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Woman power - part three: Chicago’s diabolical females, past and present

"Chicago May" was as ruthless as she was pretty
"Chicago May" was as ruthless as she was prettyunknown

A big city attracts criminals and sometimes spawns them too. Chicago, at one time the home of Murderess Row, has had some tough cookies. Here are the stories of two who wielded their woman power on their prey. They messed up a lot of peoples’ lives.

ANN DUIGNAN (“Chicago May”)

Chicago May, also known as “the Queen of Crooks” was born Ann Duignan in Ireland in 1871. As a teen, she stole the family fortune, bought herself a lavish wardrobe and set off to America with the dream of becoming a classy prostitute.

She was a good looking woman with a great figure, long auburn hair and loads of witty charm. She became a stage entertainer and used this role to lure clients. She amassed a small fortune by combining prostitution with robbery and blackmail.

She lived like a drifter using several aliases throughout North and South America. All the while, she reveled in a life of luxury with furs and jewels, stayed at opulent hotels, enjoyed fine dining and traveled first class.

While in Chicago, she ran her schemes on visitors to the World’s Fair and was nicknamed “Chicago May.” She continued her life of prostitution right up until the end of her life at age of 59. Although it wouldn’t be the choice of most gals, her dream had come true: she lived the life she wanted, on her own terms.

LINDA TAYLOR (“Welfare Queen”)

Linda Taylor was dubbed the “Welfare Queen” by the Chicago Tribune and brought to light in part by Ronald Reagan during the 1976 presidential campaign.

The funny thing is when Reagan first pointed to her as an example of how the system can be abused, folks cried “racism!” They thought he had made up a fake person and was trying to make it look as if blacks were abusing welfare. He was vindicated when it came out that Linda Taylor was indeed a very real person and he wasn’t being racist but instead citing a noxious criminal to point out that the system was riddled with loopholes.

Turns out Linda Taylor was one of the early identity thieves – but she did so much worse: she also stole babies. In fact, the Fronczak kidnapping, one of the most publicized (and unsolved) cases of child abductions in the 60’s, may have been pulled off by her.

She was attractive and engaging, longed to live a glamorous life and did just that. It was reported she would drive to the welfare office to pick up checks in her Cadillac, one of several cars she owned including a Lincoln. When the law caught up to her and she was brought to court, she wore jewelry and furs, stylish hair and usually an ostentatious hat. The public was fascinated.

It was said she operated in 14 states using 127 aliases, claimed to be mother to 14 children, was using 50 Chicago-based addresses and 25 phone numbers. She was charged with welfare fraud of $8,000, but that was obviously only the tip of the iceberg as it was estimated to be more like $150,000. She was rolling in dough, but she was so slippery, nothing much could be substantiated.

Taylor was also suspected of kidnapping and baby trafficking. One of her sons said she would sometimes leave the house in the morning dressed as a nurse and come home later with a baby. She also was a babysitter and nanny and would abscond with the children in her care.

Homicide was postulated too. She was a voodoo practitioner/ “spiritual adviser,” and after one of her clients turned up dead, Taylor used her credit card. But instead of pursuing this case, it got sidelined so they could pin welfare fraud on her.

It seemed she was collecting several forms of public assistance: food stamps, social security, Medicaid, Aid to Families with Dependent Children. But there was a lack of solid evidence to prove it all, so the state ended up only indicting her with having stolen $8,000 from the public coffer. The infuriated E.D. of the Legislative Advisory Committee on Public Aid called her “the biggest welfare cheat of all time.” Judge Mark Jones sentenced her to two to six years for theft and one for perjury, with the terms to be served consecutively.

Her love life was interesting: her good looks and charm seemed to mesmerize men. Apparently she had been married at least eight times. Her wardrobe of 30 wigs helped render her “a master of disguise.” The A.P. was told, “It appears she can be any age she wishes, from the early 20s to the early 50’s. She is black but is able to pass herself off as Spanish, Filipino, white and black."

It was her eighth husband who got suspicious: he noticed she had five mailboxes in different names at their South Side residence. He reported her, and she fled. Eventually she was arrested in Arizona and brought back to Chicago, when it was discovered she was married to three men concurrently.

Taylor pretty much escaped the justice she should have had coming to her. But the upside is that all this drew attention to a faulty system, and since then, investigations into welfare fraud greatly escalated and are now taken much more seriously. After all, in this crime, taxpayers are the victims.

Till this day, law enforcement is still trying to solve all those kidnappings and identify the real Paul Joseph Fronczak. And sadly, some who were raised as her “kids” are still trying to figure out who they really are.

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These articles have been about some women of Chicago who wielded their woman power with bad intent. But there were many more who used woman power to make a positive difference and make this world a better place.

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AUTHOR NOTES:

Most of the information on “Chicago May” was gleaned from this source.

Much of the information gathered about the “Welfare Queen” was from this source.