Last Call

A drunken-driving charge landed Soulard bar owner Martina Paulin in jail. It was a one-way trip.

Half-an-hour passed, then an hour, and the clock was still ticking. As night inched its way toward sunrise, four friends waited outside the swinging doors at St. Louis Police headquarters downtown, but there was no sign of Martina. They smoked cigarettes and checked their watches and speculated about what could be causing the delay and fought the urge to nod off -- all the while trying to keep their eyes on the door, expecting that at any minute, a dark-haired woman with startling blue eyes would strut out and regale them with stories about her ordeal in the slammer.

They really weren"t that worried, and why should they have been? At 5 feet 7 inches tall and just 120 pounds, Martina Paulin was a smallish woman, but she could be tough -- tough enough, they figured, to weather a few hours behind bars. Strong-willed and outspoken, Martina was one of the guys, a 35-year-old tomboy who could hold her own at poker nights and football parties where she was the only woman in the room. She"d struck out on her own not long after high school, leaving her Massachusetts hometown behind and creating a new life for herself in St. Louis. She was a go-getter who had realized a longtime dream by opening her own bar in Soulard, called the Shanti. She"d survived radiation and chemotherapy and a long fight with breast cancer. A week earlier, a doctor had declared Martina"s cancer to be in remission. Her favorite song was "Kryptonite," and to her friends, that was fitting -- she seemed indestructible. Martina also had a way with people. Even strangers genuinely liked Martina: They gravitated to her, they did her favors, they gave her cut-rate deals, be it for landscaping or artwork or a bed-and-breakfast in New Orleans. She was friendly and charismatic and a little outrageous. This was a woman who"d boldly wear see-through genie pants to work, show up for a lunch at Arcelia"s in pajamas and slippers or drive through a car wash topless in her Jeep Wrangler, chuckling the whole way. Martina didn"t care what people thought. She was comfortable with herself, and she made other people feel comfortable, too.

She inspired a deep loyalty in her friends, so when one of them got a phone call from a police officer around 11 p.m. Oct. 3, relaying the information that Martina had been in a minor car accident and was being arrested for driving under the influence, her friends mobilized to help.

Teresa Parker opened the Shanti with Martina in December 1999. She says Martina "was a hell of a bartender, totally professional. Everybody loved her."
Teresa Parker opened the Shanti with Martina in December 1999. She says Martina "was a hell of a bartender, totally professional. Everybody loved her."
Teresa Parker opened the Shanti with Martina in December 1999. She says Martina "was a hell of a bartender, totally professional. Everybody loved her."
Jennifer Silverberg
Teresa Parker opened the Shanti with Martina in December 1999. She says Martina "was a hell of a bartender, totally professional. Everybody loved her."

Leisha Boardley, who worked as a cook/bartender at the Shanti, took the call. She told the officer, who was also a friend, to let Martina know she was on her way to post bail. Tell her not to worry, she said. Tell her we love her. Leisha tracked down Martina"s boyfriend, Mike Giasomo, at the Shanti, and they went about trying to gather $450 in cash. One of Mike"s friends came along, and another guy who helps Leisha with breakfast at the Shanti heard of Martina"s predicament. He kicked in some money and volunteered his car, which was large enough to drive all five of them home. It took a bit of time. By the time the group arrived downtown, it was 2 a.m. Leisha paid the bail money, and the woman behind the glass window said Martina would be out shortly.

But "shortly" stretched into more than an hour of waiting outside the swinging door, and still there was no sign of Martina. Every 10 or 15 minutes, Leisha would head back inside the building, past the officer stationed at the front desk, through the metal detector and into the waiting room, where she would inquire -- again -- at the glass window. How long is shortly? she asked. Will Martina be out soon? What"s taking so long? After about an hour, the officer at the desk informed her that someone was sick and needed to go to the hospital. After that was handled, she was told, Martina ought to be right out.

Martina never did come out, and the more time that passed, the more alarmed her friends became. At about 3:45 a.m., a sergeant summoned Leisha inside. She brought Mike with her. The sergeant began to pepper Mike with questions, asking his Social Security number, his address, his relationship to Martina. Mike stopped him. "I was like, "Wait a second," he recalls. "I"ll answer whatever questions you have as long, as you answer my question first: Where is Martina?"

He wasn"t prepared for the answer.

Martina, the sergeant replied, is dead.


For years, Martina Paulin was a fixture in Soulard, whether she was tending bar at Gladstone's or Molly's or, more recently, at the Shanti, the place she and Teresa Parker opened in December 1999 at the corner of Ninth Street and Allen Avenue. In this tight-knit community, where everybody seems to know everyone else's business and practically everybody knew Martina, news of her sudden and unexplained death spread quickly. Jack Smith, a longtime Soulard artist and friend of Martina's, got word just hours after she died, when Leisha and her boyfriend showed up at 5:30 a.m., banging on his front door. Margie Drury, who had worked with Martina at Molly's, found out as she pulled into work late that morning. Rick Kuehn, who tended bar Mondays at the Shanti, heard about Martina from someone he passed on the street. "News travels fast in this neighborhood, good news or bad," Kuehn says.

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