LouEllen Hinson Griffin (unknown, Baltimore Sun / August 27, 2011)

Lou Ellen Griffin, who became a nationally known advocate for Megan's Law and missing and exploited children after the murder of her son in 1982, died Tuesday of lung cancer at her Cockeysville home.

She was 78.

The last time Mrs. Griffin and her husband, Norville R. Griffin, saw their 17-year-old son, James R. "Jamie" Griffin, alive was on the morning of April 2, 1982, as he prepared to drive his car to Dulaney High School, where he was a senior honor student.

Jamie was seen later that day at a Joppa shopping center with Michael Whittlesey, a schoolmate and friend who had been a frequent guest at the Griffin family home on Falls Road.

After Jamie's car was recovered a month later abandoned in Atlantic City, N.J., Whittlesey was charged with robbery and sentenced in 1984 to the maximum 25-year sentence.

David Strathy, a friend of the defendant, told police he had been paid $40 to help Whittlesey bury a body in Gunpowder Falls State Park.

Anthony Gallagher, the assistant state's attorney who prosecuted the case, told The Baltimore Sun at the time that the state did not bring a murder charge "'essentially because we had no body."

For the next agonizing eight years, the Griffins never abandoned hope that their son would return home one day.

They set a place for him at the dinner table each evening and left on the porch light. They kept his bedroom with all of his possessions intact. They didn't change their phone number, because they knew that was the number their son would dial if he were alive.

Whittlesey taunted the Griffins with letters saying he knew where Jamie was but refused to tell them.

In 1990, police found Jamie's grave in Gunpowder Falls State Park, and Whittlesey was charged with murder.

Jamie was buried in the Grace Falls Road United Methodist Church graveyard across the street from his boyhood home.

Whittlesey was convicted in 1993 of murder. At that trial, a jury called for the death penalty, which was overturned two years later by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The court ruled that he should have been "permitted to present additional evidence of being raised in an abusive family, and ordered a new hearing," reported The Baltimore Sun.

In 1997, Whittlesey was sentenced in Baltimore County Circuit Court to life plus 25 years in prison, and in 2004, a Baltimore County circuit judge denied his request for a reduced sentence.

"I think of him as a cockroach or a monster, anybody who could betray a child like Jamie, who was goodness personified," Mrs. Griffin said at the time.

Whittlesey remains incarcerated at the Jessup Correctional Institute.

"He has a pre-parole hearing on Dec. 9 before the Department of Corrections, and we're going to be there," said Linda Montaigne Rock, a close friend whom the Griffins cared for when she was a youngster.

"Every several months, Lou Ellen would write letters and file petitions against his getting out. And even though she had been sick with cancer the past year, she was still doing it," said Ms. Rock of Chambersburg, Pa.

Mrs. Griffin turned her grief to helping others who lost their children to murderers or disappeared. She went to work as a secretary for the Missing and Exploited Children's Association, a Maryland-based volunteer group that helps families of missing children.

"She helped produce a video for the Baltimore County Police Department regarding procedures when children are missing," Ms. Rock said. "She never gave up. She took her strength from helping other victims."