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God Knows His Name

God Knows His Name

The True Story of John Doe No. 24

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David Bakke. Foreword by Mary Chapin Carpenter


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
6 x 9, 16 illustrations


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About the Book

Police found John Doe No. 24 in the early morning hours of October 11, 1945, in Jacksonville, Illinois. Unable to communicate, the deaf and mute teenager was labeled “feeble minded” and sentenced by a judge to the nightmarish jumble of the Lincoln State School and Colony in Jacksonville. He remained in the Illinois mental health care system for over thirty years and died at the Sharon Oaks Nursing Home in Peoria on November 28, 1993.

Deaf, mute, and later blind, the young black man survived institutionalized hell: beatings, hunger, overcrowding, and the dehumanizing treatment that characterized state institutions through the 1950s. In spite of his environment, he made friends, took on responsibilities, and developed a sense of humor. People who knew him found him remarkable.

Award-winning journalist Dave Bakke reconstructs the life of John Doe No. 24 through research into a half-century of the state mental health system, personal interviews with people who knew him at various points during his life, and sixteen black-and-white illustrations. After reading a story about John Doe in the New York Times, acclaimed singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote and recorded “John Doe No. 24” and purchased a headstone for his unmarked grave. She contributes a foreword to this book.

As death approached for the man known only as John Doe No. 24, his one-time nurse Donna Romine reflected sadly on his mystery. “Ah, well,” she said, “God knows his name.”


Dave Bakke is senior writer at the State Journal-Register in Springfield, Illinois. With Dale Hamm, he is the author of The Last of the Market Hunters.


“It never crossed my mind that someday I might write a foreword to a book about John Doe No. 24’s life when I finished the song. Clearly, he inspired more than a few people during his life, and after it was over.”—Mary Chapin Carpenter, from the Foreword

God Knows His Name: The True Story of John Doe No. 24 allows the reader to feel how institutional life was experienced by an individual who spent the better part of his life (from adolescence on) in the Illinois state institutional system. In many ways the book provides a balanced view of institutional caregivers; some are compassionate and others less so. The real indictment in the book is of the governmental system itself and the neglect of the thousands of institutionalized persons by the legislature and the public.”—Thomas Walz, author of The Unlikely Celebrity: Bill Sackter's Triumph over Disability