The doors of perception opened to loss and deception when Sister White gave a reading

Most experiences with psychics, whether at a psychic fair or a psychic house party, are fun, droll, hopeful, but likely viewed as a lark -- not something that might worm its way into your head and fester like gangrene. The experience of Tina and her mother was not a lark.

One day in May 1997, 19-year-old Tina found a flier on her windshield. "Sister White," it read. "Psychic Readings. Advice on Business, Marriage and Love Affairs. Bring your problems to me -- I will help solve them." The flier, which featured small pictures of an open red palm and a disembodied hand holding a set of playing cards, gave an address on Butler Hill Road in South County. Tina had never been to a fortune-teller, but the flier intrigued her. It had been just three months since her father, only 43, had died suddenly of a heart attack -- and Tina was still searching for an answer, hoping someone could pull back the curtain and explain. She went to see Sister White. At first, the visit was unremarkable.

"I felt comfortable," she recalls. "The office was neat and carpeted. There was a big-screen TV in the waiting area." Sister White -- a small woman in her early 50s with dark hair and dark eyes -- appeared. There were open sores on her face and neck, about the size of quarters, as if the skin had been chafed with sandpaper. "We went into a backroom, and she took my hands and gave me a reading," Tina says. "It lasted 15-20 minutes. (It was) nothing exciting."

Madam Mae, a longtime Wellston palmist, died in 1989 at 92. Her business and name are being carried on by her granddaughter Phyllis.
Ed Italo
Madam Mae, a longtime Wellston palmist, died in 1989 at 92. Her business and name are being carried on by her granddaughter Phyllis.

Tina then told Sister White about her father and asked the fateful question: "Is my dad all right?"

At this point, says Tina, Sister White's demeanor took a turn. "She said she got a "bad feeling' about my father. She said he had been cursed by somebody our family knew, someone jealous of him. She kept saying "curse' and that our family had been put under a spell. I was mesmerized and scared by all this. I wondered if this was another side to why my father passed away." The woman told Tina she needed to bring in her mother to "talk about this curse." She was emphatic about that. But Tina's mother, Kathy, 42 years old and newly widowed, was not keen on talking to a psychic about her dead husband.

Tina won out, however, and two days after Tina's initial visit, mother and daughter went back to the neat modern office on Butler Hill Road. Kathy went in by herself while Tina stayed in the waiting area. In the course of her reading, Sister White again gave dire warnings of a curse on the family. But this time, she got specific: The curse was on her husband's lifetime earnings -- once he had reached $500,000, a "deadline" would be met, and he was destined to cash out. Permanently. But the curse was still in effect, explained Sister White, the money still tainted. Unless something was done, Kathy and her daughters would suffer the consequences. It would tear them apart.

Over the next two months, Kathy would become intimately involved with Sister White. She began going on her own, as many as a dozen times, more frequently than even Tina knew. "She would come home very upset, scared to death," recalls Tina. "She cried every night."

One day, Tina says, Sister White told Kathy to come into the bedroom in the rear of the office. She instructed Kathy to remove her clothing and lie on the bed. Kathy did. An egg, a cloth and some other things had been placed on a dresser. Sister White rolled the egg around on Kathy's abdomen. She talked of removing the bad spirits that had collected inside Kathy. Then, says Tina, Sister White took the egg -- which, like a superabsorbent paper towel, had supposedly sopped up all the icky psychic residue -- and "when she cracked it open, there was black stuff inside."

Other exercises that Sister White required of Kathy included stuffing as much as $2,000 cash in her clothing; sleeping with large amounts of cash in her bed; and collecting a picture of her husband, along with his work clothes and shoes, and burying the items in the frontyard with the shoes facing the house. That was two years ago. As far as Tina knows, the mundane talismans are still there.

THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS DOESN'T TOLERATE SISTER WHITE or any of her mystic cohorts. Interestingly, lawmakers validated psychic activity long ago by prohibiting it. The city's "Seer Law," city ordinance 15.86.010 (circa 1912), actually prohibits "foretelling knowledge of future events of another's life or affairs." Violating the ordinance is a misdemeanor offense.

Thanks to the ordinance, all practitioners of the "crafty" arts hang their shingles (neon signs, in some cases) outside the city limits. And although it's likely that many are doing business, by word-of-mouth and personal reference, a check of the Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages under "Psychics & Mediums" shows 33 listings. Most are national hotlines with a get-acquainted 800 number leading to a pay-per-reading 900 number. Among these are celebrity-endorsed psychic readers, including LaToya Jackson's Psychic Network, Connie Francis Love Enhancement Psychic Line and Brigitte Nielsen's Witches of Salem: "Talk live to authentic witches. If you enjoy talking to psychics, you're ready for the next level. You're ready for witches."

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