Cheryl Love woke up and began her morning routine like she usually did by making herself some tea. Her husband, Bobby, was asleep in the bedroom when she heard a knock at the door. “I opened it slowly and saw the police standing there,” she said in an interview with Humans of New York. “At first, I wasn’t worried,” she continued. The married couple had lived next door to a crazy lady for years, and the police were known to come and check on her. They must have simply knocked on the wrong door, Cheryl thought. But the moment I opened the door, she said, “12 officers came barging past me.”
Cheryl didn’t know it yet, but this moment marked the moment her world would be completely shaken to the core. Some of the officers that rushed by Cheryl had the unmistakable letters “FBI” written on their jackets. Cheryl had no idea what was happening and followed the officers into her home.
They went straight back to the bedroom and walked up to Bobby, Cheryl said. Cheryl heard the officers ask, “What’s your name, Bobby Love?” Her husband answered, “No, what’s your real name?” They asked. Her husband whispered something in a hushed tone. “You’ve had a long run,” the officers responded. Suddenly, the police were putting Bobby in handcuffs as Cheryl pleaded, asking what was happening. “This goes way back, Cheryl. Before I met you,” he said as he was pushed out the door.
In the 1960s, in North Carolina, Walter Miller was growing up in what would later be described as a pretty normal childhood. His family was poor as his mother struggled with the cost of raising eight children. Soon, Walter began slipping through the cracks. It began when Walter attended a Sam Cook concert. The crowd was really moving because it was dance music, and Sam Cook didn’t like that. He kept telling people to sit down, and after only two songs, he walked off the stage. Walter said he jokingly yelled a profanity at the stage and was arrested for disorderly conduct. Things went downhill pretty fast after that, he said. After that Sam Cook concert in 1964, Walter found himself with a record at a young age. His first of what would be many things began to snowball. “I got into all sorts of trouble,” Walter admitted in an interview. “I lifted purses from unlocked cars. I was stealing government checks out of mailboxes. I got bolder and bolder,” Walter said.
Then, one day, Walter got caught stealing from the band room at his school. Finally, after years of petty crimes, Walter had to face the tough consequences. Soon after he was caught, Walter was sent to a nearby juvenile detention center. Walter’s life had quickly changed. He went from having the freedom to basically do as he pleased one day to the strict code of juvenile detention the next.
“I hated everything about that place,” Walter recalled years later. He complained about the food, but mostly he complained about the violence. Walter described his peers at the center as violent. “I still have scars from all the times I got beat up,” he said. Even years after he’d left the center, at night, he would fall asleep listening to the trains rushing by on the tracks not far away. The sounds made him long for the freedom beyond the center’s walls. He knew he needed to get out; he just had to figure out how. The whistles of the local train tracks had become a nightly reminder of the freedom that Walter wished to experience again. “I always wanted to know where that train was going,” he said.
At that point, everything in juvenile detention was just a trial of patience as he waited for an opportunity. His chance came one night when the guard stationed by the detention center’s doors turned his back to look at the time.
This was precisely the window of opportunity Walter had been waiting for. He quickly 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,” he said. It would not be the last. Walter made his way to the railroad tracks and did exactly what he had longed to do for months. He followed them to see where they led. Eventually, he would journey north along the tracks from North Carolina all the way to Washington, D.C.
At first, everything seemed like it was turning around for Walter. The runaway had a brother who lived in Washington, D.C., and so Walter began to crash with him in his apartment in the city. Walter quickly enrolled himself in a new high school, began actually attending his classes, and playing basketball with friends.
But once again, Walter soon found himself hanging out with the wrong group of kids, and once again, his life took a dramatic turn. Walter’s new friends were not so much into the petty theft that Walter had previously engaged in. Instead, they were into much worse crimes. He quickly learned that his friends were robbing banks. They’d managed to get away with their crimes because they drove down to North Carolina, where security was known to be more relaxed. And at first, Walter and his friends continued to get away with bank robbing.
“After every score, we’d hang out on the strip at 14th and T streets and act like big-timers. We felt like gangsters,” in a moment of honesty, Walter admitted. “I have nobody to blame but myself. I just enjoyed the feeling of having money.
” But his luck was about to run out. Walter and his friends had been able to get away with several bank robberies so far. But one day in August 1971, the operation would all come crumbling down. One of the banks that Walter had robbed was equipped with a silent alarm, and one of the bank tellers used it to alert the police that a burglary was in progress. As Walter exited the bank, police were already in the parking lot waiting for him. “I tried to get away, ducking and weaving, running through cars,” he said. But then he was shot by an officer, and that was it. Walter was caught. But yet again, he would find a way to change that.
Walter was not only sentenced for this particular bank robbery, but he was also found guilty of having committed yet another. In total, he was handed a sentence of 25 to 30 years. During that time, Walter received some devastating news: his mother had passed away. And heartbroken, he vowed to turn his life around. Walter had gone through a few appeals, but none of them were successful. He had gotten used to prison but decided that the only way to make his life slightly better would be to get himself transferred from maximum security to a minimum security center just down the hill. So, he hatched a plan.
Walter was committed to turning his life around and doing better. “I became the perfect inmate,” he said. “I never had a mark on my record.” And his work paid off. His good behavior earned him a transfer to a minimum security facility. His new situation felt more like a camp than maximum security. The facility still had looming gun towers and high fences, but it also came with a bigger sense of freedom. The inmates here were able to walk outside and have phone calls home with their families. Walter was even allowed to host his own radio show.
He had no plans of trying to escape, but then everything changed. Walter was enjoying his new role as a radio host in the minimum security facility. He said he felt relaxed for the first time in years. But then, a prisoner yelled a profanity at the prison’s captain, and everything went downhill fast.
The captain mistakenly thought that Walter had been the person who had yelled, and he had it out for Walter ever since. Soon after, Walter said, the captain started picking on him. He would write Walter up for infractions on a regular basis. The negative reports kept piling up until “I was one mark away from being sent back up the hill,” he said.
Walter could not imagine having to backtrack. He knew it was high time to find a way to escape. As a consequence of Walter’s negative reports, he was given one of the worst jobs in the prison. He was assigned to clean up the roads with a handful of prisoners. The job required Walter to wake up before any of the other prisoners, pile into a bus, and drive to Raleigh to pick up trash. “It was awful,” he recalled. “People would be throwing hamburgers and milkshakes at you, and it was almost winter, so I was starting to get cold.”
But despite the bad conditions, Walter actually was able to see an opportunity with his new job. “That’s when I started planning and plotting,” he said. To plan his escape, Walter began saving up money. He began to take notice of things, like the fact that the guard on Tuesday morning shift was a little bit lazier than most. Instead of patting each inmate, he let them walk right by and into the bus. He also began to notice that there was one intersection where the bus would always stop, and it happened to be right outside a wooded area.
Walter spent months gathering all the information he could. Then, on a Monday night as he watched football, he made up his mind. “That was going to be my last night in prison,” he said. On that Tuesday, as was expected, the lazy guard was standing by the doorway of the bus. Walter was prepared. He had brought everything out of his locker. He had taken the civilian clothes that he was allowed to wear for his radio broadcast and put them under his prison clothing. Everything was set.
Walter positioned himself all the way at the back of the bus, right next to the emergency exit. “As we slowed down for a stop, I swung open the back door, and I was gone,” he said. He quickly stripped himself of his prison garments and ran deeper into the forest, with the wail of the sirens becoming more and more distant. “I could hear the alarm blaring behind me, but I didn’t look back,” Walter said. As soon as he felt that the coast was clear, he began calmly asking the people he encountered for directions to the Greyhound station. “Keep going,” they would say.
Finally, he reached the station. He was able to borrow enough money from a stranger to board the next bus for New York City. Slumped in his seat, a woman turned to strike up a conversation with him. She asked me my name. “I thought for a moment, and I said, ‘Bobby Love.’ And that was the death of Walter Miller. There was no going back.” Walter was about to start an entirely new life.
It was November 1977 when Walter, now using his alias Bobby, arrived in New York and started his new life. He used the little money he had to stay at a motel, but soon enough, the money ran out, and he was forced to live on the streets. Yet, even from the streets, Bobby was able to start building his new life. Through a series of lies and lucky breaks, he was able to obtain a social security number, a birth certificate, and eventually a driver’s license. With all of that out of the way, he began to search for employment.
He worked odd jobs, picking up paychecks where he could, staying at eight-dollar-a-night hotels in the city. And then, he had a turn of luck that would change his life. By the 1980s, Bobby found a job working in the cafeteria of the Baptist Medical Center in Brooklyn. There, he met a co-worker who would later become his wife, Cheryl.
On their first date, the two went to see Prince’s film “Purple Rain” and a Gladys Knight in the Pips concert. Cheryl was different than anyone Bobby had ever met. Cheryl was innocent, the opposite of me, and that’s why I was so attracted to her, he said. Cheryl was soft, almost in a naive way. Bobby wanted to build a life with her, but all the while, he was well aware that at any moment, it could all come crashing down.
Bobby and Cheryl got married on March 30th, 1985 when he was 34 and she was just 21. The newlywed couple welcomed their first child, Jasmine, shortly thereafter. Two years later, they had their daughter, Jessica, and 11 years after that, twins Justin and Jordan were born. Bobby held down two jobs, and even with only two hours of sleep each night, remained an attentive father. In addition to work, Bobby became active in his church, volunteered, and went to community meetings. Bobby’s life seemed perfect, but behind it all loomed his enormous secret according to an interview with The New York Daily News.
He would tell his wife, “I’m not going anywhere unless someone takes me,” his words would prove prophetic. Bobby wanted to tell his wife about his past, but he said he just couldn’t risk it. Cheryl, he said, was a righteous woman who would likely try to encourage him to turn himself in. He felt that his previous life was in the rear-view mirror, yet he continued to keep in touch with some family members back in North Carolina. He asked his sister to only tell Cheryl his secret if he were to pass away, but she persisted, telling him it was time to come clean. “That part of my life was buried back in North Carolina, and it wasn’t coming back,” he said.
Soon enough, however, he would be proven wrong. There was a piece missing, Cheryl later said. Something was different. Bobby’s wife and his friends had noticed little oddities. For example, Bobby did not like to be in pictures. He was always wary of speaking to strangers and mostly kept to himself. At times when people would stop to ask him for directions or something else mundane, he always seemed spooked. Bobby would close himself off during 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 said. That was a few weeks before everything went down. Years had gone by, and Bobby was feeling a bit more comfortable. He made a trip to North Carolina for a sibling’s funeral, and that’s the moment when Bobby thinks someone recognized him and called the police.
Shortly after, the FBI was in his bedroom up north, strapping him into handcuffs. “My world came crashing down,” Cheryl said. Her hurt overtook her embarrassment. Bobby had deceived her for all those years. There was no truth in their house. In an interview, Cheryl remarked that the moment was like, “I was in a movie, a lifetime movie.”
But despite her complex wave of feelings, she still felt that she needed to do something. Bobby was facing grim circumstances. He was held on New York’s infamous Rikers Island, awaiting extradition to North Carolina. There, he would face the prospects of serving out the final 10 years of his sentence, along with extra time for his escape.
Cheryl went to visit him and saw how dire her husband’s circumstances were. “When I first visited him in prison, he broke down crying,” she remembered. His head was in his hands, and he told me, “I know you’re going to leave me.” “I told him, ‘No, Bobby Love, I married you for better for worse, and now this is the worst.’”
With that in mind, she set to work. Cheryl did everything she could think of to try to bring her husband home. She wrote letters to the governor and even President Obama himself. She had her children and everyone else in Bobby’s life write testimonials. “I didn’t know a thing about Walter Miller,” she said, “but I told them all about Bobby Love.” After gathering just about every piece of character defense she could, Cheryl brought it all with her to Bobby’s parole board.
It seemed like an impossible task, yet after a year in prison, the parole board agreed to let Bobby return to his freedom and begin again the new life he’d built for himself. But it would not be exactly the same. Cheryl ultimately went on to forgive Bobby, and miraculously, their marriage grew to be even better than it had been before Bobby’s secret was revealed. Bobby’s persona shifted.
He was no longer jumpy. He engaged more with people, and he was more open and attentive to his wife. The two felt like they’d never been more connected. Cheryl was finally in the marriage she wanted. “There were no more regrets in our lives,” she said.
“The day he was set free, I sat him down and asked, ‘What is it? Are we the Loves or are we the Millers?’ And he said, ‘We Love, we Love.’”