The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography
In this critically acclaimed true crime tale of "welfare queen" Linda Taylor, a Slate editor reveals a "wild, only-in-America story" of political manipulation and murder (Attica Locke, Edgar Award-winning author).
On the South Side of Chicago in 1974, Linda Taylor reported a phony burglary, concocting a lie about stolen furs and jewelry. The detective who checked it out soon discovered she was a welfare cheat who drove a Cadillac to collect ill-gotten government checks. And that was just the beginning: Taylor, it turned out, was also a kidnapper, and possibly a murderer. A desperately ill teacher, a combat-traumatized Marine, an elderly woman hungry for companionship -- after Taylor came into their lives, all three ended up dead under suspicious circumstances. But nobody -- not the journalists who touted her story, not the police, and not presidential candidate Ronald Reagan -- seemed to care about anything but her welfare thievery.
Growing up in the Jim Crow South, Taylor was made an outcast because of the color of her skin. As she rose to infamy, the press and politicians manipulated her image to demonize poor black women. Part social history, part true-crime investigation, Josh Levin's mesmerizing book, the product of six years of reporting and research, is a fascinating account of American racism, and an exposé of the "welfare queen" myth, one that fueled political debates that reverberate to this day.
The Queen tells, for the first time, the fascinating story of what was done to Linda Taylor, what she did to others, and what was done in her name. "In the finest tradition of investigative reporting, Josh Levin exposes how a story that once shaped the nation's conscience was clouded by racism and lies. As he stunningly reveals in this "invaluable work of nonfiction," the deeper truth, the messy truth, tells us something much larger about who we are (David Grann, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon).
When Ronald Reagan campaigned for the presidency, he referred frequently to a Chicago woman who "used eighty names, thirty addresses, and twelve Social Security cards to collect all kinds of public benefits." Reagan made that woman a symbol for "a whole class of people who were getting something they didn't deserve" as part of his assault on the welfare state. Slate editorial director Levin's dogged investigative work in his impressive debut reveals the truth behind Reagan's claims, presenting the stranger-than-fiction story of that woman, who called herself Linda Taylor (among numerous other names). Taylor stole more than $150,000 in public assistance in one year, and had planned to "open a medical office, posing as a doctor." Levin makes the complex narrative accessible by using an indefatigable Chicago police detective, Jack Sherwin, as his initial protagonist. In 1974, Sherwin responded to a bogus burglary complaint filed by Taylor, who alleged that the criminal had somehow managed to shove a jumbo fridge through a very small window. Sherwin's probe into the suspicious "victim" revealed that Taylor was a recidivist scam artist. Levin uncovers more criminality in Taylor's history including child abuse, abduction, and a possible murder spanning a half-century beginning in 1944. Levin's piecing together of interviews, court documents, and other records paint as complete a picture as possible of an unrepentant career criminal who was turned into a stereotype for political purposes. Those interested in U.S. urban culture of another era will also be intrigued.
A wild ride
So when I first started this book for some reason I didn’t initially find it captivating. However, about half way through I couldn’t put it down. I highly recommend reading it. Above and beyond a compelling story the facts are important to read!