Linda Bishop’s heartbreaking story of loneliness will be shared by the country

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

  • Linda Bishop is shown with daughter Caitlin Murtagh during better times. Courtesy

Monitor columnist
Published: 9/8/2018 8:21:46 PM

Once, Linda Bishop was alone in life, falling through cracks in the state’s mental health system and then seeking warmth in an abandoned house in Concord.

She died there from starvation 10 years ago, switching on a media spotlight that has included a documentary called God Knows Where I Am, directed by Emmy-winning brothers Jedd and Todd Wider.

The film was shown in limited release, touching crowds in New York City and Los Angeles in 2016 and hitting Red River Theatre last year. Now, though, Bishop’s story will be told nationwide through a showing on Public Broadcasting Service on Oct. 15 at 10 p.m.

The film reveals Bishop’s nightmarish life, caused by mental illness first evident in her 40s, and a system that allowed her to leave the State Hospital with no place to live and no one to watch over her.

Actress Lori Singer narrates the film, taking passages from a pair of notebooks – diaries found beside Bishop’s body, which were discovered in May of 2008. Officials estimated she had died about four months earlier.

The PBS nationwide broadcast was announced in an email from Linda’s sister, Joan Bishop, who worked in the Concord court system for 30 years before retiring and moving to Florida.

“It’s so exciting to know that the message from this film will be seen nationwide,” Joan Bishop wrote in her email. “It would be such an accomplishment if there could truly be a factual, honest dialogue about these issues so that those suffering from mental illness could receive the help they need.”

Linda Bishop had lived a rich life before the onset of mental illness, later diagnosed as bipolar disorder, changed everything. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in art history, traveled through Europe by train, got married and had a daughter.

But Bishop’s behavior grew bizarre about 20 years ago, leading to a series of events that pushed her daughter, Caitlin Bishop Murtagh, and Joan Bishop out of her life.

She was arrested for disorderly conduct in New York City near Ground Zero shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and committed involuntarily to Bellevue Hospital Center.

She later suffered bouts of depression and paranoia, was found living in an abandoned building in Colebrook, near the Canadian border, was arrested for driving under the influence and tossed a cup of urine at a corrections officer.

Bishop again was involuntarily committed – this time in Concord – for a year when, in January of 2007, the State Hospital petitioned to name Joan Bishop as her sister’s guardian. That request, however, was denied by the probate court, which believed that Linda had a place to live and would continue taking her medication.

During that time, Linda Bishop had become estranged from her daughter and sister. “She talked about me as being the terrible, evil person who was the enemy,” Joan Bishop said, shortly before the documentary premiered at Red River. “She talked about things that were not true. No one bothered to fact-check.”

Legally, Joan had no right to her sister’s medical records, nor was she told about Linda’s release date, Oct. 3, 2007.

Soon after, Linda Bishop broke into an old farmhouse on Mountain Road, where she lived on rainwater, snow and the apples she had gathered at night at a nearby tree.

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.

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

“I’ve been dealing with this since I was 13,” Caitlin Bishop Murtagh said shortly after the settlement.

Linda Bishop’s plight shed a spotlight on the delicate balance between civil rights and the state’s role in providing care for the mentally ill.

Her story grabbed the attention of the Wider brothers, who hauled in a tall crane to Mountain Road for air shots above the farmhouse and surrounding area.

Finished three years later, the film went on tour and was shown in Los Angeles and New York City before it played last year at Red River, where Joan Bishop, Murtagh and the Widers answered questions from a packed audience.

The land and farmhouse, built in 1849, were sold last year for $225,000, and the house has since been replaced by three colonial homes. The documentary on PBS will explain to the country what it once meant to a lonely woman.

“There’s not a lot of talk about mental illness and the way it pertains to references in the movie,” Murtagh said in April of 2017, a few days before the Concord showing. “It needs to be shared more.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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