THE MURDER OF A SHOPPING BAG LADY by Brian Kates

THE MURDER OF A SHOPPING BAG LADY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

On April 23, 1981, a 67-year-old shopping bag lady was found dead in a parking lot in New York's Hell's Kitchen. She had been stabbed repeatedly, badly beaten, and possibly raped. Her murderer was never found, but the author here, a newspaper reporter assigned to the story, through diligent research was able to reclaim her life story for posterity. Phyllis Iannotta was the daughter of Italian immigrants who settled in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Well into maturity she cared for her aging parents, providing their sole support, while her wastrel brother disappeared into a lifo of crime. For a decade after their death, Iannotta was able to pursue a life of her own, renting a room from a family she came to love, and even falling in love, although sadly her passion was for a married man. At 50, though, she was claimed by a disease diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia and, as a result of a mental-health care system that all acknowledge is without resources to treat these desperate cases, Iannotta was out on the streets. Kates follows her through her victimization on the streets. He even works as a volunteer at the Dwelling Place, a shelter run by nuns, where Iannotta found respite from her hand-to-mouth existence. And he dramatically evokes her last night when she begged to be allowed to sleep at the shelter but was turned away for the want of a bed. Sitting on the stoop of the house next door, she was approached by her murderer, who presumably coerced her into the parking lot. Kates' reconstruction of the life and death of Phyllis Iannotta is moving. More than that, it stands as a powerful indictment of a social system that cannot care for its sick and needy.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1985
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich