Melissa Lisath was 27 when she met Padge Victoria Windslowe at a Red Roof Inn in Mount Laurel in September 2008.
Lisath, who lived in the Bronx and was an accounts manager for a construction company, wanted her curves to be more voluptuous. She said Windslowe, who claimed to be a plastic surgeon's assistant named "Lillian," had agreed to administer illegal silicone injections to enhance her buttocks - the same procedure police believe killed a 20-year-old woman last year, and caused a 23-year-old woman to be hospitalized last month.
Lisath and several other women gathered in a hotel room as Windslowe - known as the "Black Madam" - unpacked syringes, sealed bottles of chemicals, and other supplies.
"She was very comforting, believe it or not," said Lisath, who paid $1,800 for the injections. "Very calm. I didn't feel uneasy. I felt like she was making girls look better, feel happier with themselves."
The procedure, in which Windslowe injected Lisath's hips and buttocks with silicone, was painful. But it was nothing compared with the torture that followed.
Six hours later, after Lisath arrived home, she started feeling short of breath. She began sweating profusely, drenching her clothes. The chemicals injected into her body had migrated into her bloodstream, doctors later found, then her lungs. She was rushed to a hospital, where she violently threw up blood until she lost consciousness and slipped into a coma.
When she opened her eyes, she said, it was three months later. She could no longer walk, she had developed a bone condition, and she weighed 80 pounds. More than two years would pass before she was able to care for herself again.
"It was extremely traumatic," said Lisath, now 30. "I almost died. . . . They literally told my family to say goodbye to me."
As for Windslowe, Lisath said, she disappeared.
"She didn't care if I lived, died," she said. "Her job was done."
Windslowe, 42, an aspiring singer who does not have a medical license, was arrested Wednesday night in East Germantown at a "pumping party" where police said she planned to inject several women with a toxic substance. She is charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, and related offenses. She is being held on $10 million bail.
Windslowe's attorney, Christopher Mannix, declined to comment on the case, but he said he would ask for the bail to be lowered.
Police said they believe Windslowe's black-market injections killed Claudia Seye Aderotimi, a 20-year-old woman who visited Philadelphia from London in February 2011 to get the procedure. Aderotimi, an aspiring hip-hop dancer, was admitted to a Delaware County hospital, complaining of chest pains. She died Feb. 8. But the Delaware County Medical Examiner has not yet ruled on Aderotimi's cause of death, and the case stalled.
"This girl was a healthy girl," said Philadelphia Lt. John Walker, of the Southwest Detective Division. "The only thing that caused this death was the injection."
Then, last week, a 23-year-old woman from North Philadelphia turned up at an area hospital, spitting up blood. She later told doctors she was injected with silicone at a party Feb. 19. Using photographs, she identified Windslowe as the party's hostess.
Police have since learned that even after Aderotimi died, Windslowe continued holding "pumping parties" or "butt parties." Since November 2011, Windslowe has injected at least 14 people, Walker said.
"She's doing a very active business," he said. "We're glad to have her off the streets."
The woman who became sick last month was released from the hospital after a week, police said, but she is on oxygen and will likely return to the hospital. Once the material she was injected with is analyzed, Walker said, doctors can determine the best way to treat her.
Meanwhile, police are asking any former clients of Windslowe's to contact them.
After police learned that Windslowe was planning another party at the home on East Pastorius Street, they staked out the area until they saw Windslowe arrive in a black Chevrolet Impala. She carried a pink bag into the house, which is the home of a woman police described as a "recruiter" for Windslowe. Police said that woman would not be charged and was cooperating with the investigation.
Moments later, police forced their way into the house. There, investigators saw the same composed demeanor from Windslowe that Lisath remembered.
Windslowe sat at a table in the dining room while police swarmed the room, Walker said.
"She was very cooperative," Walker said. "She walked out slowly with us and didn't say much at all. She was acting as if nothing was going on."
Nearby was the bag, which contained cotton balls, Super Glue, needles, a marker, a tape measure, and a plastic bottle containing a thick, clear liquid police say they believe she planned to inject into the women. The glue was to seal the injection site, police said. The tape measure was to show the women how big they would get.
Windslowe is known online as the singer "Black Madam," and describes her music as "gothic, hip-hop, and funk." She has produced a handful of songs and elaborate videos to accompany them, featuring costumes and voodoo imagery.
In her online biography, she writes that she grew up in South Philadelphia and alludes to a former role presiding over 200 men and women as "Philadelphia's Society Hill Madam."
She also writes of a lifelong struggle to live a moral life:
"It always seems that when trying to be a good little catholic girl and walk the narrow road of righteousness everything that could ever go wrong does. . . . However, I can snap my finger when traveling the other road of not so nice, and everything I could ever want, need and desire is just waiting for me. I want so bad to do the right thing, however when I hit my knees at times, it just doesn't seem like the creator hears me."
Contact staff writer Allison Steele at 215-854-2641 or firstname.lastname@example.org.