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Chapter 1: Lightening Strikes

A Mind for Murder: The Real-Life Files of a Psychic Investigator
Noreen Renier


As the phone rang for what seemed like the hundredth time that morning, I stifled an urge to throw it out the window. Instead, I thought of all the deadlines I had to meet in the next few hours. It was 1976. DisneyWorld had opened four years earlier, and millions of visitors were pouring into Orlando, Florida, looking for a vacation from their responsibilities. I envied them. As a young single mother of two girls, I rarely found time for myself before or after work. And as director of advertising and public relations for the Hyatt Hotel, my responsibilities didn't let up from the moment I walked in until the day was blessedly over: I had ad layouts to approve, out-of -town VIPs waiting to tour our convention facilities, advertising salespeople to talk to. Over the ringing, I could hear an irate hotel guest snapping at my secretary in the outer office.

With a sigh, I picked up the phone. It was my friend Mary. More aggravation! I liked Mary, but what was she thinking? She knew what my days were like, yet she continued to pester me at the office, asking for help in promoting a lecture by a well-know local psychic, Ann Gehman. She wanted me to book Ann into the Hyatt.

"Just meet Ann, that"s all, I’m asking,” Mary pleaded.

I could think of any number of reasons to refuse: Psychics are all frauds and charlatans. Management will never go for this. And I just don’t have the time! With two daughters to support and no husband to help me, I needed every minute I could get. But then I thought of the precious minutes that I had already wasted this week arguing with Mary. Maybe I should just bite the bullet, meet with her, and get her off my back. I lit a cigarette, leaned back, and gave in. With a sigh, I told Mary I would meet her at Ann’s office at seven that evening--after work.

At least the meeting gave me something different to look forward to. Throughout my hectic day I found myself contemplating the evening’s appointment. I smiled when I tried to picture how Ann would look. I figured she’d be dressed in gold jewelry and colorful skirts. Maybe she would look a witch, dark and mysterious. Or Halloween-style--ugly, with a wart. What would my bosses say when they found out I was booking gypsies into their hotel?

By seven o’clock, when I met Mary at Ann’s office, I was actually looking forward to meeting this exotic creature, and was ready to be ushered into a dark, candle-lit den. So I was a bit disappointed when the receptionist ushered us into a small but expensively furnished room--nicer than mine, in fact. And when Ann rose from behind her elegant French provincial desk to greet us, all of my preconceptions were shattered. Petite and charming, dressed in a tasteful pale blue business suit, she looked like a high-powered executive. No crystal balls in sight.

I must have looked as astounded as I felt, because Ann smiled when she saw my reaction. Seeing me for the skeptic that I was, she asked if I would like a mini-reading. Sure, why not? I was already here.

She closed her eyes and began speaking in a gentle, soothing voice, telling me things about my two teenage girls, Karla and Reené, my recent divorce, the large surgical scar I had on my stomach--she even saw the new chair in my office. I felt a slight tingle run through my body. Oddly, what most impressed me was that she knew about the chair. Mary could have told her about my two girls and my divorce, and even about the scar. But how could she have known about my wonderful new chair? I had just gotten it and hadn’t had time to tell anyone about it. She was still speaking, telling me more, and her accuracy amazed me. The tingling grew stronger.

I had to admit she was fascinating--and not at all what I had expected. Maybe my bosses wouldn’t mind if she graced their hotel. Before the evening was over, I had agreed to promote her forthcoming lecture and rent her the Hyatt’s small auditorium, at the hotel’s lowest price. I didn’t care if got in trouble—this could be interesting.


As the next few days and weeks went by, my fascination did not leave me. I wanted to learn more about psychic phenomena. Maybe people like this really did exist. Ann was real enough. She gave me a few books about psychics and psychic phenomena, and I read them with great curiosity. But I was raised to be skeptical about outlandish claims, and I found it hard to believe the stories: dreams that came true, seeing into the future, visiting the past . . . It was very difficult for me to accept that people could do those things. And none of the books told you how it worked. For my money, a good science-fiction thriller would have been more plausible.

The psychic world, however, wasn’t going to let me off the hook that easily. One morning my friend Joanna called. Joanna was a great person, but I thought she had some odd ideas. She was a Winnebago Indian, and her spiritual connections grew out of that identity. She found spiritual activity in all things and felt everything had “vibrations” and “auras.” Now Joanna was calling to ask me if I wanted to come over and meditate. I had never tried meditation before, but I was willing to give it a go. I had read a little about it, and I knew that it was supposed to relax you. I could certainly use some relaxation!

My best friend, Ellen, would also be there. Ellen reminded me of a redheaded pixie with a large bust--and she had once been a nun. After ten years in a convent, followed by another ten years of marriage, she had lost her faith and now proclaimed that she believed in “nothing.” I wasn’t surprised that she was reluctant to join us.

“Ellen, there’s no hocus-pocus involved in meditation,” I told her firmly. “It just relaxes you.” I was projecting more ease than I felt about the project--I needed some company in this adventure. In the end she agreed to come, but only because it gave her an excuse to get away from her husband’s visiting relatives.

Despite our reservations, we liked it. Joanna taught us how to breathe slowly and evenly and feel our muscles relax, and then to do a mantra meditation. As I focused on a single word, and repeated it over and over, I could feel all of the tension around my responsibilities grow softer and less pressing. It was very pleasant, and we held another meditation session the next week. But at our third meeting, something happened that would change my life forever.

On that early Sunday afternoon Ellen, Joanna, and I sat at my round kitchen table. The hot Florida sun filled the room with bright light. We started off as usual, breathing slowly, growing calm, silently repeating our word. Suddenly, a surge of energy pulsated through my body. I felt as if I had been plugged into an electric circuit and all that electricity was racing through me. My stomach hurt terribly and I cried out from the pain. Then things really started happening. A voice that sounded nothing like mine came from my mouth, saying things I had no control over. I could see passing images as the voice spoke, but my ordinary self wasn’t listening or paying attention. Instead, while the voice spoke I was thinking, What’s happening to me? It was an eerie sensation, it scared me, and I wanted it to stop.

I forced my eyes open and looked around the table. Joanna had tears flowing down her cheeks. She was saying, “That’s Grandma. She called me Ginger Bear and we called my mother Memaw. That was my Grandma. My Grandma. Thank you, Noreen. God bless you. Thank you so much.”

“Joanna, what are you talking about?” I was scared and mystified.

“The message. You gave me a message.” Joanna looked from me Ellen.

“I don’t think she remembers,” Ellen said. Ellen, the realist, reached across the table and took a sip of my cup of coffee. “What the hell is in your coffee, Noreen?”

Joanna murmured softly, her dark eyes still wet from the tears, “You’re a medium, Noreen. You have just spoken to my grandmother, who died three years ago.”

Uh-huh, I thought. Sure. I was too tired to care. Whatever had happened, I was completely exhausted. “My hands feel like they are on fire.” I blurted out, ignoring them both.

Joanne placed her hands on mine and said to Ellen, “Feel this. Heat is just radiating off her hands. Noreen, you may be experiencing healing powers.”

Ellen rolled her clear blue eyes in exasperation.

My hands were very hot, but I found that I could tolerate the sensation after my initial surprise wore off. I could handle what was happening to me physically, but Joanna was frightening me.

“Noreen,” she was saying, “please come over here and take away my headache. I have a violent headache. Use your hands to heal me.”

I didn’t believe in touch-healing any more than I believed in talking to dead people, but I really wanted to put an end to this. So, to pacify her, I did what she asked.

Standing behind her, I placed my hands around her head without touching it, and took a deep breath. At once, that jolt of energy reentered my body, and again the voice came out of my mouth. I thought to myself, I’m going crazy! I bet there’s insanity in my family that my mother never told me about. What the hell’s happening to me? After a few minutes, my eyes opened and I went back to my chair rather sadly, figuring I had really lost it.

But Joanna was thanking me again. “Oh, thank you, my dear, and God bless you. You have made me so happy with your messages. And guess what?”

What?” I responded absently. My head was throbbing.

My headache is gone.”

“Break time! Break time!” Frantically, Ellen made the football “time-out” signal and put a protective arm around me. She really was a good friend, I thought, to stick by me when I had so clearly lost my marbles.

Finally, Joanna went home to tell her family about the message from Grandma. After she left, Ellen looked at me with concern. “Noreen, what the hell is going on? Did you make up that stuff?”

Damned if I knew. “I’m so confused, Ellen. I don’t know what’s going on, but I didn’t make it up.” I thought maybe Joanna’s fervent belief in all things psychic had been working on my subconscious. “Look Ellen,” I said, “Let’s get together tomorrow after work and see what happens when we do it without her around.”


This marked the beginning of our practice sessions. Over the next few months, we met almost every night. After work, I would cook dinner for my girls and rush over to Ellen’s apartment. Her husband, Len, was a reporter for the local newspaper. He worked evenings, so we had the place to ourselves.

After a long meditation, I would enter into what we called the “weird state of consciousness.” Then the tolerant skeptic Ellen and I would approached the problem like research scientists, conducting tests and experiments on me. Unfortunately, we had no real understanding of what we were really doing.

But it wasn’t for lack of trying. In my spare moments at work, I read every book on psychic phenomena I could get my hands on. I mined every resource--from Edgar Cayce to J. B. Rhine’s classic experiments at Duke, from spiritualism to Tibetan Buddhism--for clues about new ways to explore the possibilities of my growing ability to enter deep trances at will. During my evenings with Ellen, I practiced what I had read about. With her cold logic and skepticism, she was the perfect counterbalance and kept me from feeling like I really was losing it.

One night Len came home early and caught us in the middle of a session. Throwing his suit jacket over an empty chair and loosening his tie, he laughed. He was a good-looking Sicilian with a dark eyes and a great body, but he also was a cynical reporter who didn’t believe in psychics.

“When are you two going to start chanting, 'Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble’?” he teased us. “When do the eye of the newt and the liver of the toad come out?”

He was just leaving the room with a beer when I asked impulsively, “Do you want to test me?”

Len stopped and smile strangely at his wife’s nutty friend. Ellen felt tense, and rose to playfully shove her husband out of the kitchen.

“No, wait a minute now,” he said, lightly moving her aside and stepping toward me. “Test you? How?”

“Just give me a name of a deceased relative. I don’t care how far back in history you might want to go. I’ll tell you about him--or her.”

Len sat next me to, sipped his beer, and slowly set the can on the table in front of him. “Albert,” he said. “His name was Albert.” It was a challenge. Len crossed his arms and stared at me. I closed my eyes and wiggled in my seat to get comfortable as I pushed my long dark hair back from my face.

“I want to see Albert. I want to see Len’s Uncle Al--” I opened my eyes and suddenly looked at Len. “Was he your uncle?”

“Could be. Go on.”

I closed my eyes again. Suddenly, images came into my mind and I began to describe his Uncle Albert. “He has dark hair, a receding hairline. He’s got an olive complexion and pock marks on his face--he looks kind of sinister.” Then a cold feeling ran through me when I saw that he had a rope around his neck. Then I saw his feet, in worn brown loafers, swinging a few inches above the floor. He had hung himself. I opened my eyes and looked straight at Len.

I was accurate--Uncle Albert really had hung himself. But Len still wasn’t buying any of it. He pointed to an empty 7-Up can on the table and said, “If you can make that can move, you might convince me you’re psychic.”

“Let’s do it, Ellen,” I urged. Why not? We had never tried anything like that before, but I had read about Russian psychics who could move objects with their minds. It was called psychokinesis. Ellen and I sat on opposite sides of the table with the can between us. Taking deep breaths, we focused our concentration on the 7-Up can.

Naturally, it didn’t move.

Maybe we should both be on the same side of the table. Again, we took deep breaths and focused our minds on the can. It didn’t budge, but a thundering crash came from the bedroom—it sounded like a car had hit the wall. Len rushed into the bedroom to see what happened and came back into the room shaking his head and looking confused. Nothing was amiss in the bedroom. Ellen and I looked at each other smugly, but said nothing and continued our concentration. A few minutes later, a shattering noise made us all turn to look at the large plate glass window in the living room. But nothing had happened. Even I had to admit this was a little strange.

Len stood up abruptly and said, “That’s enough of this foolishness. I need to get some sleep. We’ll see you later, Noreen.”

When I saw Ellen the next day, she told me that Len tossed and turned all night. Every time he closed his eyes, he said he felt something sitting on his face. He kept hearing loud noises in the apartment, and finally ended up sleeping on the couch with the lights and radio on. He told Ellen he didn’t want her to do any more “psychic stuff” with me.

But Ellen was my best friend. Naturally, she ignored his request and we continued our development. Our sessions just ended earlier.


Slowly, this “psychic stuff” began to take root in my life. I didn’t understand it, but I couldn’t deny it either. I was completely captivated by the amazing new world that had opened in my mind. I started neglecting my job. All I wanted to do was practice what other people claimed they could do in the books I was reading.

Once the word got out, the hotel’s maids, secretaries, and waiters became willing participants in my experiments. I would touch their rings or watches, and see pictures in my head that told me about them and their lives. They loved it and I loved it. My boss, however, did not love it. He was becoming suspicious of the heavy employee traffic in and out of my office. I didn’t want to be caught--or stopped--so I devised a new way to practice during office hours.

On Mondays, I would make several phone calls to businesspeople in Orlando, inviting them to see our hotel facilities and join me for a magnificent complementary lunch. After the meal, I would casually mention psychic phenomena. If they didn’t scream “evil” or hold up a cross, I’d pursue the subject further. Finally, I’d be pulling off their watch or ring and giving them my psychic impressions. I hoped to see things they could confirm--body scars, the place where they lived, what their loved ones looked like, and the kind of car they drove. Mostly, I could. My accuracy amazed my luncheon guests, and it still amazed me. When I look back on those days, I am astonished that I lasted as long as I did at my job. I think I was driven to do all these impromptu readings just to prove to myself that my strange talent was real.

The exciting new ability that had been switched on that morning in Joanna’s kitchen didn’t go away, and I didn’t want it to. I loved being able to do this, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I was hooked. To no one’s surprise except my own, after three months of practicing my psychic abilities at home and at the office, and letting my work slip at the hotel, I was fired.

Some psychic I was turning out to be. I didn’t even see it coming. ...

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