Charles P. Meadows was a well-mannered, articulate man, a health-conscious jogger who lived alone in a small rented room in West Baltimore and worked two jobs to help support his children. Last week, when a bloody night long past caught up with him, he hanged himself.

The suicide came after police discovered that Meadows, 43, was really Ralph Canady, who had been convicted 18 years ago in the brutal murder of two Nashville police officers. He was then a 25-year-old college graduate from Cincinnati and his case was to become one of the most notorious in Nashville during the racially tense 1960s.

Canady, who escaped from prison in 1974 and eluded authorities until last week, found safe haven in Baltimore for nearly a decade.

FBI agents, led to him almost by a fluke, arrested him at his janitorial job in Baltimore County Tuesday evening. The next morning, Canady, facing the remainder of his 99-year prison term and penalties for his escape, hanged himself with his shirt in a near-empty cell block of the Woodlawn police station.

Canady's double life began with a flurry of gunshots on a deserted Nashville street on Jan. 16, 1968. Two Nashville police officers died that night after being shot when they stopped a car occupied by five young black men suspected of cashing stolen money orders.

Canady and his friends fled after the shooting. Police, who found Black Panther literature in the fugitives' car and considered them "black militants," were later accused of roughing up innocent members of the black community in their zeal to find the men.

Nashville had not had a double police shooting and has not had one since, according to Capt. Charles Hall of the police department there, and prosecutors who were involved in the case said it inflamed already strained racial tensions.

The young men charged with shooting the officers were unlikely killers, recalls former prosecutor Robert Brandt, now a judge in Nashville. They had never been in trouble and came from "good families" -- one was the son of a lawyer and another the son of a deputy sheriff. Canady went to college in Ohio and had a degree in business administration, according to the FBI.

"They were pretty sharp guys," said Brandt. But, he added, "They were consumed with hatred."

"You really have to put yourself back into that era," said Brandt. "It seemed they were a dreadful byproduct of a bad time."

Three of the five, including Canady, were convicted of murder in a trial that captured the city's attention for a month. One of the five pleaded guilty. The fifth man, Charles Lee Herron, was never caught and has been on the FBI's "10 Most Wanted List" for 18 years. It was never determined which of the men pulled the trigger.

In 1974, Canady and two others convicted in the shooting dressed in women's clothing and walked away from the state penitentiary in Nashville, prison authorities said.

Canady eventually made his way to Baltimore, according to the FBI, and he worked as a construction laborer and at a variety of odd jobs. He moved frequently, used several aliases, and although he never married, he had three children with a longtime girlfriend here.

People here who knew Charles Meadows could not have been more stunned when they learned of his true identity and his death. "It's very, very horrifying," said Floradeen Walker, a minister at Praise Temple Holiness Church who rented a room in her row house to Canady. "Me and my family are very upset about it."

Walker said Canady moved into her house last October. "He was a very nice guy," she said, "a homebody" who mingled with her family and liked to play with her grandchildren.

Walker said Canady occasionally brought his three young children over to the Walker house.

Stanley Katzenstein, owner of the frame shop in downtown Baltimore, said Canady had been working there for about 1 1/2 years, cutting mats. "He was very conscientious," said Katzenstein. "He cared about his work. He'd do a mat over if he did it wrong, without me saying anything."

Katzenstein, Walker and others who knew Canady said he was concerned about his health and staying in shape. He was a vegetarian, they said, and he frequently jogged and worked out at a gym.

"He cared about life," said Katzenstein, adding that he believes that Canady must simply have fallen in with "a bad crowd" as a young man.

But Canady kept in touch over the years with the men who were convicted and escaped with him, according to an FBI official who interviewed Canady Tuesday night.

It was a minor offense that led the FBI to Canady, perhaps his only brush with the law in all the years he was on the run. In February, an undercover Baltimore police officer arrested Canady for purchasing a small amount of marijuana on the street. It was a misdemeanor offense, and Canady was fined $20 and released. But Canady's fingerprints, which were routinely sent to the state police, matched prints the FBI had on file with state police departments throughout the country.

An FBI spokesman said Canady appeared slightly stunned when agents confronted him Tuesday night in the hallway of an office building, where he was working part time supervising a cleaning crew. He surrendered without incident and readily acknowledged his identity, the FBI said.

That night, hours before he took his life, Canady told agents that he never had revealed his identity to anyone else.