When Joan Davis Became Jannie Duncan: A New Identity with a Dark Past

It was January 5, 1975. A woman named Debbie Carliner was lying in bed in her home in Washington, D.C. on a typical Sunday morning. As she was thumbing through The Washington Post, she got the shock of her life. In the Metro section, the top story’s headline read: “Fugitive’s Friends Call Her ‘Beautiful Human.’”


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Debbie couldn’t believe her eyes. The “her” in the article was a woman she knew. “That’s Joan!” she yelled out. Her husband, who was right next to her, looked at the paper, confused. Debbie showed him the five photos of a middle-aged black woman in different settings. They were looking at Joan Davis, then 54, a beloved former family worker. Debbie couldn’t believe the story she was reading about a woman she thought she knew. It turns out that Davis had led a double life…

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