The Myth of the Fingerprints
On a day in early July 1989, Helen found herself bored at work. She pulled her briefcase out from under her desk and closed her office door. She thought she would continue to transcribe the tape-recorded interviews she’d done with George Brand.
As she brought out the recorder, she noticed the manila envelope. She had not gotten back to Tallahassee yet and wasn’t certain when she would be able to return. She looked through the handprints and compared her hand to those of Bundy’s. He had large hands.
She wondered what Madam Anna would have said and was disappointed she hadn’t seen her, as Brand had suggested.
Helen reached into a drawer and pulled out a Gainesville telephone directory. She flipped to the Palm Readers section. There was a listing for one in Gainesville, so she dialed the number. It rang and played a prerecorded message: “The number you have dialed is no longer in service.”
Helen hung up and redialed to make sure she had dialed correctly the first time. She got the same recording.
“Hmm.” She wondered who else she could call. She looked up Psychics.
She scanned the five or six listings. She saw one that simply said Bernice, Psychic Readings and a phone number. The address was not printed, but the phone number was a local exchange.
Helen picked up the phone and dialed. Within two rings, a woman answered. She had a voice rough with cigarettes.
Helen identified herself and asked Bernice if she could read palms.
“Well, I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert, but I’m willing to try.”
“Do you think you can read someone’s palm from a photograph?”
The woman coughed and cleared her throat. “I’ve certainly never done that. What is this about?”
“It’s nothing bad, I promise. I just have some photographs of someone’s fingerprints and palms. I’d like to hear what you say about them.”
“Is this a gag or something?”
“No, this is not a gag. I’m very serious.”
Bernice agreed to try to read the handprints and they made an appointment for the following day, when Helen could leave work a little early. Bernice said she charged $25 for a psychic reading and told Helen to bring cash.
“I don’t take checks from people I don’t know.”
Late the next afternoon, Helen pulled into a trailer park north of Gainesville on U.S. Highway 441. She circled the park, driving by the pool and tennis courts, until she reached Bernice’s street. The address brought her to the penultimate trailer on the right. She pulled into the driveway and parked next to a red, older model Toyota sedan. Nervously, she ran her right hand through her hair and counted to five before she opened the car door. She wanted to appear calm.
The trailer was a single wide and looked to be the oldest one in the neatly manicured park. Bernice had blooming plants and cactus on her front porch, as well as a couple of outdoor chairs and a rocker. It seemed like a friendly place, albeit somewhat dogeared and worn.
She knocked on the glass portion of the screened door. She could already smell the years of cigarette smoke that adhered to the structure. I’m glad I brought cigarettes. Strangely, she found that by smoking she could better tolerate other smokers.
A small dog barked behind the door. She was about to knock again but figured the dog already alerted Bernice. At that moment, the inner door opened and an older woman with freshly dyed red hair greeted her.
“Are you Helen?” she asked as she pushed open the screen door. “Come in, don’t mind the mess.”
Just as Helen was about to step into the trailer, a sudden gust of wind blew the screen door out of her grasp. The door flew open and hit the side of the trailer, then slammed into her.
“Storm’s coming,” Bernice said. “Come in before you get blown away.”
Bernice secured the doors and led Helen to the right, into the kitchen. Helen looked to the left, at the living room, which was neatly furnished but filled with dolls. The drapes were drawn against the late-afternoon sun.
“Hi Bernice, I’m Helen Baxter,” she said.
She wiped her hand on her skirt and held it out to shake the woman’s hand. She was perspiring heavily from nervousness. Bernice took her hand and held it for several seconds.
“Uh huh,” she said when she released Helen’s hand. They stood in the small kitchen. “I guess I figured as much. I am psychic, you know.” She winked.
Both women laughed a bit uneasily. “Please sit,” Bernice said, indicating a chair. “Can you get back there?”
“Oh, yes, that’s fine,” Helen said.
“I always sit here,” Bernice said. “It’s close to the phone and the coffee pot.” She had been working on a crossword puzzle in a paperback book. She elbowed it to the edge of the table.
Helen slid into the chair between the table and the wall. She laid the manila envelope on the table. She had brought only four of the photographs, making sure not to bring ones that had Bundy’s name on them.
“Coffee?” Bernice asked. “I just made a fresh pot.”
“Sure, that’d be great,” Helen said.
She looked around the kitchen. The table was covered with a freshly laundered green tablecloth and there was a deck of regular playing cards at Bernice’s spot. There was also a clean ashtray, a pack of unfiltered Pall Mall reds, and a red plastic lighter. Helen noticed an image of Jesus on the bottom. “Jesus hates it when you smoke” chastised those who dared use it.
Helen chuckled. A small electric fan sat on the table by the window. Clean dishes were drying on a plastic rack. Counters and the bay windowsill were filled with ceramic angels, colored glass balls, stones, other knickknacks, and a house plant. A small dreamcatcher hung off the curtain rod. The lace curtains were stained yellow from years of tobacco.
Bernice set down two cups of coffee, both black, and sat down. Her mug said “I Love My Grandma.” Helen smiled when she saw that. Bernice might be a psychic, but she was definitely a grandma.
“Cream? Sugar?” Bernice held up a cylinder of coffee whitener.
“Uh, no, just black, please.”
Bernice’s dog, a little gray poodle, freshly groomed with painted toenails and pink bows, was sniffing Helen’s feet and legs. She shifted her legs away.
“Buffy, sit down. Don’t bother her,” Bernice commanded. “She smells your dog. You have one, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, Helen, let me make sure I understand what you’re seeking today.” She eyed the envelope. “Is that what you brought for me to read?”
“Yes. I brought several photos.” Helen picked up the envelope and began to open it.
“No, don’t show me them yet,” Bernice said and held out her hand. “Just let me hold them.”
Helen handed her the envelope. Bernice closed her eyes, but quickly opened them and put the envelope on the table. She pushed it to the side, away from her.
“I’m going to do a reading on you first,” Bernice said.
“Why? I don’t want a reading done on me, I just want the photos read.”
Helen wanted to make certain she wouldn’t be charged for two readings. She could barely afford the $25 fee for one reading.
“That’s okay, I’m only charging you for the handprints, but I’d like to do a reading on you first.” Bernice took a drag and exhaled. “I always recommend that an inquirer keep a closed mouth about herself, but an open mind.”
“Oh, okay. Which hand do you want to see?” Helen looked at her palms.
“Are you right-handed or left-handed?”
Bernice reached over and touched her left hand. Helen held it out. Bernice examined her palm and ran her nail down the lifeline.
“Oh, good, that’s very good, you’ll have a long, healthy life,” she said as she lit an unfiltered cigarette. “Do you mind?”
“Smoking? No, I smoke too, sometimes.”
Helen reached into her purse and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. She lit one. Bernice reached over and turned on the fan. She held Helen’s right hand and examined the lines, comparing them with the lines on her left hand.
“I see from your hands that you are a professional woman, you have a job that focuses on business and properties.” Helen knew that one did not have to be a fortuneteller to figure that out. She was wearing a dress, stockings, and high heels: office attire.
“But that’s not your true calling, am I right?”
“No, not really,” Helen said. She did not want to betray anything about herself, so she tried to keep her face expressionless. She focused on the questions Bernice asked to keep extraneous thoughts out of her head.
“Are you married?” Bernice asked. Helen said nothing. “Because I see on your palm you will have two marriages. Is this your first one?”
Bernice continued to trace the lines on her palm. “Okay. I see that you are married, but that you’re separated. Is that it?”
Helen nodded. This was an easy guess, as she no longer wore a wedding band.
“But you have children, yes? In this world?”
“Yes, yes I do. If you mean are they alive?” Helen was puzzled by this.
“Yes, that’s what I mean. Sometimes people have children who have passed on, miscarriages and so on. I see three here. And three that have passed over.” She quieted for a moment to see how Helen would react. “You’ll be with them, too. They’re waiting for you.”
Helen had no idea what to think about this. How could she have known that? She felt a bit disoriented, a boat unmoored. Bernice had her complete attention.
“You won’t have any more, you know,” Bernice said. “Children.”
The reading continued. She handed Helen the deck of cards.
“Go ahead and shuffle these. Either make a wish or tell the cards what you want to know. But don’t tell me. When you’re done, divide them into three stacks.”
Helen picked up the cards and began to shuffle them. She laid the cards out as directed. Bernice picked up the three stacks and laid one on top of the next. She then began placing the cards on the table.
“I see that your father has passed, is that right?”
“But your mother is still here?”
“Yes, but not right here,” Helen laughed. “Not in Gainesville, I mean.” She almost added Thank God.
“Here are your three children. Two boys, one girl, correct?” Bernice touched three cards.
Helen nodded, but she was getting a jittery, nervous feeling and she didn’t think it was from the coffee.
“You have an older sister, correct?”
“And she was, in some ways, like a mother to you?”
“Perhaps, yes, when I was a teenager. Now we barely speak.”
The psychic nodded, as if this was not news to her. “There’s a great deal of jealousy surrounding you.”
Bernice continued to lay out the cards until she had placed them all on the table. She made nine piles in the Celtic Cross layout. Helen considered her statement as she examined the arrangement of cards in front of her. These weren’t tarot cards, but regular playing cards.
Bernice stood up and got the coffee pot. She poured hot coffee into their cups.
“Your husband loves you, and your children, but… how can I say this? It’s like he’s sitting over here, on top of a hill, meditating about the world and only occasionally glancing at you and the kids. He’s not a bad person, but he’s not interested. Does that make sense?”
Helen’s eyes filled with tears. She fought them back, refusing to become emotional. “That’s a pretty good way of describing him,” she said.
“You met because he wanted you to do something for him, is that correct?”
“And have you done what he wanted?”
“I’m trying to do it now.” Helen pushed her hair away from her face and reached into her purse for a barrette. She wished she could pull off her stockings. She was feeling very warm and sweaty. The air conditioning in the trailer did not seem to be working; not well, anyway.
“Good,” Bernice sighed. “Because the sooner you get it done, the sooner you can move on. You’ll both be happier once you’ve finished whatever it is that you agreed to do.”
“Did you bring something of his with you?” Bernice asked.
Helen wondered if she should show the woman what she’d brought. She took the envelope and pulled out a set of original handprints that Joseph had given her.
“Here. These are his.”
Bernice studied the prints of both hands. “You want me to read another set, though. Other than these, right?”
“Yes, I do,” Helen said. She pulled a cassette tape recorder out of her handbag and set it on the table. “Would you mind if I record this?”
Bernice glanced at the recorder. “No, not at all.” She continued to study the handprints while Helen began recording.
“I think I see here what the problem is with your marriage,” Bernice said. Helen held her breath. “His prints are on police forms, but this man has never been arrested. Did he get these made for you, before you came here?”
“He is extremely psychic. Did you know that?”
Helen nodded. “I do know that.”
“He’s your husband,” Bernice continued, “but he’s not the right partner for you. You already know this.” She glanced at Helen. “You’re in the process of divorcing.”
Helen nodded again.
“This man is very gifted, I think. He’s a musician and I think he’d be happy living by himself, just working on his music.”
“That’s very true,” Helen said.
“He’s very sensitive, psychically, and has traveled to the stars. This man could raise billions for the starving children of Africa, but come home and not notice that his own children need shoes.”
Helen nodded mutely. The truth of Bernice’s words was irrefutable.
Helen lit another cigarette and exhaled. She was practically chain-smoking and she knew she’d regret it later. She had brought a notepad and pen but had not taken any notes yet. She felt exposed by this woman, vulnerable, her soul laid bare.
Bernice picked up the playing cards and put them into a green velvet pouch. She gathered the coffee cups and emptied them in the sink and poured fresh coffee into them. Helen thanked Bernice as she accepted her freshened cup. She wiped tears from her face.
“I think I’m ready to look at the other prints,” Bernice said as she settled in at the table. She picked up the envelope and felt a strong sense of revulsion. She wanted to take her lighter and ignite the envelope and let the contents burn. Instead, she lit a cigarette and cleared her throat.
She laid out the four 8”x10” black-and-white photographs. There were two of the right hand and two of the left. She examined all four, then picked up one of each and placed them back inside the envelope.
“These belong to a man diametrically opposite to your husband,” Bernice said. “Do these belong to someone close to you?”
“Are you certain?” Bernice picked up a pencil. “Are you sure these don’t belong to a man in your life? A boyfriend or a cousin, or someone you are related to?” She touched one of the photos with the pencil’s eraser.
“No. I am not related to, or involved with, this man.”
Helen sensed that Bernice was worried about the handprints. She reached over and touched the woman’s hand. “No, these prints don’t belong to someone close to me. I do not know him. Please tell me what you are seeing.”
Bernice relaxed. “Okay, so overall, I’m picking up that this person is severely psychotic, like he needs to be removed from society; kept in a hospital, maybe. He should not be allowed around people. Women.” She looked at Helen’s blond hair. “Brunettes, especially.”
Helen thought this was a good start.
Bernice ran the eraser down one of the lines on the right print. “This is his life line, and it’s an unusual one. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this… but then, I’m not a palmist. But look.”
Bernice showed Helen the life line. “It’s very broad,” the psychic said. “And it’s very deep. There’s feathering at the top, at the beginning, and then there’s feathering again at the bottom. It’s on both of his hands, but it’s very prominent on his left hand. I don’t know what this feathering means. Is he left-handed?”
Helen shrugged. “I don’t know.” The room darkened as rainclouds covered the sun. The wind had become steady and Helen could hear tree branches scrape against the trailer’s aluminum siding. She wanted to get up, to turn on a light, but she remained seated.
“Whoever he is, he’s not a nice man,” Bernice said. “He hurts people. He can be very cruel. Again, this person shouldn’t be among us. He should be locked up somewhere. I think he is very, very sick.”
“Do you think he’s evil?”
“Whoever he is, and how you’ve come to have his handprints, worries me a great deal,” Bernice said and lit another cigarette. “He would have no compunctions about beating a woman, or abusing a child, for that matter. Jesus, Helen, who is this?”
Helen ignored the question. “Do you think he is capable of killing someone?”
“Yes, this person is certainly capable of killing.”
“Has he killed?”
“Yes. He has killed. Many times, I think.”
Lightning slashed the sky. A loud and immediate blast of thunder shook the trailer. Helen held her breath. This is a cliché if I’ve ever seen one. All we need is some organ music, she thought as day turned to night.
“Is he evil?” Helen raised her voice over the sound of the rain pounding the trailer.
“Oh, God. He’s worse than evil. He’s also very, very psychic and used this ability to find his victims.” Bernice turned the photos over. Her feeling of revulsion was so strong she thought she would throw up. “I can’t look at these anymore.”
Helen picked them up and put them back into the envelope. She slid the envelope into the opening of her handbag.
“Now,” Bernice said. “Tell me who this is and how you got these prints?”
“They belong to Ted Bundy,” Helen said. “They were given to me.”
“Turn off that recorder. Now!”
Helen turned off the machine. Bernice was pale and seemed to have aged at least 10 years.
“I’ve never been so frightened,” Bernice told her. “I don’t shock very easily, but I am very shocked at this, this revelation.” She closed her eyes. “My heart is pounding. I need to slow it down.”
“I’m sorry, Bernice,” Helen said. “I didn’t want to tell you ahead of time who the prints belonged to. I wanted to see if you could pick up his energy.”
“Boy, I’ll say I could. When you told me his name, I felt a chill run through my body,” Bernice said. “Not because of who the person was, but because I was so accurate in my reading. Maybe the feathering I saw in his life line is there because he was executed. I don’t know why it was there at his birth, but maybe he’s always been evil.”
Bernice got up and shook two aspirin out of a bottle. She poured some water and swallowed the pills. “Jesus, you scared me half to death.”
“I know,” Helen said, “and I’m sorry that I frightened you. But your description of him was accurate. Uncanny, even.”
“I don’t think I could have done better if I’d had his résumé in front of me.”
The women smoked and talked companionably for the better part of an hour as the late-afternoon storm died down outside. Helen explained how she had met Joseph, and the story he had told her about his involvement with the Bundy investigation in Tallahassee.
As she prepared to leave, Bernice asked her to come back again. “I haven’t been so intrigued by a reading since… well, ever,” she said.
“I will. I promise,” Helen said as she hugged the woman.
Neither realized it at the time, but it would be over a year before they would speak again, when a serial killer would cross Helen's path for a second time.
 He was left handed.
This is an excerpted chapter called "The Myth of the Fingerprints." Lehmann, Susan Waller. Visions of Ted Bundy: The Psychic and the Chi Omega Murders. Pleasant View, UT: White Rhino Press, 2017. pp. 314-328. Document.