The farmhouse, shown in a documentary, is gone, to be replaced by something more hopeful


Monitor columnist

Published: 12-17-2017 11:06 PM

The big white farmhouse on Mountain Road, near Sanborn and Sewalls Falls roads, is gone, razed to make room for new homes and families.

It stood lonely for years, with a blank expression of chipping paint and rotting wood that, to passing drivers, blended into the landscape like the anonymous woman who lived inside nearly 10 years ago.

That woman, Linda Bishop, with her downward spiral into mental illness and the refuge she sought at 393 Mountain Road after slipping through the cracks, attracted a nationally known magazine, a pair of Oscar-nominated filmmakers, Seacoast dailies and the local columnist.

It was a story that had to be told. Needed to be told, in fact.

Look at the property today and you’ll see acres of snow, some raised on high terrain, with the roar of excavation equipment in the air during business hours and tangled branches jutting out.

Take those machines and builders away, however, and it’s a windswept frozen wasteland, not unlike an icy planet, and it’s where Linda Bishop lived – when the house was empty and up for sale – with that sort of isolation the last few months of her life.

Maybe she was alive there for two months, maybe three, living on apples and rainwater, writing in her journal and hoping one day she’d figure out why she’d lost hope.

Paperwork shows a builder named Jeffrey Knight, a member of the Bow Budget Committee, bought the house, built in 1849, and land last August for $225,000.

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The paperwork also says the lot will be turned into a seven-lot subdivision, with three homes facing Mountain Road and four facing Sewalls Falls Road.

What the paperwork doesn’t show, however, is the pain and drama connected to the house, as much a part of it as the wood used to build it.

Nearly a decade ago, I went to the farmhouse and made some calls to attach an identity to the person who’d been found dead there on May 3, 2008, and I learned about a woman with all the potential in the world.

Bishop earned a degree in art history at the University of New Hampshire, traveled through Europe, got married, had a daughter.

I discovered the story behind the story from Linda’s sister, Joan Bishop, who worked for the court system in Concord for 30 years before retiring recently and moving to Florida.

“She was always very smart and very funny and interested in different things,” Joan told me last spring, shortly before a documentary about Linda’s life, “God Knows Where I Am,” was shown at Red River Theatres. “She wanted to know about things she didn’t know about. She loved gardening, books, music. She never had a TV in her house because she’d rather read or listen to music. A fun person. A cool person.”

And, at the age of about 40, a person living with of schizoaffective disorder, bipolarity and psychosis. She would abandon her teenage daughter, Caitlin Murtagh, become highly paranoid, get arrested for drunken driving and end up hospitalized in New York City.

The story moved to a yearlong stay at New Hampshire Hospital starting in October 2006. From there, after fooling a judge into believing that Joan wasn’t needed as a guardian, and fooling the state hospital’s superintendent into believing she had a place to live upon her release, Linda disappeared from view.

She broke into that Mountain Road farmhouse sometime in October 2007 and lived on apples she’d gather on the property.

But winter came, the apple trees died and Linda starved to death. She kept a journal in a pair of notebooks, with the last entry, a blank page, dated Jan. 13.

Her entry from early December read, “It’s sad to be dying when you thought you had so much to look forward to and to live for. 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.”

Linda’s story, an indictment on the state’s mental-health system, was featured in the New Yorker three years later, and the nationwide release of a documentary by brothers Jedd and Todd Wider came last spring.

Murtagh, who received a $275,000 settlement from the state hospital, told me in April, “There’s not a lot of talk about mental illness and the way it pertains to references in this movie. It needs to be shared more.”

We need to stop here. Stop so we can move forward, into another area of the story that somehow got lost among all the heartache and headlines.

There was a family history at 393 Mountain Road, long before any of this occurred. Lora Goss and her brother, Brian Smith, were listed as homeowners and appeared in the documentary.

Reached by phone, Goss, who lives in Haverhill, declined to say a lot on the record, telling me she thought the story had run its course and there was nothing left to say.

When asked if the farmhouse sat abandoned and unsold for so long because of its tragic past, Goss went on the record for a moment, but only if I agreed to include her thoughts on city officials during the process.

“Anybody who is able to reason would understand it was a long time in being able to sell it,” Goss said. “There’s the unreasonableness of the planning board, and then you compound that with the tragedy of Linda’s death.”

Nothing else Goss said was for print. But if you know the property on Mountain Road, with its 21 acres and its field and its grass, and if you remember the farmhouse, all 2,288 square feet, it’s not hard to imagine children running and jumping and playing there on a warm summer day.

Time for a fresh start.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, or on Twitter @rayduckler.)