Letter to the Ghosts of Jaku’s Murderer’s Thumbs

What squashed you, Thumbs? Your bully of a boss, Jaku, certainly couldn’t have compressed you playing volleyball, because the only body part Jaku exercised was his mouth—his liar’s lips flapping fast as a hummingbird’s wings. Oh, wait a minute. I’d forgotten about his sticky fingers, which also grabbed wallets, keys and jewelry his coworkers forgot to lock away. 

You say you want me to fix you up with the pretty ghost of Thumbalina? Sorry, Thumbs, you’re not cute enough. Do you realize you looked squat, like slightly flattened pearl onions? Could your clumsy-when-he-gets-excited boss accidentally have compressed your thumb tips while doing something nefarious? Like that time in the Ko’olau Mountains when Jaku hunted wild pigs with fellow fireman Jerry, who’d made Jaku cry “Uncle!” after defeating him in a fair fight. Not realizing how dangerous it was to go toe-to-toe with a sociopath like your boss, Jerry thought he was a dead man when Jaku ran toward him, rifle raised, shouting, “Brother! I’ve got a beef to settle with you!” before tripping on a tree root, shooting his own big toe, screaming like a banshee, and begging Jerry for help. Jerry later warned me, “Never, ever confront Jaku, Lizbeth. He’ll get even in nasty ways if you do.” 

So, Thumbs, if Jaku didn’t flatten you, what caused your peculiar shape, normal near the base but capped off with a short, bulbous tip? You say you were born that way? That your distal phalanx (the bone at your tip) is shortened? That you’re known in scientific circles as brachydactyly type D (BDD)? 

No, it’s not just idle curiosity, Thumbs. My “hitchhiker” aka “double-jointed” thumbs are unusual, too; the top joint bending back nearly 90 degrees. Scientists say my “hypermobile” joints happened because my ligaments and joint capsule are floppily loose. My double-jointed mother of four passed this recessive trait on to only 25 percent of her children–me. I wonder how much science, psychology and metaphysics overlap. Palmists say my hyper-bendable thumbs equal extreme flexibility, both physically and mentally. Do you think this explains my wishy-washiness, Thumbs? Mom was wishy washy, too.

When I run into thumbs like Jaku’s – thankfully only about 5 percent of the population – I want to run away. My thumbs indicate that I’m flexible in both mind and body, while you, Thumbs, are as stubborn as a camel straining against a halter yanked too hard. My mind works at accomplishing goals that require effort and consistency while your goal is always instant gratification. How did you like grabbing at trappings of success while being spiritually bankrupt inside? 

Since you were in a symbiotic relationship with Jaku, I want to know—was he as animalistic in mind and body as palmists claim? Did he harm people out of callousness or lack of empathy? Did he lack depth?

Fat, shortened thumbs like you are also known as club thumbs, stub thumbs, toe thumbs, potter’s thumbs, and hammer thumbs. More shockingly, as murderer’s thumbs.

Do you imagine you have free will, Thumbs? Your compressed shape indicates a tendency for your boss to explode in violence. When angered, he reaches for the closest weapon. 

I wonder if you could have summoned up the will to fight your instincts. I cannot, because my thumbs can’t be anything other than hitchhikers, and I can’t help but be flexible. Could you have convinced Jaku to refuse to murder? Or did Jaku hear only his own voice? Can you even hear me, Murderer’s Thumbs? 

Did you know Jaku was a sociopath? It took me years to figure that out. Most normal people expect other people to be empathetic like them, not understanding that sociopaths are incapable of empathy. The professionals say there’s little hope to change sociopaths unless you treat them when they’re young. 

You’ve been with Jaku all his life, Thumbs. Did you try to help him overcome his tendency toward violence? We’re given free will, aren’t we? If we are, Jaku had a choice. Palmistry says a clubbed-thumb is like a cork on a bottle – stand back when it pops. 

Is that what you did in 1985, when Jaku shot his friend, Vic Lazzarini, after the two argued and Jaku exploded into rage? Do you know what led to your murderous boss’s demise, Thumbs? A massive heart attack in 2015, when he was 65 years old. An appropriate passing, I think, for a man who murdered his friend in cold blood. Do you agree? 

I’m guilty too, Thumbs. I spotted Jaku’s murderer’s thumbs when I read his palm, but I didn’t tell Vic lest he think of me as a space case. My hitchhiker thumbs gave me wishy-washy messages, saying, “You can’t be sure this palmistry stuff is true.”

I wish I’d taken the words of renowned palmist William George Benham to heart and warned Vic. In his 1901 manual The Laws of Scientific Hand Reading, Benham warns that people with clubbed thumbs are “dangerous companions…not to be trifled with at any time.” He states, “Many murderers have had clubbed thumbs…. Their brutal instincts being strong, jealousy most often has led them to fits of violent rage. The terrible qualities of the clubbed thumb have given them passion and determination strong enough to take human life.”

In 1910, world-famous palmist Cheiro wrote about people with murderer’s thumb: “If they are opposed, they fly into ungovernable passions and blind rages. They have no control over themselves and are liable to go to any extreme of violence or crime during one of their tempers.” That’s exactly what Jaku did when he shot Vic four times at close range after a heated argument. 

Fortunately, according to Cheiro, the owner of such thumbs cannot “plan out or premeditate a crime, for he would not have the determined will or power of reason to think it out.” That was certainly the case when Jaku murdered Vic. The evidence at the scene, which Jaku tried clumsily and unsuccessfully to destroy, convicted him.

Almost a hundred years after Cheiro’s proclamation, Narayan Dutt Shrimal, in his book Practical Palmistry, says he read the palms of 400 killers and every single one of them had murderer’s thumbs.

My double-jointed thumbs give me the flexibility to choose to be prepared. So I’ve changed my ways. I now glance at the thumbs of people whose paths cross mine and bring my running shoes along just in case.

Lizbeth Hartz is the author of the true crime, true love memoir Angel Hero, Murder in Hawaii, A True Story, on which this blog post is based. Get it on Amazon or sign up to read the 1st chapter free.