A Stolen Soul

'This room feels like a funeral parlor,'' Brenda Lawson thought as she walked into the living room of Yong and Laurence Jones.

Brenda was concerned about her friend, and had begun stopping by Yong's home to check up on her and her husband.

Brenda always found Yong and Larry sitting in their darkened living room. Photographs of their murdered son, Laurence Jr., covered the paneled walls. There were portraits of him as a smiling, blond baby. His class pictures, 12 of them in all, hung in a large frame.

His University of Maine graduation photograph loomed life-size on the wall near the television. His brown eyes, bright with promise, stared down at his grieving parents.

Yong and Larry, their eyes glassy and lifeless, sat like mute, broken dolls in their recliner chairs. The ticking of a miniature grandfather clock echoed loudly in the room. Brenda looked at the couple and thought: ''They're really still blown away.''

Six months had passed since the Joneses' son, Laurence Jr., was robbed and shot on a sidewalk outside his apartment in Baltimore. The police had no strong leads, and Yong and Larry had grown increasingly discouraged. Above: This life-size portrait of Laurence Jones Jr., talken at his graduation from the University of Maine in December 1992, hung in the living room of his parents' home in Bangor.

Yong especially was having a hard time handling their loss.

Since her son's death, Yong had gone from a size 16 to a six. Her cheeks, once rounded and full, were now sunken and sallow. She needed pills to settle her stomach, pills to help her sleep and to calm her frayed nerves.

Though she didn't know Yong well before her son died, Brenda empathized with her. Brenda had two kids of her own and she couldn't imagine the heartache Yong felt.

Brenda didn't share Yong's belief that her murdered son's soul was damned until his killer was found. But she knew she had to do something to help ease her friend's pain.

Brenda also realized that the experience she had gained in 25 years as a social worker for the state of Maine could benefit Yong. Brenda understood how bureaucracies worked and she knew how to get their attention.

She drafted a list of powerful people in Maine and Maryland and suggested that they write to them and ask for help in solving the murder. Yong embraced the plan. While she spoke English fluently, Yong had never learned to write well. Brenda became her ghostwriter, putting Yong's words and emotions to paper.

They wrote letters to Baltimore's mayor and police commissioner, and to senators and congressmen in both Maryland and Maine. Though the politicians offered condolences, they said they could do little to intervene in the police investigation.

Dissatisfied with the response, Brenda and Yong turned to the White House.

''Dear President and Mrs. Clinton,'' their letter began. ''We know that you are concerned with the violent crimes occurring in America. We ask for your compassion as parents and for your help as our country's leaders. We cannot be at peace until the persons responsible for our son's death are brought to justice.'' Above: After her son's slaying in Baltimore in 1993, medications became a daily part of Yong Jones' life. She took pills to help her sleep and to calm her frayed nerves.

A presidential spokesman wrote back, telling them their letter would be sent to the Department of Justice for review. Disheartened, Brenda and Yong wrote another round of letters to Maryland's governor and attorney general, and to the mayor of Baltimore. They also pleaded with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to look at the case. Again, they got little satisfaction.

Along with contacting politicians, Yong and her husband offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could lead police to their son's killers.

Despite the letter-writing campaign and the reward offer, police were still no closer to making an arrest as the anniversary of Laurence Jones' murder drew near. Undaunted, Brenda and Yong wrote more letters, hoping to keep pressure on the police.

Laurence Jones supported his wife's efforts, but as the case got colder he resigned himself to the prospect that his son's slaying might never be solved.

Though he knew he could learn to live with such a disappointment, he feared that his wife would die if her son's killer was never found.

It pained him to watch her fighting such a futile battle. But he knew she would never give up. Since they had met in Korea more than 30 years ago, he'd seen his wife fight relentlessly for what she believed in, whether it was helping her fellow Koreans who got into trouble or standing up for her own ideals.

As long as she could draw a breath, she would continue to fight to free her son's soul. While she focused on finding her son's killer, Larry felt powerless to console her.

''There's nothing I can do to help my wife. I can't reach her,'' Larry confided to Brenda.

It seemed that he and Yong had less and less to talk about before he left for his security job each night. While Larry worked, Yong sat in her kitchen talking to her son's spirit. She told him how much she missed him and she gave him updates on his murder investigation.

At times she felt his presence. Heard his laughter. She had hoped the candle that she kept lit day and night had drawn his restless soul home. It comforted her to think he would wait by her side until his killer was found.

Often, Yong cooked dinner for her son, as she'd done hundreds of times before. She made him Korean fish with spicy vegetables and rice. She would set the table for two, putting his food out first.

''Go ahead, Junior,'' she'd tell him. ''It's OK. You eat first, honey. Momma knows you must be hungry.''