Mrs. Dr. De San, Part 2

Newspaper illustration of a woman wearing glasses and hoop earrings. Her dark hair is swept up in a bun.
While on this topic, Madame De San wishes it distinctly understood that she is not conducting a cheap fortune telling business similar to that of clairvoyants and mediums formerly here. She caters only to the better classes and guarantees satisfaction.
- St. Joseph (Missouri) Herald, 21 November 1890.

I'm continuing my pursuit of Estelle True-Nell's early career as a scientific life reader. I think I've tracked her life-reader origin story to St. Joseph, Missouri in late 1890. Why did she mysteriously disappear? What happens when you upset the editor or owner of the local newspaper? When does the next train leave town?

Listen to the episode or access the transcript below.

Next: Mrs. Dr. De San, Part 3

Transcript for Mrs. Dr. De San, Part 2

[00:00:04] Narrator: Estelle True-Nell was a remarkable woman. Our modern era has forgotten her, and I think that's too bad. I'd like to introduce you to her amazing life, one career at a time. Along the way, we might pick up a tip or two for ourselves, as we learn How to Be Estelle.

[00:00:25] Narrator: It sure sounded like Estelle. I've traced familiar language from known Estelle True-Nell advertisements for her services as a scientific life reader back to St. Joseph, Missouri in November 1890. I believe that's where the life-reader part of her career began.

[00:00:41] Narrator: As I made my way through all that newsprint, my heart skipped a beat when I read this in the December 5, 1890 St. Joseph News-Press:

[00:00:50] Newspaper: We will present to our readers tomorrow a correct cut of the lady mind reader and fortune teller, Mrs. Dr. De San. It was made by the Daily News artist, Mr. Lillibridge, from a photo taken last week. The madam's consulting parlors are at Sixth and Jule.

[00:01:04] Narrator: So, I went to the December 6 issue, and I looked at every page. No image. Nothing. I held my breath and went through every available issue for the next two weeks - nothing! I was so close! Something happened. The first big clue is in the St. Joseph Herald on December 18, 1890:

[00:01:25] Newspaper: A Witch Mysteriously Disappears.

[00:01:28] Narrator: Uh oh. We've gone from "truthful and reliable" to "a witch."

[00:01:32] Newspaper: Mrs. Dr. De San, a prognosticator of fortunes, who came to St. Joseph a month or so ago, for the purpose of probing into the future of such unsophisticated persons who might wander into her parlors, has left the city.

[00:01:46] Newspaper: Where has she gone? Ask of the stars in heaven! She rented rooms at the corner of Sixth and Jule streets upon coming to St. Joseph, and gave out to the world through the columns of the daily press, that she was the greatest medium that ever deceived the public.

[00:02:00] Narrator: This does not look good.

[00:02:02] Newspaper: Her business was all transacted through an agent, a week-eyed, [sic] ignorant-acting fellow, who looked as if he had left the plow at the horoscopic call of Mrs. Dr. De San.

[00:02:12] Narrator: The article goes on to say that the good Doctor did not receive many customers, claiming that the citizens of St. Jo were "happy and contented" and didn't generally want to spend money with a fortune-teller.

[00:02:22] Narrator: At this point, I'm pretty sure Mrs. Dr. De San owes money to some people, probably including the newspaper.

[00:02:30] Newspaper: A few days ago she told the lady at whose house she had been stopping that she was going to move to the corner of Ninth and Felix streets. Since then nothing has been seen of her. She came here from Kansas City, and she has probably returned to that city where she can use her spiritualistic powers to help stranded real estate men delve for lost booms. The time and manner of her departure is as yet "one of those things that no fellow can find out."

[00:02:52] Narrator: The witchcraft theme continues the next day:

[00:02:56] Newspaper: The Witch's Retreat. It was learned yesterday that Mrs. Dr. De San, the mind reader, and all around prognosticator, who has mysteriously disappeared, left St. Joseph at 2 p.m. Sunday last, on the Chicago, St. Paul and Kansas City, and is probably now in the windy city.

[00:03:11] Narrator: Things are silent for a while, but January 1891 brings the return of the witch, and now she's bogus, too:

[00:03:18] Newspaper: The Bogus Witch Reappears. Mrs. Dr. De San, the fortune teller who left St. Joseph one Sunday afternoon about three weeks ago, leaving numerous bills unpaid, has been located in Kansas City. When she departed from St. Joseph she left the impression that she was going to St. Paul. Her mail was forwarded to the latter place, and in a few days was returned, having been opened by the original Mrs. Dr. De San, whom this other woman impersonated during her stay in St. Joseph. Yesterday the postmaster received a letter from the woman asking that her mail be sent to Kansas City.

[00:03:52] Narrator: At this point, I know I'm onto something. Estelle had a sister in Kansas City. I had also seen earlier mentions of a Mrs. Dr. De San, who toured in the Midwest during a time period where I thought I'd located Estelle elsewhere. If there are two Mrs. Dr. De Sans, we have an excellent chance that one of them is indeed Estelle.

[00:04:12] Narrator: And this - I don't mind telling you I teared up a little when I read it - this confirmed the second Madame De San.

[00:04:21] Newspaper: Yesterday a letter received from the bogus De San asking to have her mail sent to the general delivery at Kansas City, the letter being written on letter head which announced that Mrs. Estella Truewell was the manager of the Truewell children, song and dance artists.

[00:04:35] Narrator: That's it. There's my proof. Estelle's daughters Pearl and Ella (and possibly the other kids, too) tried to make it on the Vaudeville stage with a song and dance routine and a few small acting roles. They appeared as the Trunelle, Truedell, and, apparently, Truewell children, with Pearl sometimes performing under her married name, Pearl Young. From there, it becomes the story of a pursuit. Here's the next chapter:

[00:05:02] Newspaper: Witchery of the Witching Witch. Detective P. T. Locke returned from Kansas City yesterday, where he had gone to apprehend, if possible, Mrs. De San, the mind reader. Assisted by the police of that city, he made a thorough search, but he was unable to find the smooth fortune-teller.

[00:05:19] Newspaper: He found that a few days ago she was arrested for being found upon the streets in a bad state of inebriety, but she had given bail for her appearance in the police court and forfeited it, so he was unable to locate her through the arrest.

[00:05:30] Newspaper: It is hardly probable that the St. Joseph people, whom she left in the lurch, will ever recover anything from her.

[00:05:37] Narrator: Another account claimed that Mrs. Dr. De San was on the verge of insanity. Being inebriated does not at all track with what I know of Estelle, but the rest of the story does. All the while, I've been speculating that Estelle left town with some bills unpaid. Her newspaper advertising or printing bill, perhaps? Oh, my, yes.

[00:05:58] Narrator: The St. Joseph Gazette was a bit less coy about why Mrs. Dr. De San - Estelle - skipped town:

[00:06:05] Newspaper: Detective Locke went to Kansas City yesterday afternoon armed with a state warrant for Mrs. Dr. De San, the lady who will be remembered in connection with a magic slate, which foretold the future, etc. It seems, however, that the "slate" served a double purpose, and that the far-seeing madam used it in connection with the accounts due various St. Joseph dealers, and especially the press, there being over $100 on the "slate" against her for advertising alone.

[00:06:30] Narrator: There you go. If one can believe the Internet, that $100 advertising bill would be the equivalent of about $3,300 today. Throughout her career, Estelle made heavy use of newspaper advertising, often buying ad space in every major newspaper in town. I suspect she quickly figured out how to work with advertising managers, and I'm so glad she did, because those ads give us great insight into how she worked and what her customers valued.

[00:06:55] Narrator: So, what's our lesson today in How to Be Estelle? Always pay your printing bills. If you can't do that, don't use your real name, and make sure you know the train schedules.

[00:07:06] Narrator: There's a bit more to this story, and I'll share that with you next time, as we learn How to Be Estelle.

Next: Mrs. Dr. De San, Part 3