Paranormal connections: seeking answers from the other side in Pennsylvania


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  • The reasons are many.

    Carol Polo of Westmoreland County is desperate to know who murdered her 22-year-old daughter, Samantha Lang. Vicki Scheller of Butler County was determined to recover the body of her son, Mickey, 21.

    Former first lady Nancy Reagan sought to protect her husband, then-President Ronald Reagan. Former state Sen. Jane Orie and her sister, former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, wanted to learn the outcome of the criminal investigations that eventually would prove to be their undoing.

    Psychic investigators look into unsolved murder

    Psychic investigators are hired to look into the unsolved murder of Samantha Lang. (Video by Connor Mulvaney; 5/15/2014)

    Kara Seskey of Ross seeks proof of life beyond the grave, and Mandi Babkes of Lawrenceville aspires to greater self-knowledge by “peeling away the onion layers of [her] existence.”

    From the famous and the infamous to the conventional and the kooky, many people seek to be enriched, entertained, improved or comforted by those who claim to tap into the energy of the stars in the sky, the spirits in the room, the angels on your shoulder.

    “This is more mainstream than many realize,” said Susan Glasier, executive director of Lily Dale, a New York community of about four dozen spiritual mediums and 250 permanent residents. Based in Chautauqua County, Lily Dale has been a center of the spiritualist movement since 1916 and is expected to draw about 32,000 visitors this year, many from the Pittsburgh area. The community’s nine-week summer season runs from June 27-Aug. 31.

    National surveys back up Ms. Glasier’s contention that the seemingly unconventional is actually fairly conventional. According to a 2005 Gallup poll, roughly three in four Americans profess at least one paranormal belief. 

    Pat DiFiore, recently retired from Cranberry Public Library, said the speaking program at the library that consistently has the biggest draw is a pair of Butler County sister psychics, Suzanne Vincent and Jean McKenzie Vincent, who have been part of the library’s speaking series for about five years.

    The library's meeting rooms hold about 50 people, and Ms. DiFiore has moved the program to a bigger area, "and, even though that had space for 80, we’ve had to turn people away,” she said.

    Suzanne Vincent of Butler said she believes those who dabble in the paranormal are exploring their personal sense of connection to “the other side.”

    “Everybody has an ability,” she said. “You might get a vibration or a dream or a hunch or an intuition. Maybe you don’t give it much notice. But, it could be an angel or a spirit guide coming to you.''

    She said she became aware of her connection when she was about 4 years old and she received a “visit” from her deceased grandmother. Over the years, as she pursued a conventional life as a hairstylist and caregiver, practicing her Roman Catholic faith, she increasingly began tuning in to her abilities as a spiritual medium. She said she uses them — at no charge — to help others. She and her sister recently came to the aid of two mourning mothers, she said.

    In October 2013, Ms. Scheller of Franklin asked the sisters for their help in locating her son. Ms. Scheller said she knew from Aug. 7, 2013, the first day that her son, Mickey, was missing, that he was dead. “But, I wanted to know where he was. I wanted that closure,” she said.

    Ms. Scheller credits the sisters for giving her that. With his shirt in hand, they drove to some of the areas her son was known to have frequented until they reached a point where the sisters said they felt his “energy.” Because of rainy weather and the terrain, Ms. Scheller had to wait until the next day, Oct. 20, to return to the site. Her son’s body was found nearby in his Jeep.

    “I know it sounds strange, but we were driving around and, all of a sudden, they both just had this feeling. And they were right,” Ms. Scheller recalled. “It was 74 days of Mickey being gone, and it was a very bad time of our lives. Without them, we couldn’t have put all the things together that we put together to find him. They did it out of the kindness and they answered our prayer in helping us find him,” she said. She would not discuss the details of her son’s cause of death.

    More recently, the sisters were asked to help Ms. Polo of Latrobe. On April 23, they met at a house in Derry Township — the place where Ms. Polo’s daughter was killed on March 27, 2007 — in an attempt to help Ms. Polo learn something about the circumstances of the homicide.

    “It’s been all this time and her murder is still unsolved. As a mother, you’re willing to try anything,” Ms. Polo said.

    As for her impression of the encounter: “It was amazing. They said they could hear her laugh. She had such a distinctive laugh and they described it. And they gave us the initials of her killer … I’m a believer,’’ Ms. Polo said.

    Police investigation into the murder is ongoing.

    ’Angel Ladies’

    The stakes generally aren’t as high for most of the people who seek the input of two local women called the “Angel Ladies.” Charlotte Ramsey and Eileen Miller do phone and in-person readings and consistently pack the dining room of the Flowers in the Attic Restaurant and Gift Shop near Penn Hills. Although Ms. Ramsey and Ms. Miller could not be reached for comment, Donna Toellner, who handles the reservations for the Angel Ladies luncheons at the business ($175 per person for the meal plus a 15-minute private reading, “bring your own wine”), said the women are “always very much in demand.” 

    "They’re healers. They’re positive. They channel spirits and relay what is being told to them [by angel guides] to the people they are reading,” Ms. Toellner said, noting that patrons appear to be at once entertained and enriched.

    Martie Hughes, who lives at Lily Dale, is a community board member and a medium. A former CEO of an ad agency in Rochester, N.Y, she said she does about 400 readings annually. The prices of readings vary by medium from about $60 to $100 for a half-hour. All mediums at Lily Dale are tested by the board before they are certified as “legitimate” and allowed to conduct readings within the community.

    Ms. Hughes said she has developed over time what the average person might consider their “intuitive ability, their flash of insight, their premonition.''

    “What I do is not hoodoo-voodoo. I connect with the god of your own understanding and bring through messages of guidance, comfort and healing … I know what I know and I don’t know why I know it. I pick up the energy and see what needs to be cleared up, what issue needs to be responded to and pass it on [to the client],” Ms. Hughes said. “This can be so helpful to a person.”

    Ms. Seskey, 53, said she had her first reading when she was in her 20s and has had about 10 since. She said she finds “a lot of comfort in knowing that when my loved one has passed, they’re not just in a box. They’re on the other side and they’re happy and they’re still around.”

    She believes she has been given evidence by mediums — total strangers — that they actually have connected with her deceased family members and she has received messages from the beyond that have helped her make critical decisions in her life.

    “I’ve had experiences where [the readings ended] and I said, ‘Heck, yeah, that was legitimate,’” she said.

    ’Cosmic Internet’ connection

    Tamar George of Mt. Lebanon sees herself as a psychic coach. At 66 years old, she has been doing this work for 28 years.

    “It’s like I’m connected to the cosmic Internet. I’m downloading information for people because I’ve learned to do it,” she said.

    Most people who visit her want information about relationships.

    “I don’t predict the future. Everybody’s future is based on their free will. You’re creating your own reality at every moment and you’re running into everyone else’s free will and reality. But, I can give insight into how to change your perspective and how to work with the other person’s perspective. I can say what path you’re traveling with the help of your [spirit or angel guides].”

    Her friend, Linda Cartwright, a resident psychic at MoonStones bookstore in Dormont, has worked in the field of the paranormal since 1976. She is 69 years old. She said each person skilled in the paranormal taps into that alternative space in different ways, from cards to tea leaves to spirits/angels and astrological signs.

    Everyone has spirit or angel guides, Ms. Cartwright said. “They are with you through every step of the way of your life. Some people are more adept at [communicating with them].” 

    Ms. Babkes, 37, who is certified as a “health practitioner and healer” by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, said psychics have helped her to understand herself better.

    With a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s degree in natural health from Clayton College in Alabama, she works with people who are “physically and emotionally sick,” using a holistic approach that combines talk therapy with nutrition to help people heal themselves. She sees the use of psychics and mediums as another way to improve herself.

    “I don’t consider myself a psychic or a medium. I don’t talk to the dead. But I’ve had various readings done [by people who do] and it’s an extension of what I’m able to do for myself,” she said. “There are so many amazing, wonderful ways to heal ourselves. Seeking out someone who can connect with my angel guide is another way for me to peel away the onion layers of my existence.” 

    Ms. Babkes said there’s a big part of the world — conventional people who spend most of their time doing conventional things — “who go to psychics and mediums because they’re wanting answers. Some people can get all they want from their doctors and their medications and their therapists [and their religion], but there’s a lot of people who realize that the conventional ways don’t always satisfy. For them, the mystical is that additional element that offers consolation and revelation.”

    Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or 724-772-9180.


    Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or at 724-772-9180.

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