confronted her attacker in court last week and consented to her name being used.

Last Friday, he admitted he was the Danny Chavis who forced Friar to perform oral sex on him while he directed his friend Christopher McClam to rape her.

Chavis' admission of guilt resulted in a 40-year prison sentence. It was the maximum he could face under his plea agreement, but he might do less time if he's paroled for good behavior. McClam, arrested shortly after the attack, is already serving a life sentence in prison; he'll be eligible for parole in 2020.

Family in the dark

When Chavis fled Raleigh 14 years ago, he left behind a family who wouldn't know whether he was alive or dead for years. They declined to speak with a reporter at his sentencing, and efforts to reach them were unsuccessful. Chavis, 45, also turned down an interview request, as did the woman he married in Virginia, Glenda Jones.

Just 170 miles north of Raleigh, in Virginia's capital city, Chavis took on the Jones alias and built a new life. He became a devoted member of Mansion Avenue Triumphant Baptist Church, on the edge of a weathered section of South Richmond with a Sunday congregation of more than 100.

Jones, recovering from a crack cocaine habit, asked Robertson's brother Doc, a former drug counselor, to recommend a place to worship. Doc Robertson suggested Mansion Avenue, which at that time was being led by his father.

"I didn't even know it, that he was living under these aliases," Robertson said.

Over the years, Jones' life fell into a comfortable rhythm. He became a church deacon in 1998 and married Glenda Jones, a nursing aide, in 1999, helping raise her two children. He had a valid Virginia driver's license and lived with his wife in a small brick home with a tidy yard on Hagueman Drive, in a modest older neighborhood on the southwest side of Richmond.

Jones worked as a handyman and bricklayer and was remembered by his fellow church members for volunteering -- mowing the church's lawn without prompting and helping the elderly members of the congregation.

Speak no evil

"There's nothing bad I could say about him," said Caroline Banks, a member of Mansion Avenue's choir. "He was an easy person that I could talk to."

During most of his years in Richmond, Jones steered clear of trouble with the law. The one exception: a 1994 incident, shortly after the rape in Raleigh, in which a man using the name Robert E. Jones was arrested on robbery charges. The suspect had fingerprints that matched Chavis'. But the charges were dismissed, and Richmond authorities never realized that Jones was actually Chavis -- a felony fugitive from Raleigh.

Twelve years later, that 1994 set of fingerprints is what Raleigh police Sgt. J.J. Matthews used to track down Chavis and dismantle the life of Robert E. Jones. Matthews also compared an old mug shot of Chavis with the driver's license photo of Jones and had a strong hunch he was chasing the right man.

Performance canceled

Based on Matthews' work on a case grown cold, Virginia authorities arrested Jones on an August Saturday in 2006, the day before he was supposed to perform at a Mansion Avenue church service with a 10-year-old boy whom he taught to play the guitar.

That Sunday was spent trying to find out who Robert E. Jones really was, LaVerne Robertson said. Robertson now wonders whether there were missed clues.

"The church is a haven sometimes for people that are hiding out," she said. "Unfortunately, we didn't catch this one."

But the church now does background checks on all of its deacons, she said.

Mansion Avenue's pastor still wonders how Chavis was able to keep the deceit going on so long, especially in church, where he stood up in front of the congregation and introduced himself as Deacon Robert Jones.

In the two years since the arrest and the revelation that Robert Jones was really Danny Chavis, Robertson has found herself thinking of his victim, Friar, and how she must have suffered.

That's what kept her from writing a letter in support of Chavis when his sister called and asked for one. As a minister, she couldn't speak on behalf of a man who lied about the most basic facts of who he was and what he had done.

'You ran, you lied ...'

"In my eyes, you ran, you lied, you had a wife that was devastated," Robertson said. "She doesn't know what her married name is."

Yet, Glenda Jones still wrote a letter on Chavis' behalf to a Wake County judge, describing how he had provided for her and asking for leniency.

Mattie Allen, 74, a Mansion Avenue church member for three decades, has been writing to Chavis while he has been in jail. She writes to him about the church and said his responses are mainly about religion. She hasn't dwelt much on the 1994 rape.

"If you really are a born-again Christian, even if it happened, we're not to walk around and condemn anybody," Allen said.

In papers filed in October at the Wake County Courthouse, the married life of Robert and Glenda Jones started coming to an official end.

Danny Chavis mailed the divorce petition from his jail cell. He signed his name, "Danny Chavis (AKA Robert Jones)."

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