For the last six years, Donald Hauf Jr. has been in the business of sleaze, greed, sex, and power. As a county police homicide detective,it's his job to track a murderer and untangle a web of evidence that will lead to a conviction in court.

Hauf, 33, is used to following the victim's path from birth to death seeking out the slightest clue that may lead to the motive for the needless death.

In most cases, answers come only in time. It's a strange job for someone who says he doesn't have the patience for puzzles.

"I don't like spy movies either," he explains. "I want instant gratification."

As a young officer, Hauf picked up the nickname "Cleat," after retired Capt. Charles Miller, who was known as "Spike" in police circles.

"Someone said I was just like him and he said no, I wasn't a spike yet, just a cleat," Hauf explains.

The name has stuck among his fellow detectives, or as they are called in police shop talk, "homicide dicks."

Even "Cleat," who has witnessed the lowest depths of humanity, says he has heroes.

Baltimore City homicide investigators Richard Garvey and Bob McAllister hold that title.

"During my first case, they didn't treat me like some piece of garbage from AnneArundel County," he says. "They treated me like one of their equals."

Like many other husbands and fathers, Hauf wears a suit to work,enjoys spending time with his wife and kids in suburban Baltimore and drinking beer or eating crabs.

His wife, Deborah, 34, does not work, instead she stays at home to raise their two children, Mathew, 5, and Megan, 2.

"Without the help at home, I couldn't do it," Haufsays. "This way I am not fighting a two-front war. My wife is happy because I am happy."

But that "Leave It to Beaver" picture can change in a matter of seconds. When Hauf's pager sounds it usually meanshe is being called to the scene of a grisly murder.

Take, for example, Mother's Day 1989.

Hauf and his family were all packed up and leaving to visit both sets of grandparents and then the pager went off.

A few minutes later he found himself in a wooded area in Glen Burnie, staring at the bodies of two young children -- one of which, for a second, looked like the son of a friend.

"If I live to be 150 years old, I'll never forget that," he says. "I can look right now and see those two little kids laying there."

Tracking down the killer of Morgan Delost, 13, and Brian Lemmons, 12, kept Hauf up for five straight days.

The worst part, Hauf says, was telling the children's parents.

"Driving up to their house, I knew what I had to doand I kept trying to come up with ways to do it," he recalls.

When Booker Jones, 25, was shot to death during a stand-off with Baltimore City police, Hauf says he felt relieved.

"I hate to use the word elated, but I felt good in the sense there was no doubt in my mind that he had done it."

Hauf credits the community for their supportin the case.

"I've never seen anything like it before and I haven't seen anything like it since," he says. "People would just drop whatever they were doing to help us."

Like the Glen Burnie slayings, many of Hauf's cases involved child victims; those are the ones that bother Hauf the most. Why do people do it? In many cases, Hauf says he never finds out.

"How people treat their fellow man is an eye-opener," he says. "There is always a little twist."

In 1986, Baltimore resident Huston Lantion and his girlfriend Paulette Jenkins frantically called police from Harundale Mall. Paulette's 9-year-old daughter had wandered off and no one could find her.

Mehisa, nicknamed Sparkle, was the little girl's name. The couple's frantic pleas to bring back their "little Sparkle," touched off a massive search for the child who was later found dead, off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

Hauf instinctively knew who did it.

It was, he said, a smoking-gun case. But Hauf's buddies in the Baltimore City homicide unit said he'd never get Lantion to crack. But they were wrong.

"He (Lantion) gets my vote for the hardest b------." Hauf says. "He didn't even cry or get sick."

Lantion was convicted in the killing.

Inprevious jobs the detective could return people's prize possessions.

But there are some things that can't be returned, Hauf says. "Life is the ultimate. Once someone takes a life, there is nothing I can do to bring it back."

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