A few hours after his death from cancer in October 2002, the spirit of alleged Bonanno Crime Family Captain Joseph A. Taormina visited his wife Marianne, she says.
His return from death was no great surprise. Marianne Taormina had seen spirits of this kind. She had had vision from spirits from when she was 18 years old.
But the fact that he wanted to come back might have surprised her a little, since she had divorced him over his alleged crime-related activities (for which he was indicted).
"He wasn't much of a husband," she said last week. "I gave him chance after chance to give up that life, but he never could."
His spirit admitted the failings his mortal person could not, she says.
"He told me he hadn't done as much as he could have in life, but after death he would look after me," she said.
In October, Marianne opened "A Breath Away," a center for spiritual encounters, where she might be able to, for a fee, help other people reach the spirits around them.
Marianne, who helped raise her four children as a credit manager, was born in Jersey City, raised in Union City, and lived in North Bergen after her marriage of Joseph. In 1983, partly at the urging of her sister and partly because she had heard Secaucus schools were great, Marianne moved to Secaucus.
She remembered that her first experience with spirits came after she came home from a date with her future husband.
"I was sleeping in my bed when a man walked into the room," she said. "He came in from the right. My spirits always come in from the right. He just stood there at the end of my bed. I saw him as clear as day. He came night after night. I was so scared I hid under the covers. I told my mother, and she said someone had something to say to me."
When she told her future husband's grandmother, the woman loaded her down with holy medals.
"Week after week, I would sleep with the lights on," she said. "Then one day, [the spirit] walked out, and I didn't see him again for 15 years."
Eventually, she and her mother figured out the meaning of the spirit's visit and why he left so abruptly.
"My father and mother were splitting up," Taormina said. "That was why the spirit walked out."
Even had she not seen this spirit years later, Taormina would likely have remembered him: a skinny 6-foot-7-inch man with gruff features, deep black eyes, and black hair. She remembers he wore a black jacket with tails, a white shirt and a ribbon-style tie.
"He has big hands," she said. "And his name is Arthur. He doesn't talk much. But he said he was there to watch over me."
He is among numerous spirits she had seen. But accepting "this gift" took many years, and fitting it into her basic religious beliefs took even more time.
Opening the door for spirits to come in
For years, she did nothing with her gift. Then one day, she went to a clairvoyant, and that person told her she had a strong gift.
"I said, 'get out of here,' but when I went home and told my daughter and my son, they said, 'Why not try it and see?' so I did," she said.
Her process of summoning spirits is simple. She does not go into a trance. She does not read cards or tell fortunes. She lights a candle and puts out a bowl of water.
"The candle light opens the door and invites the spirits in," she said. "The water keeps evil out."
For the most part, she sees spirits that she doesn't know.
"These are spirits that other people bring in with them," she said. "Or spirits that are attracted to the light."
For many years, she used the gift to amaze her family and friends, a kind of parlor trick - although she took the whole thing very seriously.
"We would sit for hours and the spirits would come," she said. "They would describe things. They didn't tell people fortunes, but they would talk about who had an accident, or answer questions someone might have."
Despite her admitting the ability, she did not know how to fit this in with her faith in God. So she went to Ray Skop in Jersey City, a man who had frequently shown signs of the Stigmata on his hands, head and feet - these reflecting the wounds Jesus Christ suffered when crucified. Skop convinced her that the gift had come from God.
But it took another major event in Taormina's life for her to fully understand the power the gift had. When her mother grew ill and showed signs that death was near, Taormina said she would use the gift.
"I didn't want to let go, so I put a white light around her and protected her," Taormina said. "I knew that she was dying. But I wasn't ready for it to happen."
Eventually, she was forced to allow nature to run its course
"I smelled roses around my mother's bed and knew it was time," she said. "So I took the white light away."
Lost her in May
But the death left Taormina empty.
"I lost my mother last May," she said. "I had helped take care of her. Once she was gone, I didn't know what to do."
Although her mother's spirit appeared to her at the wake, Taormina was not ready for that kind of relationship.
"I wanted her here with me, [but] not like that," she said. "It took me a couple of months to be able handle seeing my mother's spirit. Now she comes every night."
Taormina's store has been open about a month, thanks to her children who encouraged her to bring her gift to the public.
She takes assignments by appointment. People come into her store and sit at a back table.
"I do not go into a trance," she said. "I give them a piece of paper and tell them to write down what I say. If it doesn't make sense to them right at that moment, it will later on. I explain to them what I can do. I do not tell fortunes. I do not use Tarot cards or crystals. I create a circle of white light, which is a safe place, and usually within five minutes spirits walk in. Some of them are spirits that are connected to these people; sometimes they are spirits that just saw the door open and walked in."
Sessions cost $125 and last about an hour and half. Her shop is at 151 Front St. But you must make an appointment first by phone at (201) 866-8999.
Taormina said that little of what transpires shocks or startles her, but it usually does to the people she is reading for.
"Sometimes I can tell them people's names and how people died," she said. "Most people are usually skeptical until they come nose to nose with these facts."
Taormina did ask a lot of questions when her mobster ex-husband's spirit showed up, what life or death was like in the great beyond.
"He told me that people are reincarnated to work out their mistakes," she said. "He told me there is an answer for everything in Heaven."
The spirit of alleged mob capo Joseph Taormina also vowed to guard over Marianne Taormina, who said she liked the idea well enough, but added, "I hope his second wife doesn't mind."