The Queen | Ep. 01: Coronation
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Six years ago, a friend sent me an article from the nineteen seventy s about a woman named Linda Taylor and said that Taylor had committed welfare fraud to the tune of one hundred fifty four thousand dollars in a single year using eighty different aliases. It also said that she owned a bunch of luxury cars had filed a fraudulent police report about stolen furs and had been preparing to open a medical office posing as a doctor another article I found said that Linda Taylor the so-called welfare Queen could change from black to wait to Latin with a change of a wig before I read those stories, I didn't know that the welfare queens stereotype had originated with a real person. A black woman with a for coat and fancy cars living, a life of luxury, thanks to unearned government checks. That vicious caricature had been based on Linda Taylor, then used to demonize those who could barely afford a winter coat let alone for that character has. Assisted decade after decade as aid to the poor has gotten slashed by Republican and democratic administrations. Taylor. Briefly became infamous in the nineteen seventies newspapers wrote up her outrageous exploits, and Ronald Reagan railed against her during his first presidential campaign. But just as quickly as she'd scandalise, the nation Linda Taylor disappeared from view, though. The welfare Queen archetype endured, nobody ever dug into who Taylor really was. And what had become of her? I became obsessed with uncovering everything I could about Taylor. I wanted to know how and why a single outrageous case had been used to Vilnai's is a whole class of people. I learned that politicians and journalists said exaggerated, the scope of Taylor's welfare, fraud, and welfare fraud. It turned out was the least of her crimes Linda Taylor was a kidnapper. She was also possibly a murderer but on the campaign trail. And in the press the focus, mostly stayed on her furs and fancy cars. For my book, the Queen, I reported at the details of Taylor's life from start to finish in this podcast miniseries. I'll explain how the Taylor story became a national phenomenon. I'll tell you about the people who wrestled over Taylor's image, and the events that changed her life over the course of four episodes. I'll separate the person from the stereotype, and tell you what was done to Linda Taylor, what she did to others. And what was done in her name. This is the Queen a show about the woman behind the welfare, Queen myth. I'm joshua. Episode one coronation. We probably wouldn't know about Linda Taylor, if it wasn't for a Chicago Tribune reporter named George bliss, bliss, was one of the best journalists Chicago had ever seen by the mid nineteen seventies, he'd spearheaded three Pulitzer prize winning investigations, Clarence page, who was then a young reporter at the Tribune says bliss was an icon at the newspaper. Yeah. He was greatly admired to the point of idolize Asian, because he has a great reputation and he was a real bulldog, which is what the best investigative reporters are once they have a hunch. They latch onto it and won't let go until it draws blood plus was fifty six years old when he started reporting on Linda Taylor. He looked like he teleported into the newsroom from an earlier era. Here's Chuck Neubauer who wanna Pulitzer with bliss in the nineteen seventies look, the part. I mean he looked like a police detective in a movie Neubauer says bliss, so the front page of the Tribune is a personal scoreboard. He would joke when I first worked with him that he that he had the most hat tricks of any Tribune reporter of not being a hockey precise. What's a hat trick? He says, well, three stories on page one. Which isn't that easy to do the only time it ever happened in my career was when I did three stories with him pluses front page? Stories exposed everything from rampant police brutality to a scheme to fix the results of horse races in the early nineteen seventies bliss worked with a team of reporters to uncover massive election fraud in Chicago at one point bliss, went door to door with his colleague Bill Mullen asking voters to confirm that the signatures on their valid applications had been faked. They found proof at the first house. They visited here's Mullen. He he hugged me on the sidewalk after we got down from the front steps. And he said, we're at our waking the Tribune's vote fraud series, wanna Pulitzer and led to seventy nine federal indictments that wasn't an unusual outcome for bliss, his reporting got people sent to prison all the time. So he was feared if he showed up in. The city hall or the county building or the state office building. I mean, the tremors went through the whole building that oh, George Publicis on such and such an office. Let's eat, look at that as a reporter bliss study at a special duty to read out corruption and he'd seen a lot of it in his long career. And this nineteen Seventy-six oral history interview, you can hear a bit of weariness and his voice, why you get the question. What, what, what businesses new spirit? Got this skating government. Nine out of ten we get into some because nobody else in government. Do anything about. Almost every case. When the people give up on government and they come to us in nineteen seventy four bliss turned his attention to the Illinois department of public aid. That was the department that handled welfare for the state all year. He wrote stories about incompetence and waste at the department in the failure of bureaucrats to fix it. One day blitz got a tip from a friend of his Chicago detective the detective told him about an outlandish new case of welfare fraud when the government officials had been ignoring the woman at the center of that case went by a bunch of different names. But the police were calling her Linda Taylor. This is first round of stories about the department of public aid hadn't gotten a huge amount of attention. But when he started writing about Linda Taylor, people took notice. Let's reported the Taylor had received welfare checks, and food stamps, even though she drove a Cadillac, a Lincoln and a Chevy station, wagon his story, also said, the Taylor claimed to own four buildings on the south side of Chicago, and that she was planning a Hawaiian vacation. This is article got the attention of his colleague, Clarence page. I was excited because it was a big story, the kind of story that a most any reporter would want to get. I mean it was not just welfare fraud. It was bizarre. Fraud. This is story. Also made a big impression on a bunch of government officials after the piece, ran in the Tribune both state and federal agencies launched investigations into Taylor's alleged crimes. Meanwhile, George bliss kept on digging on October twelfth nineteen seventy four two weeks after Linda, Taylor's name first appeared in the Tribune bliss reported that she had been arrested in Arizona. He wrote the Taylor had used as many as fifty different aliases in Arizona alone, and that her alleged take might have run to three hundred thousand dollars in welfare funds. It was the first of more than forty articles in the Tribune, they're referred to lend Taylor as the welfare Queen. George bliss says, best work revealed how the government betrayed Chicago's most vulnerable people bliss documented rampant abuse and the city's juvenile home helped expose mistreatment, perpetrated by private ambulance, companies, and posed as a patient to report on abject conditions nursing homes, all of these stories focused on institutional problems. Not individual ones. So why did bliss glum onto a single case of welfare fraud for bliss? The Linda Taylor story had started out as an expose of waste and the welfare system in one of his first articles on Taylor. She wrote that, quote, the Eleanor department of public aid is incapable of investigating welfare fraud, no matter how flagrant it may be. But gradually pieces about Taylor began to focus on her and her alone. Bliss reported the Taylor had poses a heart surgeon. She'd also pretended to be the daughter of a gambling kingpin, try to win a huge inheritance and remarkably Taylor had been accused of several kidnappings, but she hadn't been prosecuted for any of them that last allegation was very serious. But bliss didn't appear to take it all that seriously. He saw the Taylor stories as little more than a fun diversion. Here's Bill Mullen, every once in a while, I would be walking by his desk, and he'd say, oh Mullen. This story doesn't end. I just got her on some more stuff I suppose in his mind, she was the gift that didn't stop giving. He kept getting these juicy stories about our and of course, the paper was eager to put them into the paper. So he was always happy when he got another one about her. George bliss stories were a really valuable resource for me. When I started my own research on Linda Taylor. The claims bliss made about Taylor or a big reason why I've spent the last six years obsessing over her life, but I discovered pretty early on that I couldn't rely on bliss reporting, he passed along now that Taylor had stolen one hundred fifty four thousand dollars in government money in a single year. He also reported that she taken three hundred thousand dollars but documents I found at the Illinois state archives suggest Taylor's take was closer to forty thousand dollars and not in a single year. Bliss. Did get a lot of stuff rate, Linda Taylor, had post as a heart surgeon. She had pretended to be a gambling kingpins daughter. She had been accused of several kidnappings, but bliss, and other Tribune, reporters treated, these items as curiosities, they'd get mentioned in passing, then get dropped entirely even when Taylor was suspected of homicide in nineteen seventy five the newspaper didn't stay on the story. Taylor was accused of killing a woman named Patricia parks parks had been sick and she died of a bar bitch writ overdose, under Taylor's care perks is relatives told me, they believed the Taylor was a murderer, but back in the nineteen seventies, no one from the Tribune interviewed them, and Taylor was never charged after that murder allegation. Faded away list wrote about the next one off Taylor scandal, her arrest for stealing a television set and a fur coat. Before we get back to the show. I want to tell you about a new podcast from crooked media. The folks behind pods save America, the show is called this land. It's a series about a murder case an upcoming supreme court ruling, tribal sovereignty, and America's broken promises, hosted by Rebecca Nagel, and Oklahoma, journalist and citizen of the Cherokee nation. The podcast provides a look at how a cut and dry murder opened an investigation and a half the land in Oklahoma and the treaty rates of five tribes, this land explores, attacks on tribal sovereignty, and how one unique case could result in the largest restoration of tribal land in US history episodes are available. Now subscribe to this land wherever you get your podcasts. George bliss, and has editors were all white men. Linda Taylor self identified as black and she was written about in racially loaded ways that perpetuated and help to create some very nasty stereotypes. The Chicago Tribune had very few black reporters, Clarence page was one of the first he saw his mission is helping the paper, get more black readers and seeing that Chicago's black community was covered better. Page told me that was a huge challenge that he got resistance from editors when he tried to report on Jesse Jackson and the Black Panthers that being said page doesn't think the papers focus on Linda Taylor was a sign of institutional bias, I've never felt guilty about the story beginning with us and our reporting. I feel like it was something for public dialogue that needs to be talked about page says that things went wrong when people misused the information that the Tribune had surf. I, I guess, at the time, but my reaction, I'd say was more good get them get the Welford sheets off of welfare. So the people who deserve it can get, you know, that, that was my optimistic view. There are other people who say, good, this just goes to show you that Welfare's just going just handing money out to feves, and people who are just too lazy to work, blah, blah. The, the great lesson of this for me is that people will come to their own conclusions based on what their prejudices are Tribune, readers and politicians came to their own conclusions right away. One Illinois, bureaucrat said the Taylor was without a doubt, the biggest welfare cheat of all time that same official appears to have been blessed source for the unfounded claim the Taylor stole one hundred fifty four thousand dollars in a single year that exaggerated figure would become useful for Ronald Reagan who was looking for material to deploy during his first presidential run. Here he is at a campaign. Stop in January nineteen seventy six. X chicago. They found a woman who holds the record. She used eighty names thirty addresses fifteen telephone numbers to collect food, the record that Linda Taylor held. Reagan said was that she had an annual tax free income of one hundred fifty thousand dollars for Reagan. Linda Taylor's thievery made for the perfect anecdote. It was an outrageous memorable story that showed welfare was a problem that needed to be solved. Reagan's opponents thought the anecdotes seemed a little too outrageous. He was known for telling tall tales and he was accused throughout the campaign of blowing the Linda Taylor story way out of proportion, the campaign would end for Reagan in August nineteen seventy six when he lost the Republican nomination to president Gerald Ford. But the Linda Taylor story did not end there in September Reagan's favorite publication. The conservative magazine human events ran an essay under George bliss 's byline. It was headlined, the unbelievable case. Chicago's welfare Queen Reagan turned that essay in to a radio commentary, the win out to stations nationwide. Pluses, new reporting Reagan said confirmed that he'd been right about Taylor all along. I can verify update my story. She is used one hundred twenty seven aims so far posed as a mother of fourteen children, at one time seven at another signed up twice with the same caseworker in four days and once while on welfare posed as an open heart surgeon complete with office. She has three new cars fooling mink coat enter take is estimated at a million dollars. George bliss hadn't actually done any new reporting, he just ridden, down bigger numbers. There is no support for the claim the Taylor, stole a million dollars in welfare money. I also found nothing to back up this assertion which bliss wrote and Reagan repeated in a folksy tone of voice, I wish this had a happy ending, but the public aid office, according to the news story refuses to cooperate, she still collect. Eating welfare check. She can use to build up her defence fund. They don't know why listed that freelance PS for human events. He certainly wasn't an idealogue short while earlier he'd written a story for the left wing magazine, the nation, some of his colleagues told me, he probably took the assignment, just to make a little extra money. I am confident in saying that the editors at human events had a specific goal in mind when they commissioned a story, I'm Linda Taylor. They wanted to make Ronald Reagan looked like an honest broker. And that's what bliss article did. George bliss is story has a sad and shocking ending in nineteen seventy seven a year after he wrote about Linda Taylor for the last time is co workers began to notice some dramatic changes in his behavior. Here's Chuck Neubauer news. A problem when day were sitting there and he's, he's spending three hours reading the Saturday tribute Saturday, papers were worthless. They had nothing in them, but used car ads and motorcycle ads and, and just that you would spend all this time, just kind of staring at the paper led me to think that there was there was something that he was having a problem. There were definitely signs that he wasn't didn't wouldn't get excited about stories like he was always excited before bliss took a seven month. Leave of absence from the Tribune to receive treatment for bipolar disorder when he came back to work. He looked at Macy aided and even more withdrawn. In September nineteen Seventy-eight Bill Mullen hurt some horrifying news. After his wife fell asleep. He shot her in the head, and then he killed them. So. And how I found out. I don't remember but was just shocking. Why why he killed his wife? I don't know. But. That was. Just unimaginably horrible end. This is bitchy worries focused on his Pulitzer prizes. They didn't linger on the fact that he'd shot his wife, Therese, bliss, the Tribune's editor Clayton Kirkpatrick said the George bless had been the foremost investigative reporter in the nation. He added that blessed been struck down by the terrible burden of mental illness, which ultimately proved too severe a year after bliss death. Ronald Reagan announced he was running for president for a second time and a campaign speech in Texas, and may nineteen eighty Reagan said there's a woman in Chicago who received welfare benefits, under one hundred twenty seven different names. I think we can eliminate that kind of thing that November Reagan. Jimmy Carter in a landslide. The United States governor and MRs Reagan, their four children. Green Mike by the early nineteen eighty s the welfare Queen stereotype was deeply entrenched. But Linda Taylor herself had been almost entirely forgotten even a raced in one thousand nine hundred to the new Republic referred to the celebrated Chicago welfare, Queen who did not exist. Linda Taylor did exist. And the full story of her life has never been told until now in upcoming episodes of this podcast. You'll hear from Isaiah skip Gant. He served as Taylor's defense attorney in the nineteen seventies, one of Gaunt's jobs was to create a new image for Taylor when the countered the welfare queens, stereotype, but Taylor would not cooperate trying to get her to look like a schoolmarm, which just not gonna work. Couldn't do it. Couldn't do it. She was just bent on being flamboyant. There was a part of her she needed to be able to thumb her nose at society. She needed to be like in their face. There was this need to be defiant. You'll also hear about Taylor's declaration, made in the nineteen sixties that she was the daughter of one of the richest men in Chicago, that claim kicked off a heated court battle when there would define Taylor's life and surprising ways. Head try. Benny? Many cases, tracings happened during the trials over my career, but those few days in that cramp court Ruben, the old courthouse in Chicago. That sticks in my mind that was really bizarre. Finally, you'll hear from a pair of women whose families had life altering run-ins with Taylor. The timing and the circumstance were earn lined where it was just our time to receive the blessing of her presence. She was into witchcraft, and she had kidnapped me and they didn't know where I was. This episode of the Queen was written by me, Josh Levin, and produced by Emma Morgenstern editorial direction from low and loo and Gabriel Roth merit Jacob mixed does episode. You can subscribe to the Queen on apple podcasts or wherever you're listening right now it would also be great, if you could rate and review the show, it helps other people find it and you can Email us at the Queen at slate dot com. This podcast series is a companion to my book, which is called the Queen the forgotten life by an American men. You can order it now. It's on sale everywhere on may twenty first special thanks to June. Thomas, Melissa Kaplan. Danielle Hewitt will pass in Austria saluda Benjamin fresh Gan, TJ, Rafael, Lisa Larsson Walker, Katie raeford. Jessica Seidman Leonard. Roberto Elliott Hannah Habib Vanessa Mobley Elissa, persons Sabrina Callahan. Pamela Brown and the team at Little Brown and shit, but group US, the audio of Ronald Reagan was provided, courtesy of the Ronald Reagan presidential foundation and institute additional audio provided by NBC universal archives. Thanks for listening.