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It began with a 1976 stump speech. Then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan began sharing an anecdote about a nameless “woman from Chicago” who allegedly abused government assistance program to fund a lavish lifestyle, in order to gain traction on the campaign trail.
Press quickly dubbed her the “welfare queen,” and she was long assumed to be a mythic political trope.
Then in 2013, Slate writer Josh Levin wrote a viral profile on the actual woman on whom that trope was based: Linda Taylor.
And though she was a lawbreaker, Levin says public assistance fraud was just the tip of the iceberg:
“What I found was a woman who destroyed lives, someone far more depraved than even Ronald Reagan could have imagined. 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. For those who knew her decades ago, Linda Taylor was a terrifying figure.”
Levin has since expanded this profile into a new book, The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth. He joins us to discuss the book, its accompanying podcast, and the chilling true story of a woman whose outrageous villainy may very well have been underestimated.
Text and show produced by Stacia Brown.
- Josh Levin National editor for Slate, host of the podcasts ‘Hang Up and Listen’ and ‘The Queen,’ and author of The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth
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