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Image: (top) Joyce McKinney, (Bottom) Bernann McKinney
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(Top) 1979, Utah: Joyce McKinney's arrest picture from Salt Lake County Sheriff's office. She had been charged the previous year in England with kidnapping and holding hostage Kirk Anderson. (Bottom) BernannMcKinneysmiles as she holds up a clone of her late beloved former pit bull terrier, at the Seoul National University animal hospital in Seoul on August 5, 2008.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 8/8/2008 9:43:55 AM ET 2008-08-08T13:43:55

Just hours after appearing live on TODAY to share her joy at becoming the first owner of commercially cloned puppies, Bernann McKinney found herself dogged by controversy that had nothing to do with a scientific breakthrough.

In a bizarre twist to what had ostensibly been a feel-good story, reports surfaced Thursday that McKinney may be actually be a former softcore porn model who jumped bail in England 30 years ago when facing charges of false imprisonment of a former beau.

After McKinney appeared on TODAY and her story was picked up by newspapers around the globe, reporters who covered the sensational case of one Joyce McKinney back in 1978 believed that the 57-year-old Bernann and the woman who set England on its ear with a lurid, celebrated sex case decades ago were, in fact, one and the same.

The women’s ages appear to jibe, and then-and-now pictures that ran on the TimesOnline Web site in England are uncanny in their resemblance. But when queried by reporters at a press conference presenting her puppy clones to the world, Bernann McKinney angrily denied she and Joyce McKinney were actually one and the same. “That’s garbage, that’s rot,” she said.

’70s tabloid sensation
Joyce McKinney was a former Miss Wyoming who reportedly had a relationship with a 19-year-old member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while living in Utah. But when Mormon Kurt Anderson received a two-year missionary’s position in England on church directive, Joyce McKinney reportedly hired a private detective to track him down.

With the help of a friend, Joyce McKinney allegedly took Anderson against his will from a Mormon church in Ewell, England, and held him captive for three days in a remote cottage. Anderson told a British court he was sexually assaulted three times by McKinney while bound to a bed before managing to escape.

Joyce McKinney became a media magnet in Great Britain when she took the stand at her bail hearing on kidnapping charges. Although not required to make a statement, McKinney filled the court’s ears with intimate, kinky details of the couple’s sex life, which were lapped up by England’s racy tabloids and blazed across their covers.

She served three months in a British prison before being released on bail for mental health issues. But when her trial was due to begin in May 1978, McKinney was nowhere to be found — according to reports, she fled the country through Ireland before returning to the U.S. She was given a one-year prison sentence in absentia — although when authorities tracked her down in Atlanta, Ga., a year later, Britain declined to extradite her.

Still, Joyce McKinney’s case became the stuff of contemporary legend, especially after she told the court “I loved him [Anderson] so much that I would ski naked down Mount Everest with a carnation up my nose if he asked me to.” She later became the subject of a pulpy book, “Joyce McKinney and the Manacled Mormon,” which included 16 pages of semi-nude modeling she had done for a host of mainly bondage-themed magazines.

Bernann and Booger
But if Joyce McKinney is indeed clone-owner Bernann McKinney, no secrets of her colorful past were on display during Bernann McKinney’s interview with Natalie Morales on TODAY Thursday. She related the heartwarming story of how her beloved pet pit bull Booger saved her life when she was attacked by another dog 11 years ago, and spoke about her quest to have Booger cloned after his death in 2006. A South Korean biotech firm took tissue samples saved by McKinney and cloned Booger into five puppies that were born July 28.

“We cloned an exceptional dog,” Bernann McKinney told Morales, adding that she believed Booger, a rescue dog, was sent by God to save her life and that she was blessed all over again with the new puppies.

“He sent Booger down to help me out, and he knew I would be lost without him,” she said. “So he sent some more.”

As far as the mystery of whether Bernann McKinney was once tabloid sensation Joyce McKinney — or merely bears a resemblance to her so strong that she might be called a clone herself — the truth may be lost to history.

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