This is from Slate so there are more caveats than from a dozen lawyers being forced to sign a contract with the devil, but it knocks down the lie that the Welfare Queen was some sort of imaginary racist character that Reagan made up to make freeloaders look bad.
“In Chicago, they found a woman who holds the record,” the former California governor declared at a campaign rally in January 1976. “She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.” As soon as he quoted that dollar amount, the crowd gasped.
Many accounts report that Reagan coined the term “welfare queen,” and that this woman in Chicago was a fictional character. In 2007, the New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote that “the bogus story of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen [was] a gross exaggeration of a minor case of welfare fraud.” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews says the whole thing is racist malarkey—a coded reference to black indolence and criminality designed to appeal to working-class whites.
Her name was Linda Taylor, and it was the Chicago Tribune, not the GOP politician, who dubbed her the “welfare queen.” It was the Tribune, too, that lavished attention on Taylor’s jewelry, furs, and Cadillac—all of which were real.
Wait… wait… Paul Krugman is wrong about something? How is that even possible. The world no longer makes sense.
“Linda Taylor received Illinois welfare checks and food stamps, even tho[ugh] she was driving three 1974 autos—a Cadillac, a Lincoln, and a Chevrolet station wagon—claimed to own four South Side buildings, and was about to leave for a vacation in Hawaii,” wrote Pulitzer Prize winner George Bliss.
There was evidence that the 47-year-old Taylor had used three social security cards, 27 names, 31 addresses, and 25 phone numbers to fuel her mischief, not to mention 30 different wigs.
As the Tribune and other outlets stayed on the story, those figures continued to rise. Reporters noted that Linda Taylor had used as many as 80 names, and that she’d received at least $150,000—in illicit welfare cash, the numbers that Ronald Reagan would cite on the campaign trail in 1976.
“She is black, but is able to pass herself off as Spanish, Filipino, white, and black,” the executive director of Illinois’ Legislative Advisory Committee on Public Aid told the Associated Press in November 1974. “And it appears she can be any age she wishes, from the early 20s to the early 50s.”
So Reagan’s racist welfare queen lie… was the Chicago Tribune’s reporting of a true crime story.
The executive director of the Legislative Advisory Committee on Public Aid told the Tribune, “She is without a doubt, the biggest welfare cheat of all time”.
The Tribune reported that Taylor was filching every form of public assistance imaginable: social security, food stamps, Medicaid, and Aid to Families With Dependent Children.
According to Reagan, it had now been revealed that this woman (he still didn’t identify her by name) had operated in 14 states using 127 names, claimed to be the mother of 14 children, was using 50 addresses “in Chicago alone,” and had posed as an open heart surgeon. She also had “three new cars, a full-length mink coat, and her take is estimated at a million dollars.”
As he’d said, Taylor had posed in Michigan as a heart surgeon named Dr. Connie Walker and, in the Tribune’s telling, “drove a new Cadillac bearing the physicians’ staff and serpent on both doors and the word ‘Afri-med’ on the rear.”
A few months later, she was released from custody briefly while her case was on appeal. According to Cook County prosecutor James Piper, she subsequently “applied for welfare, claiming she needed the money for medical purposes.” Piper told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat that she was suspected of falsifying information on the application.
Ronald Reagan… right about Communism… right about the Welfare Queen.
For much of the 1970s, Taylor had consistent legal representation from celebrated black Chicago attorney R. Eugene Pincham. “It would be a pretty sorry situation if the state tried to prosecute and send to jail everybody from the South Side that took welfare money they didn’t have coming,” he told the Tribune in 1976. “There’d just be nowhere to put them.”
Which is an admission that Reagan was right about the scope of the problem. This wasn’t just one Welfare Queen. There was an army of them.
But Linda Taylor’s story got worse from there…
In the 1970s alone, Taylor was investigated for homicide, kidnapping, and baby trafficking. The detective who tried desperately to put her away believes she’s responsible for one of Chicago’s most legendary crimes, one that remains unsolved to this day. Welfare fraud was likely the least of the welfare queen’s offenses.
“Chicago’s welfare queen,” they wrote, “has been linked by Chicago police to a scheme to defraud the public aid department during the mid-1960s by buying newborn infants to substantiate welfare claims.”
Her son Johnnie believes his mother saw children as commodities, something to be acquired and sold. He remembers a little black girl—he doesn’t know her name—who stayed with them for a few months in the early 1960s, “and then she just disappeared one day.”
Johnnie says, a white baby named Tiger showed up out of nowhere, and then left the household just as mysteriously. I ask him if he knew where these kids came from or who they belonged to. “You knew they wasn’t hers,” he says.
A newborn child was kidnapped by a woman dressed in a white nurse’s uniform. Dora Fronczak told police that the mystery woman whisked away her son Paul Joseph, telling the new mother that her baby boy needed to be examined by a doctor. Witnesses said the ersatz nurse carried the infant through a rear exit and disappeared.
The Fronczak case transfixed Chicago and the nation. The Tribune, the Sun-Times, and the national wire services printed eyewitness accounts, sketches of the suspect, diagrams of the kidnapper’s probable path, and the family’s pleas for their child’s safe return.
Did Linda Taylor pull off one of the most notorious kidnappings of the 1960s? In early 1975, law enforcement officials got a tip from one of Taylor’s ex-husbands that she “appeared one day in the mid-1960s with a newborn baby, altho[ugh] she had not been pregnant.” Her explanation, the Tribune said, was that “she hadn’t realized she was pregnant until she gave birth that morning.”
Johnnie says his mother often claimed that she worked in a hospital, and that she’d wear a nurse’s hat. Rose Termini, without any prompting, begins the narrative of her son’s kidnapping by saying that Taylor “once told me she was a nurse and she got around a lot with kids.” According to Termini, Taylor would often dress in a white uniform—she says she saw the getup with her own eyes.
Johnnie says he doesn’t know anything about the Fronczak case specifically. He’s always suspected, though, that his mother sold the baby she called Tiger—that would explain her evasiveness, and how an infant could come and go with no explanation. Tiger’s whereabouts remain a mystery. The same goes for the baby abducted from Michael Reese Hospital in 1964. Fifty years later, Paul Joseph Fronczak has yet to be found.
And then she began killing people..
Mrs. Parks, who was also named Patricia, earned her living as a schoolteacher. Her daughter describes her as polished, a woman with a master’s degree who hung out with college-educated types.
She believes her mother must have hired Taylor to keep house and watch the kids, nothing more. She says that Linda Taylor was the worst nanny they ever had.
Taylor took up residence with the Parks family in 1974. At that point, Patricia Parks was a healthy woman with three young children. Less than a year later, she was dead. At the time, Taylor was out on bail, awaiting her welfare fraud trial.
The Tribune explained that she was now under investigation yet again after authorities “learned that Mrs. Parks reportedly had willed her home to Miss Taylor and had made her the beneficiary of ‘several’ insurance policies and the guardian of her three children.”
“She killed my mother,” Parks-Lee says. She’s so sure about what Linda Taylor did that she says it three more times: “She killed my mother. She killed my mother. I just, I mean—she killed my mother.”
And she didn’t stop even when she got out of prison.