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It was too late to run.
The Gay Black American Who Stared Down Nazis in the Name of Love
Tina, who was pregnant with a boy they intended to name Josiah Hawk, perished, as did all three of their young children — Ricardo Starr, Sunshine Karma and Eli Changing Sun. From the time that his mother died in to his first days on Alcatraz, Trudell had turned to language — orations, poetry, rhetoric — as an existential stabilizer, a spiritual compass. But this time was different. He had no words, and he was left only with angry suspicions — suspicions that the FBI had caused the fire, suspicions that they were now on the hunt for him. And if I can get through it, then maybe I would learn how to live again.
He disappeared from the national scene and drove, crisscrossing America, alone in despair. T he voice of a chanting woman rings out. Another joins, deeper, complementing the first. A third now, creating a chorus whose song creates an image of the Great Plains of the American West, the mountains of South Dakota at first orange light. Their voices carry pain but build toward hope. Produced by Jackson Browne and entitled Tribal Voice , it was the product of years of grieving, mourning, and, eventually, finding the words for his pain, for his hope.
He wrote much of it while on the road in the early s, a cigarette between his fingers, a cup of coffee by his side, and a journal on his lap, during a period when he made very few public appearances. The lyrics on Tribal Voice reflect that nomadic lifestyle — dynamic, alive, quaking with power — and they at once inspire us to move our bodies, while also attuning us to the earth, to our connection with the earth. Few heard the album at the time of its release, but those who did — including Bob Dylan — praised it for its brilliance, and for its urgency about raising American political consciousness.
But the years of tragedy in the s, including the death of his wife and children, remained deeply with him, and he would never return to the central activist role he once held — perhaps one of the reasons that, of all of the activists of the late 20th century, he is one of the least known to us today. Connected to life and all living. If there was anything that was eternally human, Trudell believed it was our infinite web of connections.
Despite the wars, violence and oppression he witnessed in America, it was his narrative. He stuck to it. On December 8, , Trudell posted a final message on his Facebook page. Celebrate Love. Celebrate Life.
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Death, for Trudell, was not the end. It was nothing more and nothing less than a ride … a journey back to his origins — the collective human origins he forever encouraged us to remember — of Mother Earth. His voice, one hopes, will continue to drift in swells across the San Francisco Bay, spreading throughout the nation, where it deserves, as urgently today as ever, our embrace. She was imprisoned for murdering her husband, then escaped and assumed a new identity. Her adoring friends and employers had no idea.
M ore than 12 years after Jannie Duncan walked off the grounds of a mental hospital and into a new identity, Debbie Carliner opened a newspaper and got the shock of her life. She was lying in bed in her home in Washington, D. It was January 5, Her husband looked over, confused.
Carliner showed him the layout, which included five snapshots of a middle-aged black woman looking radiant in various settings. There she was smiling, surrounded by friends in one image, resplendent in a wedding gown in the next. The woman was Joan Davis, 54, a kindly and beloved former family employee.
In the s, when Debbie Carliner was a teenager and her mother decided to go back to work, her parents had hired Joan to make the beds and help with the cleaning. Joan was an excellent worker, and she was warm and unfailingly trustworthy — so much so that when they left on family trips, the Carliners asked her to watch after their home in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
All of which made reading the story that much more bewildering. And that was hardly the only revelation: In , Jannie had been arrested for the murder of her husband, Orell Duncan, whose savagely beaten naked body had been buried in a shallow grave near Richmond, Virginia, the story said. She stood trial, was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
After a few years, she was transferred to St. Elizabeths Hospital, a mental institution in Washington. In November , Jannie had walked off the hospital grounds and vanished for more than 12 years. After she was finally arrested again, on January 2, , the story that emerged was as straightforward as it was unbelievable: She seemed to have simply melted into the streets of Washington, mere miles from the hospital, taken on a new name, and plunged into a new life.
Over more than a decade, Jannie had populated her new existence with a bustling community of adoring friends and employers who were oblivious to the considerable baggage of her old life. Even more strikingly, when her secret was revealed, every one of these acquaintances stood by her. The Post story was filled with the kinds of adulatory tributes usually reserved for retirement parties. Like everyone else, Debbie Carliner was incredulous.
Neither she nor her parents could imagine that the woman they knew as Joan could murder anyone. If she had, the Carliners figured there must have been a plausible explanation. I was so fascinated that I spontaneously abandoned what I was doing to look for other articles about her. The more I found, the stranger and more interesting the story became. The more I found out about her in the weeks that followed, the more I became consumed by a question: What was the truth about Jannie Duncan? Her twin narratives diverged so sharply that there seemed to be only two possibilities: Or she had killed her husband, escaped, and fooled everyone, cleverly concealing her status as a fugitive who had engineered a great escape.
She was a model citizen who had been wronged, or she was a con artist. I decided to find out which. Public records indicate that she was the fourth of seven children. She dropped out of high school after the 11th grade, and, after turning 19, married Thomas Bowman, her hometown sweetheart.
The marriage was likely an act of heedless teenage passion. She left her husband after a few months, lighting out for Washington. The divorce became official a few years later when Jane, whose friends called her Jannie, married a comedian named Telfair Washington in He died of a heart attack in In , she married again, this time to a gambler named James Terry.
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Within a few years, she employed a handful of people and owned a full-length mink coat and a powder-blue two-tone Cadillac Fleetwood. In , Orell Duncan had been arrested and convicted of operating a lottery and possession of number slips. Jannie married him in March , but within a few months, they were living at different addresses. There are conflicting accounts of what happened while she was working at the boarding house on 7th Street during the early-morning hours of March 11, Orell disarmed her and again began struggling with her.
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Orell was later found dead from multiple contusions to the head. Within a span of three days, police in Virginia and Washington arrested Jannie Duncan, James and Simms, and introduced a motive: That detail became a staple in newspaper reports about the killing.
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She was charged with first-degree murder, which carried a mandatory death penalty. The prosecution claimed that the three defendants finished him off in the car, while Jannie and the others testified that they were talking calmly when the men began arguing and struggling with Orell, and he fell out of the car and died from his injuries. After a full day of deliberation, the jury found Jannie and James guilty of second-degree murder. Simms was convicted of manslaughter. One then-inmate later told the Post that Jannie was quiet and tidy and kept to herself, studying law books.
After three and a half years, on November 14, , Jannie was moved to St. Almost exactly two years later, she walked off the grounds and vanished. R econstructing a life from decades past takes time and effort.