People ask, “Have you ever seen a hand that frightened you?”
It was a sweltering hot day and an icy chill permeated my spirit as I touched Manuel’s sweaty palms. His huge reddish balls of the thumbs didn’t have a line in them. They were as smooth as cue balls and looked like they’d been stuffed with extra-large eggs (photo is simulated). The other photo shows a ball of the thumb with longitudinal lines running inside the lifeline. They’re significant relationships. Manuel was dealt a mega-dose of desire, lust, and passion, and zero ability to have intimacy with another human.
How I came to read Manuel’s hands is a story which I intend to share in the future. Many years ago, I designed and implemented vocational rehabilitation projects for criminally insane people at a forensic psychiatric hospital over a two year period. My relationships with many of the clients and staff were personal as well as professional. The bizarreness of the whole experience inspired me to write a novel, “How I became criminally insane”, which I never published. Although it was an amazing story, it contained too many new bad ideas for clever monsters to get away with even more horror. There are enough scary people out there without encouraging more insanity by publishing more horrible ideas and terrible strategies. Network TV hosts like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich are inspiring too many voyeurs and exhibitionists to become even sicker and crazier than they already are.
Manuel was a child serial killer. He kidnapped a series of little boys, took them to various rooftops, raped, and murdered them. Religious crosses were etched on the bases of their skulls and their penises were cut off. Initially, Manuel pleaded not guilty, but ended up in a maximum-security forensic hospital for the criminally insane. When I met Manuel, he was dying. He had been on dialysis machines for nearly five years and his kidneys were shot. No hospital would ever find a donor kidney for a child serial killer. Manuel’s time was running out. He wanted to tell his story and asked me to record it. Manuel’s destiny is primarily the tale of the ball of his thumb.
Before accepting Manuel’s word, I decided to examine his forensic hospital records and psychiatric treatment plans. I went to the microfilm news section of the public library and dug up everything I could find on the murders. There were dozens of articles. Although the evidence was circumstantial, Manuel was a perfect fit. The media had created a public frenzy. Over one hundred detectives and policemen were on the case. The first suspect apprehended was disguised as a policeman in order not to be lynched by the public. ” It took over two hundred police, some wearing riot gear, to prevent over 1000 angry people from storming the … police station in the mistaken belief that a suspect in the mutilation murders of four young boys was inside the building.”
Manuel was Puerto Rican. He had come to the USA at the age of thirteen with his father and brother. He claimed to have had great aspirations, but got into drugs (marijuana) and was heading downhill ever since. He said to me, “I think drug addiction was in my genes… from the first time I tasted drugs, I never stopped”. A huge round ball of the thumb can symbolize sensuality, compulsion, and indulgence. The paradox is that a huge ball of the thumb can also symbolize the opposite qualities – a huge appreciation of nature, all things beautiful, and an overflowing generosity and warmth. Manuel’s low set thumb and fingers were very stiff and his life and head line were closely tied together at their beginning. His bad habits were deeply embedded and virtually impossible to break. Manuel started stealing (many thieves and pick pockets have inwardly curving pinkie fingers) in order to support his habit. He got into heroine and had to resort to stealing even more to support his new habit. He found himself hanging out with prostitutes and criminal types. Meanwhile, Manuel’s mother died of brain cancer, his sister died of cirrhosis of the liver, his half-brother died of a drug overdose, and the crazy brother he came to this country with was locked up for murdering their crazy father.
Manuel began dealing heroine in order to support his habit. At age sixteen, he was arrested for drug dealing. In the New York City’s “tombs” he began banging his head against the wall and was sent to a hospital to detox. After six months everyone believed that his habit was broken. Manuel discovered that he had talents in the arts and in cooking. He began living with a woman at seventeen, but he couldn’t stay out of trouble and was in and out of prisons and mental hospitals. Manuel managed to get his common-law wife pregnant three times during his leaves. He had two daughters and a son. One of his daughters had to be on dialysis for failed kidneys.
Manuel spent five years in a state penitentiary while his family survived on welfare. The prison system tried to rehabilitate him and taught him several different trades. He came out with the best of intentions, but couldn’t stay out of trouble. Then Manuel found religion and went to live in a church. He rapidly became fanatical and started preaching the bible to his family and friends. He claimed that he tried to stay away from drugs, but even a drag of a cigarette or sip of beer would rekindle his addiction. The combination of drugs and religion led to grandiosity. “I was greater than God. I really thought I was Jesus Christ”. Manuel got medication for his hallucinations. On drugs, Manuel was able to cope. If he forgot to take his medication, he’d become mentally and physically ill. Manuel began taking speed and cocaine. His religious delusions and hallucinations became totally grandiose. One forensic psychiatrist described Manuel as a “walking time bomb”. He was teetering between insanity and psychiatric hospitals.
Several of his authorized and unauthorized exits from MPC, a low security mental hospital coincided with the mutilation deaths of young boys. Manuel was seen preaching on the streets near the scene of one of the crimes. He was also connected to other murder locations where relatives lived nearby. He denied killing the boys, but a court appointed defense attorney talked Manuel into copping a plea of insanity. Manuel claimed he didn’t know anything about the legal system and took his lawyer’s advice.
Manuel said, “I was sold down the river. The public needed a murderer and I was him”. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity. There were no mutilations of children after Manuel’s permanent incarceration. I always felt compassionate towards Manuel; although I believed that he committed those crimes. I was totally repulsed by him and I pitied him at the same time. Manuel was born on the short end of a very thorny stick in both the nature and the nurture departments. Manuel might have been a very different person had he had the opportunity to experience real love and nurture in his life. I’ll bet he’d have a line or two in the ball of the thumb on his dominant hand.