Much of Margaret Diane Duncan's adult life had been miserable and she was looking for a change.

It was intuition, she said, that made her get off a bus in Prince William County four months ago with her 7-year-old daughter -- a feeling that finally she had reached a place she could call home.

After living for a while in a shelter for battered women in Dumfries, she made friends, found a job, set up a household with goods donated by a local women's charity and established a new identity as Donna Bobo.

The community reached out to the frail woman, believing it was helping an abused wife and her victimized daughter. That same community was shocked after Duncan's arrest Sept. 7 by county police, who discovered she was wanted in Joplin, Mo., on a felony fugitive warrant for abducting her daughter. The child had been reported missing May 8 by her father and legal guardian, Max Duncan, said Joplin police Detective Larry Hopper.

"She came here and asked for a job, and we needed a barmaid, so we hired her," said Sonny Donaldson, commander of American Legion Post No. 162 in Lorton, where Duncan worked. "She did a tremendous job for us. As far as I am concerned, she was one of the most wonderful people to come in here."

David Dally, a prosecuting attorney in Jasper County, Mo., said this week that his office plans to extradite Duncan for trial on a charge of interfering with a custody agreement, a felony that carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison.

In an interview last week in the Prince William-Manassas jail, Duncan said she would fight extradition.

"The thing I regret most about this whole thing is that I have friends here that truly reached out to me that may be hurt by this whole thing," Duncan said. "I just wanted to make a home for us, a place where we could belong and start a new life. This is home for me now. I'm more Donna now than I am Margaret, and I want to hold on to that."

The picture Duncan paints of her life is of a woman dogged by tragedy and bad choices. When she was 12, her life was shattered when her father killed her mother and then himself in the family home in Fort Pierce, Fla. Just months before that, her uncle had killed his wife in a similar incident.

After going to live with her grandmother, Duncan married at age 15 to get away from home, only to be separated four months later when she could no longer take her husband's beatings. She married again five years later after meeting Max Duncan, when they both worked on a door-to-door magazine sales crew.

Max Duncan, an assembler, said the marriage ended when "Margie decided she wanted to be with somebody else." On the day of the custody hearing, Margaret Duncan "did not even bother to show up," he said.

According to Margaret Duncan, her former husband had "a job, money, a more stable life and his family there to help him." She felt unable to fight him for custody so she agreed to allow their daughter to live with him.

Looking pale and haggard and wearing a black T-shirt and dirty jeans, Duncan talked about the odyssey that brought her to Prince William. She decided to leave Joplin in April, shortly after her release from a hospital psychiatric ward where she had undergone treatment after attempting suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills.

On May 8, with $1,000 in her jeans and her daughter in tow, Duncan headed for a battered women's shelter in Michigan, a state where she believed she could get custody of her daughter. A month later she left her car on the side of the road in south Michigan -- keys in the ignition and money and clothing in the front seat to encourage someone to steal it -- and headed for St. Louis.

Duncan's daughter, now with her father, said she and her mother hitchhiked rides on tractor-trailer trucks.

"She dropped off the car somewhere before we left because my mommy only had $5 for gas," said the child. "She left all of my clothes and my toys in the car because she couldn't pack it all up into the truck."

The next stop was Florida, where they lived with Duncan's sister.

"She called me one day and said she was broke and didn't have anywhere to go, so I sent for her," said Duncan's sister, who asked not to be identified. "I just couldn't bear to think of her hitchhiking around the country with that little girl."

After a few weeks, Duncan became angry when her sister told her she should go back to Joplin and get her life together. She headed north and stopped in Prince William, where she and her daughter lived "happily" until a co-worker overheard her discussing plans with a friend to register the child in school without her Joplin records, Duncan said.

Duncan believes that co-worker turned her in. Police say they received an anonymous tip.

Max Duncan, who picked up his daughter from Prince William County social services authorities on Sept. 10, said he has no wish to see his former wife in prison, but he has been dogged by nightmares since his child's disappearance -- especially after learning that they had hitchhiked on trucks. "I keep seeing Margie lying in a ditch and {the child} is nowhere to be found," he said.

He is planning to go back to court to get his ex-wife's visitation rights limited, he said.

For Margaret Duncan, prison would not be her worst fate. "I just have a feeling that I might never see her again," she said of her daughter, wiping tears from her eyes.

Her friends in Prince William say she would be welcomed back. "Everybody liked her," said American Legion member Bill Roan. "I feel for anyone who has to go to jail."