Photograph of John Doe No. 24

John Doe No. 24

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In the early hours of October 11, 1945, police officers found an African-American teenager wandering the streets of Jacksonville, Morgan County, Illinois. He was unable to communicate, as he was deaf and mute, and when asked why he was out so late could only write “Lewis”, which is believed to be his name.

The teenager had no ID on him, and police were unable to find any information about him or his relatives. Unable to communicate, a judge sentenced him to the Lincoln State School and Colony in Lincoln, Illinois, having deemed him “feeble minded”. This is despite those who worked with him later saying he was more intelligent than standard tests showed.

He was subsequently dubbed “John Doe No. 24” because he was the 24th unidentified man to enter the state’s mental health system.


John Doe remained in Illinois’ mental health care system for over 30 years. He was beaten and subjected to dehumanizing treatment. He survived hunger and overcrowded conditions, and never let his circumstances get him down. He made friends, developed a sense of humour and took on responsibilities when allowed.

In 1978, his name was legally changed to John Doe Boyd, so he could apply for Social Security.

In 1987, after being transferred to numerous facilities, John Doe was sent to live at the Smiley Living Center in Peoria, Peoria County, Illinois. By this time, he was beginning to lose his sight, possibly due to diabetes, but still managed to uplift those around him. At Christmas parties, workers recall him dancing to the vibrations of the music.

In August 1993, he underwent surgery for colon cancer, after which he had trouble eating and became depressed. He was transferred to Sharon Oaks Nursing Home two months later, and on November 28, 1993 passed away from a stroke. He was believed to be around 64 years old at the time, and was buried at Parkview Cemetery in Peoria.

After reading about John Doe’s story in The New York Times, Mary Chapin Carpenter released “John Doe No. 24“, which appeared on her 1994 album, Stones in the Road. She also purchased a headstone for his grave, which reads:

“John ‘Doe’ Boyd

Unknown – 11-28-1993

Life’s a mystery but so too is the human heart”

Journalist Dave Bakke also wrote a book at John Doe, titled God Knows His Name: The True Story of John Doe No. 24.


John Doe was an African-American male who is believed to have been in his teens around the time he was found wandering the streets of Jacksonville. He had black or brown hair, and brown eyes.

He was known to frequently wear a straw hat, and he carried with him a backpack filled with his collection of glasses, rings and silverware.

The only hints we have regarding his identity are his scrawling of the name “Lewis” and what The New York Times described as his “pantomimed, wild accounts of foot-stomping and circus parades”.


It’s currently unknown if John Doe’s fingerprints, DNA or dentals are available for comparison.

As John Doe was not found deceased, no law enforcement agency is currently investigating the case. Anyone with information regarding his identity should contact authorities in Illinois.

Image Credit: The Doe Network

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