IT WAS, CYNICS MIGHT SAY, A CASE OF REMARKABLE timing. Just when she started kicking up her heels in preparation for her Broadway debut Aug. 3 in The Will Rogers Follies, Marla Maples was back in the headlines. No, her on-again-off-again relationship with the ever controversial Donald Trump wasn't off again. This time the trouble was with Maples's longtime publicist and manager, Chuck Jones, who stands accused of stealing her shoes—more than 30 pairs, say police; more than 200 pairs, claims Marla. According to Maples, who first noticed five years ago that her shoes seemed to have feet of their own, Jones made off with everything from sexy spikes to sweaty sneakers. "I trusted him, and he hurt me," she says, taking a break from rehearsal at the Palace Theatre in New York City. "I'm devastated."

Back at the million-dollar home in Greenwich, Conn., that he shares with his wife, Lynn, and their two young daughters, Jones has declined interviews after pleading not guilty last week to charges of burglary. But days earlier, from the New York Department of Corrections, where he spent three nights, Jones begged forgiveness of Marla and Donald. "I love them both," sobbed Jones, 49, an ex-Marine and former head of East Coast publicity for Embassy Pictures. "I failed them both miserably." Says Trump: "It's a strange, sad tale."

One that began seven years ago, when Marla, then an aspiring actress just arrived in New York, was introduced to Jones by a mutual friend. Though his fee was never high—even his most recent rate was a relatively modest $1,500 a month—Jones always took special care of his client. As her affair with Trump kept her in the headlines, he guarded her privacy and offered comfort and support. "He seemed so protective of me," says Marla. "He was a friend." With unflagging devotion, Jones pitched Maples to Hollywood producers, helping her land spots last year on Designing Women and the now canceled P.S.I. Luv You. Three weeks ago, when Marla announced she had been chosen to play the comic role of Florenz Ziegfeld's girlfriend in Follies, Jones stood by, glowing with pride. As he liked to say, "She'll have the same effect on audiences as Marilyn Monroe."

Still, there was this thing with the shoes. "It got to be crazy," says Trump. "She'd call me and say, 'Somebody took my shoes.' I thought it was ridiculous." Then about a month ago, Donald saw for himself when he picked Marla up at her swank apartment on Central Park South. "She had a pair of sneakers right next to this nice jewelry," he says. "We went out, and when we came back, the sneakers weren't there, but the jewelry was. It didn't make sense."

Trump had a security guard install a video camera in Marla's closet. On July 13, Trump says, he got a call from the guard: "Mr. Trump, I got him." Soon after, a stunned Maples watched footage of her manager allegedly making off with a pair of her pumps. On July 15 she confronted Jones at the Plaza Hotel and later at his office and urged him to get psychiatric counseling. "I gave him every opportunity to be honest with me," she says. But, she claims, he balked at her accusations and refused to get help. That afternoon Trumps security guard alerted police at Manhattan's Midtown North Precinct. When detectives arrived at Jones's office, they found three unregistered antique handguns, a copy of Spike, a foot-fetish pornography magazine, several articles of Maples's lingerie and dozens of pairs of her shoes—including boots slashed down the back. Jones reportedly told Officer Robert Giannetta, "You wouldn't understand."

Though the video allegedly revealed who has been stealing Marla's shoes, it has done little to explain why. Popular psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers suggests Jones's apparent foot fetish may have sprung from an unrequited desire for Maples. "It's possible he had so much emotional investment in Marla that her shoes became important as a source of sexual gratification," she says.

Despite Jones's plea for forgiveness, his lawyer, Herald Price Fahringer, says, "My position in court is that he has denied everything." An initial hearing is slated for late October. To Marla, though, the jury is already in. "The show must go on," she says. "Chuck is fired."

Back at the Palace Theatre, Maples seems tired and sad as she adjusts her 10-gallon hat. "This should be a very happy time," she says. "Donald and I survived a lot of difficult times and came out better friends than ever. And I've dreamt about being on Broadway my whole life." But the news about Jones has upset her. "He was the person I counted on before I had a name," she says. "I adore Chuck's wife and children. This is so sad for them. I really hope he gets help."

KAREN S. SCHNEIDER
SUE CARSWELL in New York City

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  • Sue Carswell.