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."
When Mrs. Griffin counseled families, she did so from a phone on a desk in Jamie's room, said Ms. Rock. "She helped them go through all the steps."
Mrs. Griffin also lobbied for the passage of Megan's Law, which was named for 7-year-old Megan Kanka, who was raped and strangled by a New Jersey child molester living near her home.
"Her husband took her wherever she needed to go until he had a stroke in 1997, when driving her became more difficult. But through their grief, they remained strong," said Ms. Rock.
Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed Megan's Law in 1999.
"She fought tirelessly for missing and exploited children ever since she lost Jamie and never gave up," said Carla T. Proudfoot, director of the Maryland State Police Center for Missing Children.
"She went before the state legislature to get Megan's Law passed in Maryland," said Ms. Proudfoot. "She testified before Congress on behalf of Megan's Law. She was still going to hearings and within recent weeks to keep Jamie's murderer in prison," said Ms. Proudfoot, who is also a close friend.
"She was forceful, assertive and was never afraid to speak her mind. She never wanted parents to have to go through what she had gone through," she said. "She wanted petitions taken to the funeral home for people to sign. Even in death, she refused to give up."
Mrs. Griffin was a member for 50 years of Grace Falls Road United Methodist Church, and when it closed, she joined the congregation of Mays Chapel United Methodist Church.
A certified lay speaker, Mrs. Griffin performed many funerals for veterans in the community, and often spoke in her church. She taught Sunday school and Vacation Bible School. Each summer, she worked with the Baltimore County Christian Work Camp, helping to feed volunteers working in the community.
"We loved going to auctions and antiquing," Ms. Proudfoot said.
The daughter of a career military officer and an artist, the former Lou Ellen Hinson was born in Baltimore and raised on Abell Avenue.
She was a 1950 graduate of Eastern High School. She married Mr. Griffin, an ironworker, in 1953.
The couple waited 12 years before their son was born. They called their only child a "miracle baby."
Mr. Griffin died in 2002.
After Jamie's death, the couple established The Griffin Scholarship Award at Dulaney High School, in honor of their slain son.
"They never wanted Jamie to be forgotten," said Ms. Rock.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Monday at her church, 11911 Mays Chapel Road.
Also surviving are a brother, Jess J. Hinson of Baltimore; a sister, Carol Lee Hinson of Baltimore; and many nieces and nephews.