The Griffins keep Jamie's room much as it was April 2, 1982, when their teen-age boy left his Cockeysville home, never to return alive. Baseball legends and rock stars gaze down from the wall. Brooks Robinson and Eddie Murray, the Clash and the Who.
In the room are the bunk beds where Jamie slept.
The bunk where his killer slept.
"You-know-who slept there when he spent the night," Lou Ellen Griffin says. She's pointing to the bottom bunk, and she's talking about Michael Whittlesey.
Whittlesey spent two years on death row for Jamie's murder, but an appeals court voided that sentence in 1995. Last week, Whittlesey's life was spared when a judge rejected a renewed plea for the death penalty and sentenced him to life in prison.
Now, Lou Ellen and Norville "Griff" Griffin struggle to absorb an unsettling reality: Their nearly 15-year pursuit of punishment for Whittlesey is over.
And Lou Ellen and Griff can't see the justice. Michael Whittlesey lives, but James Rowan "Jamie" Griffin is a name on a headstone.
"Every night, when I passed Jamie's room, he'd say, 'Good night, Dad.' I can still hear him say that," Griff says, in a voice reduced to barely a whisper by a recent stroke. Then, this 73-year-old retired ironworker, this decorated veteran of World War II battles in the South Pacific, seems to crumple. He quietly weeps.
Lou Ellen rushes to him, throws her arms around his neck and buries her face in his shoulder.
Whittlesey, now 33, once was Jamie's schoolmate and friend, a guest at the Griffin dinner table. That was before he killed Jamie, 17, and buried the body in Gunpowder Falls State Park -- where it lay unde- tected for eight years.
All that time, the Griffins held on to the hope that their child was alive. Jamie's photograph -- a senior class portrait of a bow-tied, baby-faced sprite of a boy -- was plastered on posters, milk cartons and grocery bags.
In 1990, Jamie's remains were found, and Whittlesey was charged with murder.
Lou Ellen, a scrappy, 64-year-old redhead, angrily recalls one key piece of evidence: secretly tape-recorded conversations in which Whittlesey says he laughed as her son died.
"That's all a parent had to hear," she says. "If I'd been invited to his execution, I guarantee I would have laughed, after hearing that.
"I think of him as a cockroach or a monster, anybody who could betray a child like Jamie, who was goodness personified."
The Griffins called Jamie their miracle baby, born after 12 years of marriage, when they were all but sure they would never have a child. When he was on the way, they added a wing to their white stucco cottage, built in 1954 on 4 acres near Cockeysville.
He was frail and asthmatic but gifted as a musician. The piano was his instrument, and he had a remarkable ear. Play a record -- anything from Chopin to Jackie Wilson -- and within minutes he'd play the tune.
The records are still in his room. So is an album cover, autographed by Liberace.
Jamie performed at his church, at nursing homes and at civic events. William Donald Schaefer, then mayor of Baltimore, signed a citation in his honor.
As a teen-ager, Jamie became friends with a classmate named Michael Whittlesey. They were a bit of an odd pair, the 95-pound boy from the doting family and the tall, ungainly kid from a troubled family. But they shared interests in math and music.
Whittlesey ate at the Griffin family table. When the weather turned bad, Griff threw Whittlesey's bicycle into the back of his truck and drove the boy home.
One day in 1982, Jamie Griffin disappeared. He was last seen with Whittlesey, who was convicted of robbery in 1984, and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
For the eight years Jamie was missing, the Griffins kept a light on and the table set, hoping he'd return.
The missing-child poster was even tacked up at the casinos of Atlantic City -- that's where Whittlesey had gone after the murder. Griff went too, at one point, finding that a James Griffin had been treated for asthma at a hospital there. It was not his Jamie.
Back home, the Griffins fielded crank phone calls, but never changed their number. It was the number that Jamie, if alive, would know to call.
They received letters from Whittlesey, who suggested that he knew where Jamie was -- but never told.
Finally, in 1990, police found Jamie's body. He was given a proper burial at the Grace United Methodist Church, the country church where he'd once played hymns. The church, and its graveyard, are across Falls Road from the Griffin home.
In 1993, Whittlesey was convicted of murder. Before a jury, he pleaded for his life for nearly two hours, never admitting guilt, never apologizing or offering sympathy to the Griffins.
He was sentenced to die. But in 1995, the Maryland Court of
Appeals overturned the sentence, ruling that Whittlesey should have been permitted to present additional evidence of being raised in an abusive family, and ordered a new hearing.
"That's what irks my soul," Lou Ellen says now. "I felt betrayed."