It is a house of horrors, and it stands alone on Pulaski Highway, a boarded, narrow two-story brick rowhouse built in 1920, flanked by a freshly mowed lawn. It's all but abandoned next to a Dunkin' Donuts and a BGE substation on a stretch of fast-food restaurants, gas stations and strip clubs.
Sister Myra was killed here back in 1994, beheaded by a deranged man who thought the matriarch of one of the most powerful Gypsy clans in the country had put a hex on him. The funeral for Sister Myra - or Deborah Stevens, 62 - brought hundreds of Gypsies to the city to pay homage to their fallen leader in a three-day drunken celebration. The funeral procession required an escort from nine police motorcycles.
Grieving family members vowed to destroy this house and its memories. But I passed by this week and noticed it still standing, 15 years later, a sad monument now turned into an advertisement. Motorists going both ways on Pulaski Highway see large black-and-yellow signs for Roberts Discount Bedding & Furniture.
I wanted to know what had become of this property and why it's still there. I chatted with the victim's attorney, Preston Pairo Jr., who is now 80 and retired, but he apologized for being of little help. So I followed the arrows on the billboard to another place across the street. It was four rowhouses converted into Roberts Discount Furniture, the Formstone siding blanketed in ads.
Inside the empty entranceway, a security guard handed me a map to Roberts Discount warehouse on South Grundy Street, where a salesman shook his head, explaining that the store owner also owned Sister Myra's old house but would most likely not want to talk about it. "That was a long time ago," he said.
Property records, which list the furniture store as the owner of the house, confirm that it was purchased for $40,000 from John P. Stevens on March 30, 1998. I reached the owner by telephone, but he would talk to me only if I agreed not to use his name. Although his identity is part of the public record, I reluctantly went along with his request.
It's a simple story, he told me. "Mom died, children sold it."
He uses the property for storage (there is a padlock on one of the boards in a doorway) and for a place for his employees to park.
I also wanted to know what happened to the man who killed Sister Myra, Douglas Thomas Clark, who was then 28. He pleaded guilty but not criminally responsible to first-degree murder and was sent to Clifton T. Perkins for the criminally insane. It's up to the state when to release him and the presiding judge warned back in 1995, "That could be never."
So I was shocked to learn that Clark had been released to the care of his mother six years ago. Citing privacy concerns, state officials who oversaw his treatment would not divulge more details, and the file is buried in the basement of the downtown courthouse. I'll follow up once clerks retrieve it, which I'm told will be by Monday.
So this tragic case lingers, the memory of Sister Myra marked only by a stone where she is buried next to her husband at Western Cemetery, the flowers put there 15 years ago in the shape of an open palm now long gone. One of her sons has died, and I couldn't reach the others.
But the house the fortuneteller had lived in for decades still stands on Pulaski Highway, shuttered, once a place of fortunes, then of murder, and now a brick billboard for discount furniture.