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