The Debate on Jeanne Calment: Was She Really 122?

In 1997, Jeanne Calment passed away at age 122. She lived a long full life, and it caused an uproar after she died. Doctors and researchers were stunned to see how active Jeanne was, and how she didn’t suffer from any ailments that tend to come with old age. Skeptics were baffled, and skeptics started raising questions, which led to a fierce international debate around the world.

Jeanne Calment surrounded by friends and a cake with ‘122’ on it
Source: Pinterest

It was unbelievable that this woman lived to 122 years old, but maybe the reason it’s so hard to believe is because it’s not actually true. She had one daughter named Yvonne, but some significant details about her life didn’t quite add up. A group of Russian researchers believe that Jeanne Calment is not who she says she is. Evidence began to reveal secrets of what is possibly one of the grandest hoaxes in medical history.

This is the mysterious life of Jeanne Calment and the theories surrounding her death.

Kissing Cousins

Jeanie Calment was born in the city of Arles in the south of France, on February 21st, 1875, to a prominent shipbuilder. Jeanne married a man named Fernand Calment in her early 20s. He was also her second cousin (hence the same last name). His family owned a department store in the area, so the newlyweds got to live in a lavishly expensive apartment above the store.

A woman in the early 1900s
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Jeanne never worked, but she kept herself entertained with her hobbies. She loved to play tennis, go hunting, and take care of her daughter, Yvonne, who was born in 1898. Growing up in the upper echelons of Arles society, she often looked down at others. Sadly, the First World War devastated France’s economy, and it was threatening her comfortable lifestyle.

A Dragon at the Nursing Home

Calment’s personality was strong and sometimes imposing. In her nursing home, she was referred to as a “dragon” and as a “la comandante.” She was disciplined and active but wasn’t well-liked. The caretakers that worked at the nursing home called her “condescending.”

Jeanne Calment with a young boy
Source: Pinterest

She was a difficult woman and was known as a “tough cookie.” While she was living at the nursing home during the last years of her life, she demanded that her bed be made as if she was staying in a hotel. She had an extremely strict schedule, especially for an older woman. She woke up early to exercise and impressed locals in the area… while terrifying them at the same time.

Outliving the Lawyer

In addition to being disciplined with her lifestyle, Calment was disciplined when it came to her finances. In 1965 a lawyer offered to buy the woman’s apartment. However, according to a French Law known as “en viager,” buyers need to continue making monthly payments until the owner dies. Considering Calment was 90 years old when he signed, he figured it wouldn’t be long until the apartment is his.

Jeanne Calment

He turned out to be wrong. Even though he was essentially paying her rent, he never got the keys to the apartment. The man passed away in 1995, while Calment was still alive, active, and living rent-free. She became legendary for telling stories about well-known individuals in modern history.

Meeting Vincent Van Gogh

Calment often told interesting stories about her younger years. When she told her story of meeting the famous painter Vincent Van Gogh, she sparked suspicion. The artist spent a lot of his time in the city of Arles, and apparently, in 1888, he visited the Calment family store. Jeanne has a vivid memory of him and recalls that he “was very ugly. Ugly like a louse.” Other information about the encounter remained blurry, raising eyebrows.

A collage of Jeanne Calment's pictures over the years
Source: Twitter

Originally, she stated that her father took care of Van Gogh. However, that didn’t really make sense to researchers because her dad was a shipbuilder and didn’t even work at the store. She also claimed that her husband introduced them, but researchers found another problem. Back in 1888, she was a teenager and not married yet. Is this just forgetfulness?

She’s Young on the Inside

When Calment turned 100 years old, she received a visit from the mayor of Arles, for making it to this important milestone. When the mayor saw how active and lively the old lady in front of him was, he was shocked. For him, her whole appearance was just kind of astonishing.

Jeanne Calment on her 121st birthday with a large cake
Source: Pinterest

She didn’t need much help getting around and showed zero signs of dementia. Not what you would expect from a 100-year-old woman. The mayor even mentioned that she “seemed twenty years younger.” Her incredible shape baffled researchers and made them wonder if this active woman is really the age she claims to be. Something didn’t quite add up.

Foggy Memories

Her meeting with Vincent Van Gogh wasn’t the only incident that Calment couldn’t recall clearly. She was asked about the devastating 1884 cholera outbreak in her city. Even though she should have been nine at that time, she couldn’t recall it. Furthermore, Calment often confused her father and brother when she was pressed about specific life events.

Jeanne Calment pictures over the years

To be fair, mistakes should be expected, considering her age. But it kind of seemed like some omissions or mistakes are selective. These small slip-ups were becoming more frequent. Could the blurred timeline have everything to do with age? Or was it Calment starting to forget details of an elaborate lie?

Tragedy Strikes the Family

In the 1930s, Calment’s daughter Yvonne got sick with tuberculosis. During that time, the disease also carried social stigmas. Apparently, she was sent to live in a sanatorium outside of Arles. Her daughter’s health was declining, and other problems emerged: a wave of inheritance taxes. They came after the death, and the high taxes following Jeanne’s father and mother-in-law’s deaths. The family was beginning to struggle.

Jeanne with her husband and daughters

France’s economy was also struggling at the time, and inheritance taxes rose to astronomical levels, from around 5% to 25%. Obviously, that caused financial difficulties for many. If Jeanne died, her husband would have to pay a massive tax. However, if Yvonne died, the family wouldn’t be taxed because she didn’t own the property.

From Bad to Worse

In 1934, a wave of losses began, which would leave Calment lonely. Her daughter Yvonne died after a long battle with tuberculosis. Although she apparently died from complications of the disease, medical reports are revealing that Jeanne contracted tuberculosis as well. Strangely, she remained healthy and unharmed.

Jeanne with two girls posing with her
Source: Flickr

Jeanne and her husband took in their grandchild, Yvonne’s son. They always cared for him like he was their own. Unfortunately, less than a decade later, tragedy struck the family again – Jeanne’s husband passed away. Supposedly, he ate cherries contained with a poisonous substance. Her son-in-law Joseph moved in with Jeannie until he died in 1963. And then when Yvonne’s son passed away, Jeannie was truly alone.

A Family Burial Tradition

Interest in Jeanne Calment’s story grew, and details about Yvonne’s 1934 burial started to emerge. Basically, generations of the Calment family were buried in the same family grave in Arles, but strangely, Yvonne’s name is missing from the tombstone.

Jeanne Calment

Locals at Arles argue that there was no foul-play, and the reason the name was absent was simply that the tombstone was redone in the 1960s. Not all researchers are convinced. It was later revealed that Yvonne’s death wasn’t the only bizarre part. She wanted to donate her brain to science, but because she was buried so fast, with “violent haste,” her brain couldn’t be used. Was the haste an attempt to hide something?

Another Mystery

Intrigued, researchers wanted to investigate further. They discovered that not only was the family tombstone missing Yvonne’s name, but the 1931 census was also strangely absent. Some French officials claim it’s a technological error, from when they were transitioning from handwriting to typewriters. Other’s believe she wasn’t included in the census because she assumed her mom’s identity.

Jeanne Calment with a World Record certificate for being born in 1875
Source: Pinterest

Another significant document that raised suspicion was Yvonne’s death certificate. Records show that she died on January 19th, 1934, and was validated by a woman in her 70s with no medical background. Not only was it rare to have a coroner or medical professional to serve as a witness on a death certificate, but the old lady was a stranger from a different village. Needless to say, something feels off.

The Suspicious Russians

In 1997, Calment passed away, and many people were interested in this woman and her long life. She allowed herself to get checked and examined by doctors and also gave interviews. Still, she didn’t manage to convince everyone. A team of Russian researchers, including mathematician Nikolay Zak, genealogist Yuri Deigin, and geriatrician Valery Novoselov, started gathering information that could help disprove Calment’s alleged age of death.

Jeanne Calment on her 121st birthday
Source: Flickr

They used math models and databases to come to the conclusion that, statistically speaking, it’s extremely unlikely for someone to reach that age – especially someone as active as Calment was. Then Zak came up with a controversial theory: Jeanne Calment was the one who died in 1934, not Yvonne. He said that Yvonne has been impersonating her mom for over 60 years!

A Picture Doesn’t Lie

Genealogist Yuri Deigin was passionate about his belief that Calment was younger than 122 when she died. To prove his theory, he started looking through some old pictures and compared them to modern ones, trying to find evidence of a possible switch up. He quickly noticed that the nose shape, facial structures, and even eyes seen in the photos of young Jeanne didn’t match the older pictures of her.

Yuri Deigin giving a talk with photographs of Jeanne and Yvonne on the screen
Source: Instagram / @yurideigin

Naturally, he was intrigued. Sure, aging can alter certain physical appearances and features, including proportion, hairline, and nose shape, but they do not change. When he found pictures of Yvonne right before she died, Deigin noted that she looked more like the older Jeanne. Something was definitely going on here.

Raising More Eyebrows

Jeanne Calment’s active personality and lifestyle impressed many people, but it also left a lot of doctors feeling skeptical. Valery Novoselov was closely studying photos and videos of the late Frenchwoman. During an interview, he revealed that he thinks that there is much more to the story regarding her age.

Jeanne Calment
Source: YouTube

From a clinical standpoint, he said the skin and muscular system were in better shape than others in that age range. The fact that she was able to get around and sit down without help from others is also perplexing. He decided to share his research with more skeptics in an attempt to solve the mystery, and maybe get enough attention for a full-blown investigation.

Fake I.D.?

Yuri Deigin was looking through Calment’s personal documents and came across a copy of an official identification card. It was taken in the 1930s when Calment should have been in her fifties. But after inspection, Calment looked much younger. In addition to looking decades younger, her eye color was listed as black or dark-colored, a major contrast to the green eyes she had at the time of her death.

Jeanne Calment’s ID
Source: Facebook

Deigin was also curious about her height. Her height is listed at 152 centimeters (4’9 feet) on the I.D. card. However, at the time of her death, her height was listed as 150 centimeters. Another strange discrepancy was the way she signed the letter ‘J’ in her signatures. But were there any concrete conclusions?

Was the Whole Town Involved?

Skeptics think that Yvonne Calment was impersonating her mom until the day she died. But what would the reason be? And how can they keep such a big secret in a tight-knit community? The answer lies in the French book about the insurance industry written by Jean-Pierre Daniel: Insurance and Its Secrets. He claimed that the worker paying Jeanne’s Calment’s life annuities were well aware that it was Yvonne collecting the payments.

Yvonne Calment is on the left, Madame Calment center, and Jeanne Calment on the right. Enhanced in Remini app.
Yvonne Calment is on the left, Madame Calment center, and Jeanne Calment on the right. Enhanced in Remini app. Source:

He added that this type of fraud was rare because “members of the family may be tempted to replace themselves in order to continue to collect the money.” Not only did the insurers know that Yvonne took her mother’s identity and was committing fraud, but they needed to keep quiet because of Calment’s “national hero” status.

Solving the Case Can Lead to Medical Miracles

The medical community’s interest in Jeanne Calment’s case can help unlock the secrets behind health and aging. The fact that she was still active, riding a bicycle at 100 years old, is astonishing to scientists. Another thing that is of interest to researchers is her ability to have not succumbed to any age-related illnesses, including diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

Jeanne Calment’s photograph next to a candle
Source: Twitter

Even though Calment had a very active routine, she was also a lifelong smoker, until she quit when she was 117. She also loved indulging in chocolate, and a glass of sweet wine every night. Scientists wonder if genetics have anything to do with it. The science of aging will always be a mystery but, can her DNA offer explanations for her immunity to illness?

International Debate

Jeanne Calment’s 1997 passing made headline news and sparked a global debate over facts and details related to her life. Russian researchers publically argued with their French counterparts over discrepancies that they wanted to be investigated. Then, they were pushing for an investigation into Calment’s DNA and blood samples.

Dr. Aubrey De Grey
Source: Imgur

Plus, Dr. Aubrey De Grey, a controversial scientist in the field of anti-aging, believes that testing Calment’s blood sample will help save lives and teach us about the aging process. Dr. De Grey and Yuri Deigin teamed up for a conference. The pair presented evidence and details to support their theories that Yvonne was, in fact, impersonating Jeanne. Some people were far from pleased.

Now, It’s Personal

The residents of Arles, France, weren’t pleased with the situation. The community felt like the sudden interest and accusations about their dear matriarch was a personal attack. In order to protect the woman, they launched a Facebook group called The Counter-Investigation of the Jeanne Calment investigation.

Jeanne with a magazine and headphones on
Source: Pinterest

Over 1,500 people are part of the Facebook group, even including researcher Nikolay Zak. They share family photographs, documents, and personal anecdotes that they have accumulated, using it as evidence that Calment really did live until age 122. A significant part of their proof is that Calment wasn’t well-liked. Therefore, there is no way the townspeople would go along with such an elaborate hoax. If Yvonne stole her mom’s identity, someone would have noticed.

Holes in her Story

Decades after Jeanne Calment’s 1997 death, new research revealed more mysteries. Before Calment entered a nursing home in 1985, she had a strange request. She asked that all her personal pictures and documents be burned. Her particularly odd wishes are even weirder, given the context. It only added fuel to the theory.

Jeanne Calment
Source: Twitter

Apparently, this request came as soon as the archives department of the city of Arles asked for the personal artifacts. Another surprising thing is that Jeanne listed her heiress, Madame Bigonnet, to carry out the act. Although it’s common for friends and family of the dead to carry out their wishes, Nikolay Zak thinks it was “a result of cold calculation and acute necessity instead of an emotional act.”

Something’s Not Adding Up

In addition to Van Gogh, Jeanne also had difficulties remembering how old the family maid Marthe Fousson was. She has memories of Fousson walking her to school, but it was discovered that the maid was ten years younger than Jeanne, making that impossible. All of their ages considered, it is far more likely that she took her daughter Yvonne to school.

Jeanne with a painting
Source: Pinterest

Geriatrician Valery Novoselov noticed another interesting detail through his research. Yvonne’s husband never remarried. Joseph Billot became a widow at the age of 42 and stayed single. Not only that, he strangely began sharing a home with his mother-in-law, Jeanne Calment. Researchers claim the reason this living situation worked out so well was that it was really his wife Yvonne impersonating her mother.

Validated? Or Coached?

Despite her old age, Calment amazed doctors and researchers with her memories of events and people from her past. Calment was able to recall the names of her piano teacher, dressmaker, and even the makers of her wedding cutlery. The French team validating Jeanne’s record-breaking age, all of the people and events she mentioned could be found in old records.

Jeanne Calment
Source: Imgur

Nickolay Zak still wasn’t convinced. He stated that the French investigators themselves have claimed that they sometimes “re-injected” certain details while talking to Calment, hoping to help her remember or “activate dormant memories.” Zak thinks that Yvonne was coached to remember these specific details and that she has been posing as her deceased mother.

The Russians Won’t Stop Fighting

The Russian researchers got an immense amount of backlash from Arles locals and French government officials. They still perceive the entire situation to be a huge hoax and medical cover-up, so they continue to demonstrate their theories. Nickolay Zak thinks that the French won’t entertain the theory because they are attached to Calment, the same way they are to someone like Joan of Arc. They are sticking to their story: Jeanne Calment died at age 122.

Jeanne Calment
Source: YouTube

The Russian researchers’ battle against the French officials has spread across the world, including France. In France, there was an overwhelming demand to test Jeanne Calment’s blood – or even to exhume her body. What’s stopping them? Why not put this entire thing to rest?

DNA Testing Controversy

While Jeanne was still alive, the old woman naturally caught the attention of the medical community in France. In fact, she donated her blood sample to a French research group called Foundation Daussant back in the 1990s. It is believed that the sample remains in storage because testing it raises a string of ethical questions.

Jeanne Calment with young girls
Source: Pinterest

Some researchers think it’s necessary; It’s a simple way to know Jeanne Calment’s identity and age once and for all. Other scientists believe that she only consented to donate her blood for “certain purposes.” Worried that the blood sample would fall into the wrong hands or be used for immoral purposes, Jean Francois Deleuze, the scientific director of the foundation, refuses to release or test the sample. Jeanne’s own doctors have something to say.

Doubling Down

As she mysteriously continued to avoid death, Jeanne Calment was closely followed by a team of French researchers. She was monitored by her personal doctors for years as well: Victor Lèbre, gerontologist Michel Allard and demographer Jean-Marie Robine. Robine was part of the researchers trying to validate Jeanne’s real age. He was personally offended that a hoax was at hand.

Jeanne Calment
Source: Twitter

Robine was so frustrated and called the attacks on the team ridiculous; he then published his own scientific paper as a rebuttal. He maintains that since Calment was well-known and disliked, it would be crazy to believe that the whole town would participate in such a complex cover-up. He also doesn’t think her DNA should be tested, saying: “These people are caught up in magical thinking – that the secret of longevity is in her genes.”

Will We Ever Know?

The French and Russian researchers continue to debate over how old Jeanne Calment really was when she died. Whether it was 99 years old or 122 years old, one thing is for sure. Jeanne (or Yvonne) Calment lived a long and exciting life. She got to witness two World Wars, rebuilding the country, and technological advancement. Not many people get to live through so many time periods and watch the world change as she did.

Jeanne Calment being interviewed
Source: Pinterest

Arles local Cécile Pellegrini told The Guardian that there is still more to be discovered: “If it’s actually true, she was really something!” Her story keeps spreading around the world through various media outlets. The mysterious circumstances about her life and death continue shocking researchers and the public.

A woman named Cheryl Love woke up one morning and made her usual morning tea in her kitchen when she heard a knock at her door. It was the FBI. “It was like I was in a movie,” Love said. “They went straight back to the bedroom and walked up to Bobby. I heard them ask: ‘What’s your name?’ And he said, ‘Bobby Love.’ Then they said, ‘No. What’s your real name?’ And I heard him say something really low. And they responded: ‘You’ve had a long run.’ That’s when I tried to get into the room.”

Bobby Love and his family collage

Cheryl watched in shock as her husband, Bobby, was being put in handcuffs. None of it made any sense to her. She had never known him to have run-ins with the law. So what was going on? Did the Feds have the wrong guy? Or did Cheryl Love not know who her husband really was?

This is the incredible true story of a man named Bobby Love (at least for the last 37 years)…

Trouble From an Early Age

No, Bobby Love isn’t this man’s real name. His real name is Walter Miller, and he grew up in North Carolina. It was the 60s, and Miller was growing up and living what he would later describe as a “pretty normal childhood.” His family, however, was poor, and his mother struggled with the costs of raising not one – not two – but eight children.

Sam Cooke singing

It didn’t take long for Miller to start slipping through the cracks. It began when Miller went to a Sam Cooke concert in 1964. “The crowd was really moving because it was dance music. And Sam Cooke didn’t like that. He kept telling people to sit down. And after only two songs, he walked off the stage,” Miller recalled. Miller got arrested that night for yelling profanity at the stage.

More Trouble with the Law

Things went downhill pretty quickly after that concert. Walter already found himself with a record at a young age. That arrest was going to be his first of many. Things began to snowball, and Miller was getting into “all sorts of trouble.” He stole frequently. “I lifted purses from unlocked cars, I was stealing government checks out of mailboxes, I got bolder and bolder,” Walter said.

Walter Miller’s mug shot image
Source: Twitter

His misdemeanors got landed him in a juvenile detention center. One day, Miller got caught stealing from the band room at his school. And so after years of petty crimes, Miller had to face the tough consequences. After he got caught stealing again, he was sent to a nearby juvenile detention center. But, he didn’t stay there for long…

Living in Juvenile Detention

Walter’s life quickly changed, as living in jail can do that to a person. He went from having the freedom to do as he pleased to the strict code of juvenile detention. It’s not easy for a person to adjust, and Miller wasn’t having it. “I hated everything about that place,” Walter said. He hated the food, but he especially despised the violence.

Boy sitting in a juvenile detention cell
Boy sitting in a juvenile detention cell (not actually Walter Miller) Source:

Walter described his fellow inmates at the center as violent. “I still have scars from all the times I got beat up,” he said. Miller also described how at night, he would fall asleep listening to the trains rush by on the tracks nearby. The whistles of the train had become a nightly reminder of the freedom that Walter was so desperately missing.

Making a Run For it

“I always wanted to know where that train was going.” By that point, everything in juvenile detention was a trial of his patience, as he awaited an opportunity. He knew he needed to get out. He just had to figure out how. His chance came one night when the guard by the doors turned his back to look at the time.

Train riding on a railroad

It was just the window of opportunity Walter had been waiting for. He made a dash for the exit doors. “I ran out the back door toward the sound of that whistle. And that was the first place I ever escaped from,” Miller said. But we already know that it wouldn’t be his last, either.

Old Habits Die Hard

Walter ran right to the railroad tracks and did what he longed to do for months. He followed the tracks to see where they led. He journeyed north along the tracks, starting from North Carolina and ending in Washington, D.C. Miller had a brother who was living in Washington at the time, and so he would crash with him in his apartment.

people playing basketball outside in the 1970s

At first, it seemed like Miller might be turning his life around, heading for a responsible crime-free future. He enrolled himself in a new high school, actually attended his classes, and played basketball with his new friends. But old habits die hard, and he again fell in with the wrong crowd. Once again, Walter found himself hanging out with “the wrong group of kids.”

The Wrong Crowd

Walter’s new group of friends was not going to brighten his future – quite the opposite. By this point, petty crime that Walter was used to committing was a thing of the past – for little kids. His new friends were into much worse crimes. He quickly learned that his buddies were robbing banks. But how were they getting away with it?

Bobby Love

He saw how they managed to get away after their robberies because they carried them out in North Carolina, where the security there was known to be more relaxed. It didn’t take long for Walter to join his criminal friends. And at first, they continued to get away with the bank robbing. But nothing lasts, and their bank-robbing days were going to come to an end.

Getting Busted

“After every score, we’d hand out on the strip at 14th and T, and act like big timers. We felt like gangsters.” Walter admitted: “I have nobody to blame but myself. I just enjoyed the feeling of having money.” His luck was about to run out, though. One day in August in 1971, the operation would come crumbling down.

Silent alarm at a bank teller’s desk

Unbeknownst to the gang, one of the banks that Walter was in charge of robbing was equipped with a silent alarm. One of the bank tellers used it to call the police and inform them that a burglary was in progress. By the time Walter walked out of the bank, the police were already in the parking lot waiting for him.

Inmate 0283128

Once he saw the cop cars and the police officers waiting to arrest him, he tried to make a run for it. “I tried to get away, ducking and weaving, running through cars,” Miller said. But his attempt to escape only got him shot. A police officer shot at him, and that was it – he was going to jail. To the hospital, no doubt, but then to jail.

Bobby Love mug shot/ prison cell
Source: Twitter/

Walter wasn’t only charged for that particular bank robbery, but he was also found guilty for committing another. After his trial, he was sentenced to 25 to 30 years in a maximum-security prison. No more juvenile detention centers – this was the real deal. And just as he was in the midst of his sentencing, he got some horrible news.

He Made His Bed

Walter received the devastating news that his mother had passed away. Heartbroken, he vowed that he was going to turn his life around. Miller went through the legal process of trying to make appeals, but none of them were successful. I mean, he robbed banks and tried to escape the cops. It’s not surprising that his appeals were denied.

Prisoner’s hands on the bars of his prison cell

He had made his bed, and he was going to have to lay in it. Now that he was in prison, he seemed to get the hang of it. He got used to prison and later said that he worked hard at being the “perfect inmate” for years. But it got to the point that things were getting to be unbearable for him.

Minimum Security Prison

Harassment from a prison captain got to be too much for Miller and decided that the only way to make his life slightly better would be to request a transfer from maximum security to a minimum-security prison, which happened to be just down the hill. His hard work of being a good inmate worked in his favor.

prison yard
Source: Wikimedia Commons

His good behavior earned himself a transfer to a minimum-security facility. And the new prison felt “more like a camp” to Miller. The place still had the looming gun towers and the high wired fences, but it also came with a wider sense of freedom. The inmates were even allowed to walk outside and talk on the phone with their families.

A Downward Spiral

Believe it or not, you can host a radio show in prison. Walter was allowed to host his own radio show during his time in the minimum security prison. Walter was enjoying his role as a radio host. He said that he felt “relaxed” for the first time in years. In a prison of all places! At first, since life there wasn’t as awful as he thought, he didn’t have any plans of trying to escape.

radio show host talking into the microphone
Source: ABC

But then everything changed. When a prisoner yelled profanity at one of the wardens, everything went downhill fast. The warden mistakenly thought that Miller was the inmate who yelled, and he just had it out for Walter ever since. The warden started picking on him.

Picking on Him

Walter remembered how the warden would taunt him. He would write him up for infractions regularly, whether legitimate or not. “The negative reports kept piling up until I was one mark away from being sent back up the hill,” Miller said. Walter couldn’t imagine having to go back there and start from ground zero, especially after all this time being on good behavior.

prisoners cleaning up on the side of a hill as a police officer watches
Source: Twitter

He knew it was high time to find a way to escape. Thanks to his buildup of negative reports, Walter was given one of the worst jobs around in prison. He, along with a handful of prisoners, were forced to clean up the roads. The job required Miller to wake up before the rest of the prisoners, get into a bus, and drive to Raleigh to pick up trash.

The Boiling Point

“It was awful,” he said of that degrading job. “People would be throwing hamburgers and milkshakes at you. And it was almost winter, so it was starting to get cold.” Despite the bad conditions, Miller was starting to see an opportunity with this new garbage-picking task. “That’s when I started planning and plotting,” Miller said.

prison bus
Source: Auto King Sales Inc.

And so he started to save his money. “I memorized the bus route. I noticed that we always stopped at a certain intersection, right next to a wooded area. And I figured I could make that distance in no time at all. I also noticed that the guard who worked on Tuesday never searched the prisoners as they boarded the bus.” And then it came to the boiling point.

His Great Escape

On one Monday night, while they were watching the Colts game on TV, Miller made his decision and was going for it. “That was going to be my last night in prison.” As Miller was serving a 30-year sentence for robbery, he escaped Raleigh’s now-shuttered Triangle Correctional Center. How did he do it? Surprisingly, it wasn’t that hard…

aerial view of Riker’s prison
Source: New York Times

In 1977, Miller escaped prison by cracking open the rear exit of a transport bus. Miller said how he waited for the “careless” guard stationed at his gate. He purposely didn’t leave anything behind that could be traced to him. Love also took the only pair of civilian clothing he was given when he worked at the prison’s radio station.

Hitting the Road

He sat in the last row of the bus and literally hopped out when they got to the wooded area that he had been waiting to arrive at. He ran and just didn’t look back. He later said that he knew he looked suspicious, so he avoided any “white neighborhoods.” But whenever he saw a Black man, he would ask him where the Greyhound Station was.

Greyhound bus
Source: Flickr

When he finally arrived at the Greyhound station, he convinced someone to buy him a one-way ticket to New York, which cost $10 in those days. He waited until the last minute to hop on the bus, right before the driver was going to close the door. A woman sat next to him and asked what his name was…

Becoming Bobby Love

Bobby Love hit the open road, heading for Manhattan. As any fugitive would, Miller knew that if he was going to succeed in his plan, he would need to make some changes. At the end of that bus ride, Miller found a new life. And a new name for that matter. Walter Miller re-named himself as Bobby Love. He took the name from the late son of an old friend of his named Ulysses.

Bobby Love as an elderly man
Source: Twitter

He made it to New York with $100 in small bills, a single pair of clothes. He lived in a “fleabag” motel for a couple of weeks and basically survived on “hotdogs and marijuana.” His money, of course, ran out, and he resorted to sleeping on the train.

A New Identity

The first official document he got was a social security card after he explained to the authorities that he lost everything. Then, he found his original birth certificate. He scratched out his name and put “Bobby Love” on the line. He photocopied it, “so many times that it didn’t look fake anymore.” He later found someone who put a notary stamp on his birth certificate.

Bobby Love’s driver’s license

Love even “found a brother at the DMV who pretended not to notice. And that’s how I got my driver’s license.” He slipped right into the identity of Bobby Love. His new name and identity didn’t erase his old family ties, though. He called his sister Jean Miller-Levette on her wedding day (May 19, 1979), and he told her about his escape, just not mentioning too many details.

Meeting His Future Wife

He used his new documentation to get a job at the cafeteria of the Baptist Medical Center. And that’s where he met his future wife, Cheryl. They met in the 80s when they were both working at the church. Their first dates included the Prince film “Purple Rain” and a concert by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Bobby Love feeding his wife cake at their wedding
Source: NY Daily News

With his newfound relationship, Bobby turned his life around. The two got married on March 30, 1985. He was 34, and Cheryl was 21 and pregnant with their first child, Jasmine. Love invited his siblings to the wedding in Brooklyn at the community center at the Pink Houses housing project. Their marriage license identified him as Bobby Allan Love, born November 6, 1950.

Keeping Silent

Their daughter Jessica followed two years later, and twins Justin and Jordan came around 11 years down the road. In the end, the couple had four kids, and Love even became a deacon at his church. He was living a completely different life, and no one could ever know about his past. He never told his wife anything.

Bobby Love and his family sitting on the couch
Source: Twitter

At times, Love, who newly found God, thought about telling Cheryl about his past, but he worried about what her response would be. “My thoughts were that Cheryl would probably tell me to turn myself in,” he told the Daily News. He kept his secret but asked his sister Jean to come clean and tell his wife if he were to pass away.

An Introvert of Sorts

Bobby had to work two jobs to support his family, and times got particularly hard for the family. The devoted dad, often surviving on just one hour’s sleep, always told his wife that they would make it through. “I’m not going anywhere,” he would think to himself, “unless somebody takes me.” He was living a new and better life and wasn’t planning on falling back on old times.

Bobby Love and his family
Source: Twitter

Relatives and friends of Love’s said that while he was somewhat of an introvert, he was never paranoid or too concerned about his past derailing his present. He wasn’t only active in the church; he also did charity work and attended community meetings – meetings in which the captain of the local police precinct appeared.

A Big Ol’ Check

All the while, Love kept his cool and was making a name for himself as a respected man in his community. No one, not even his family, would believe his criminal past. Then, in 2004, Love appeared at the state lottery offices in Manhattan to collect a $50,000 Pick 5 prize that he won. “They gave me a big ol’ check,” Love recalled.

someone holding a lottery ticket and cash

“I just wasn’t worried that anything bad was going to happen to me,” he said. “It felt good with my life, my family. I get up every day, and I thank God I’m alive.” Those words were said by a man who managed to spend 37 years as a fugitive, a man who felt all too confident with his new way of life. But that would all soon change.

Something Was Different

He seemed to be very much a family man, but he rarely spoke with strangers, hardly ever socialized with friends, and seemed a little nervous when people would stop him on the street to ask for directions. As time went by, the careful Love became bolder with his actions. He brought his family back to his home town in North Carolina for a vacation.

Bobby Love and his wife Cheryl standing outside

“There was a piece missing,” Cheryl later said about her marriage to Bobby. “Something was different.” Bobby’s wife and his friends were starting to notice little oddities. For instance, Bobby didn’t like to be in pictures. He was wary of speaking to strangers and kept to himself most of the time. Something was off as if he was hiding something.

The End of the Road

As the years went by, Bobby was feeling a bit more comfortable. He attended funerals for two of his nine siblings; one was in North Carolina and the other in Washington, D.C. Authorities aren’t confirming it, but Love thinks that someone at one of those funerals – maybe even a relative in law enforcement – ratted him out.

Bobby Love and his wife Cheryl in an interview

But Cheryl was far from comfortable. Bobby would close himself off during his arguments with Cheryl. “I remember during Christmas of 2014, I was on my knees in church, saying ‘Lord, please, I can’t do this anymore,’” Cheryl admitted. “That was a few weeks before everything went down.” Shortly after, the FBI was in his bedroom, strapping him into handcuffs. It was the end of Bobby Love… for now.

A Regular Morning

The day Cheryl Love found out about her husband’s past was when the FBI came to their door in January of 2015. Cheryl woke up and began her morning routine like she usually did, making herself a cup of tea. Meanwhile, Bobby was asleep in their bedroom when she heard a knock at the door. “I opened it slowly and saw the police standing there.”

FBI knocking at the door of a home

“At first, I wasn’t worried,” she admitted. The married couple lived next to a “crazy lady” for years, and the cops were known to come and check in on her from time to time. Cheryl figured that they must have knocked on the wrong door. “But the moment I opened the door, twelve officers came barging past me.”

He Had a Long Run

Cheryl didn’t know it yet, but this day marked a moment in her world would that would completely shake her to her core. The officers that rushed by Cheryl and into her house had the unmistakable letters “FBI” on their jackets. Cheryl didn’t know what was happening, but she knew it was bad. So she followed the officers into her home.

Cheryl Love sitting on her husband’s bed
Source: NY Daily News

“They went straight back to the bedroom, and walked up to Bobby,” she recalled of that moment. She heard the officers ask Bobby, “What’s your name?” his response: “Bobby Love.” They asked again: “No, what’s your real name?” and that’s when Cheryl heard her husband mumble something under his breath. “You’ve had a long run,” the officers told him.

More Disappointed Than Embarrassed

Suddenly, the Feds were putting Bobby in handcuffs. Cheryl stood there in shock and pleaded with them, asking them what was happening. “This goes way back, Cheryl. Back before I met you,” Bobby told her as he was pushed out the door. “My world came crashing down,” said Cheryl. She also said that her disappointment trumped her embarrassment.

Bobby Love as a prisoner
Source: Raleigh News and Observer

“Bobby had deceived me for all those years. There was no truth in our house.” Cheryl remarked that the moment was “like I was in a movie; a Lifetime movie.” But despite the intense wave of emotions, she felt that she needed to do something. Despite all of the lies and deception, Cheryl decided to stay with her husband of nearly 40 years.

Grim Circumstances

Let’s face it, a fugitive who was on the run for 37 years was clearly going to face grim circumstances. He was being held in New York’s infamous Rikers Island while he awaited extradition to North Carolina. There, he would face the prospects of having to serve the final ten years of his original sentence. Not to mention the added time for his escape.

Bobby Love being escorted in handcuffs

Cheryl went to visit her husband at Rikers and saw exactly how serious the circumstances were. “When I first visited him in prison, he broke down crying. His head was in his hands, and he told me: ‘I know, you’re going to leave me.’” But Cheryl made up her mind already, and leaving him wasn’t an option.

For Better or For Worse

Cheryl told her husband behind bars: “No Bobby Love, I married you for better or for worse. And right now, this is the worst.” Cheryl started a mission of her own. She did everything she could think of to try to get her husband home again – where she felt he belonged. She would write letters to the governor, and she even sent one to President Obama himself.

Bobby Love and his wife Cheryl hugging
Source: Twitter

She got her children and everyone in Bobby’s life to write testimonials. “I didn’t know a thing about Walter Miller. But I told them all about Bobby Love.” After gathering every piece of character defense she could get her hands on, Cheryl brought everything with her to Bobby’s parole board.

“We Love”

While it seemed like an impossible task, Cheryl’s hard work paid off. After a year in prison, the parole board agreed to let Bobby return to his freedom. He was thus released in 2016, about a year after the FBI stormed his home. The 69-year-old has legally changed his name to Bobby Love and has since focused on rebuilding his marriage.

Bobby Love sitting on the sidewalk
Source: Oprah Magazine

“The day after he was set free, I sat him down and asked: ‘What is it? Are we the Loves? Or are we the Millers?’” Bobby said: “We Love. We Love.” Cheryl, who stood by her husband’s side through the whole thing, in the end, forgave the man who disguised himself and deceived her for so many years.

Forgiving Bobby

Cheryl ultimately forgave Bobby, and their marriage grew to be better than it had been before Bobby’s secret was revealed. His persona shifted, and he was no longer jumpy. He engaged more with people and was open and attentive to his wife. The two were connected like never before. “I feel like a big burden has been lifted off my shoulders,” Miller told the Daily News.

Bobby Love and his wife Cheryl in an interview
Source: The Guardian of Nigeria

“I’m trying to put my life back together.” As for Cheryl, she confessed that she still has her resentments. “I used to walk on eggshells. I used to just go along. But I told him one thing. I said: ‘Bobby, I’ll take you back. But I’m not taking a backseat to you no more.’”

No More Secrets

For many couples, prison and being on the run usually ruins lives and marriages. But for Cheryl and Bobby, it only made their marriage better in the end. Cheryl said how she’s glad to see that there are no longer any secrets in the family. “He doesn’t have to hide anymore,” she said. She was finally in the marriage she always wanted.

Bobby Love
Source: Press Reels

As for their daughter’s perspective. “I’m not ashamed of my father or what he did,” Jessica, 27, said. “Shocked, surprised, yes. My father was determined to change his life, and for 40 years or so, he did just that.” according to attorney Rita Mavunda, to ignore all that he had done and put him behind bars would be the real miscarriage of justice.