×

2018 Stories of the Year: An old story about a sick woman lives on

  • ABOVE: Linda Bishop with her daughter, Caitlin Murtagh, in an undated photo. Courtesy

  • The house where Linda Bishop was found on Mountain Road in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Excavators work on the empty fields near the now demolished house on Mountain Road where Linda Bishop died 10 years ago. GEOFF FORESTER

  • LEFT: The house and barn where Linda Bishop was found on Mountain Road in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • Linda Bishop



Monitor staff
Saturday, December 29, 2018

Not even the passage of 10 years since her tragic death could dull interest in Linda Bishop, the Rochester woman whose story of mental illness, shown in a documentary on two major networks this year, attracted lots of attention from local readers and beyond.

The movie, called God Knows Where I am, was broadcast on PBS before moving to Netflix, where it remains to this day. It had been shown in Los Angeles and New York City, then moved to Red River Theatre in the spring of 2017.

There, in front of a full house, the movie was followed by a question-and-answer session that included Joan Bishop, Linda’s sister who worked in the court system in Concord and emerged as a key player in this sad story, and Linda’s daughter, Caitlin Bishop Murtagh. In addition, the documentary’s filmmakers, Emmy-winning brothers Jedd and Todd Wider, were in attendance, willing to answer questions.

And while the movie played well in theaters in 2016-07, its exposure grew enormously when it was shown on television.

PBS aired the documentary in September, its run on Netflix began in November, and the effect Bishop’s story had on audiences was profound. The Monitor wrote about the movie’s TV appearances following its release on both networks, which triggered national attention to our stories about Bishop going back 10 years.

Her plight shed a spotlight on the balance between civil rights and the state’s role in providing care for the mentally ill – and it’s one of the Monitor’s top stories of the year.

Bishop graduated from college with a degree in art history, was a voracious reader and raised a daughter with her husband.

In her 40s, however, mental illness caused erratic, confrontational behavior that saw Bishop get arrested several times, spend time in mental health facilities, including Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City, and disappear for long stretches, leaving her young daughter to fend for herself.

She was involuntarily admitted to the New Hampshire State Hospital and spent a year there. Early in 2007, the hospital petitioned to name Joan Bishop her sister’s guardian, but a probate court judge would not allow it, believing Linda had a place to live and would continue taking her medication.

At the behest of Linda, citing privacy rights, Joan Bishop was denied access to her sister’s medical records and wasn’t told her release date.

From there, Linda, who had signed paperwork insisting she had a place to live, made her way to East Concord, where she broke into an abandoned house sometime late in 2007 and lived out the rest of her life there, just a few hundred yards away from the Monitor on a road with cars passing throughout each day.

She kept a journal in a pair of notebooks. The entry from early December 2007 read, “I’m so hurt and wounded and there is such a huge amount of pain and anger and sadness in me – which I can’t let go of.”

Bishop’s last entry was dated Jan. 13, 2008. The page was blank, and she was found four months later, on May 3, by a potential buyer for the house. The notebooks lay beside her body. She was 52. The cause of death was starvation; the apple trees on the property didn’t produce enough fruit to last the winter. She died inside the house, but in plain sight of the community.

Two years later, Bishop’s daughter received an out-of-court settlement of $275,000 from a wrongful death suit against New Hampshire Hospital.

Fast forward, and the release of God Knows Where I am two years ago succinctly brought a complex story into focus, and its TV broadcast in 2018 has only kept this tragedy and issue alive.

Joan Bishop has since retired and moved to Florida. Bishop Murtagh lives and works back in Rochester.

And the old farmhouse near the corner of Route 132 and Sewalls Falls Road is gone, torn down and replaced this year by newly built, vinyl-sided houses.