14 April 2010     Court of Arnhem
Acquittal in case Lucy de Berk


Compulsion – Tarot or murder?

Naked Lady Justice with scales and sword and a small rock...
“Look, Justice has nothing on!”

# Critical legal opinions

Now and then discussions arise concerning Lucia and ‘that Tarot carry-on’. A lawyer, who refers to herself as discerning, wrote “You really can't believe that the compulsion was actually about Tarot!” and not about a compulsion to murder.

“You really can't believe…!” Some discussion followed about the furnishing of proof. According to the lawyer there were some doubts concerning the story about the Digoxin poisoning and the coincidental attendance etc. One couldn't reasonably deny that. Her conviction remained plausible due to “that nonsense about the Tarot, Lucia's bizarre behaviour”

That's unfortunately the way it goes, even in the year 2007, and with lawyers who refer to themselves as discerning, that people allow themselves to be led by prejudice and faith rather than well founded argumentation. For many people the Tarot has an obscurity about it. It belongs to the atmosphere surrounding Azucena in Verdi's Il Travatore, a gypsy woman whose mother was burned as a witch… Stride la vampa!

# Occult, esoteric or countercultural

Tarot is a card game used by fortune-tellers. Would Lucia be as suspect if she dabbled in mesologie? Or with therapeutic touch, reiki or astrology? Probably not. Some ‘respectable ladies’ go, when they might be chronically fatigued, to a mesologist and boast openly about the way the hidden cause of their complaints were discovered. Therapeutic touch is ‘in’ and is even offered in care homes and health centres. Others believe they feel better after reiki or acupuncture. And what level headed type hasn't ever secretly checked the papers for their astrological horoscope to find out if the stars are in a favourable position? People just happen to believe in strange phenomena.

As far as I'm concerned the Tarot is no different to this search for certainties in our existence. But, as Lucia realised, it doesn't belong to beliefs and superstitions that may be openly expressed. Apparently there are ‘levels and ranks’ in the alternative world. Lucia knew only too well that it was not done to read the Tarot for somebody in the hospital. At least not openly.

I have myself witnessed, during my training, a very devout colleague who said prayers behind the scenes for a seriously sick child, of whom the parents weren't at all religious. It was tolerated and certainly not a reason to suspect the man of murderous intentions. Even quasi-medical hawking about Aloe Vera or shark cartilage isn't punishable.

# Lucia’s fascination for the Tarot

For her 17th birthday, in Canada, Lucia received a pack of tarot cards from an acquaintance (One must receive tarot cards, not obtain them – as is reported on the many tarot websites). Lucia became more and more fascinated by the curious results that came from laying the cards. Upon her return to the Netherlands she visited the Royal Library in the Hague to find out more about the ‘art’ of reading the Tarot. She wrote details on her own cards about certain layings and explanations that could be given to cards. For her the Tarot was not a means of predicting the future. She thought that was rubbish. She did however think that through the Tarot she could gain more insight into people's emotions and therefore be in a better position to help them with their problems.

Lucia kept her pack of cards wrapped in black silk in a wooden box. It is an indication of how seriously she took the rituals of the Tarot. Once in a while she would lay a card for friends and family. The police have surveillance tapes upon which a conversation can be heard between Lucia's daughter and a friend, who asks her if her mother, Lucia, might read the Tarot for her. Lucia's cards – with all their annotations – were confiscated by the police shortly afterwards during a search of her house. Entirely according to the Tarot teachings Lucia does not want these cards returned to her because they're no longer pure. We would find it only proper if the cards were returned! These cards together with the Tarot computer records are testimony to a strong fascination for the Tarot.

# Compulsion – from Tarot to murder

Lucia wrote many specific details and stories, notes of the day. To this end she wanted to use some ‘fancy’ words. The word “compulsion” described her inclination to read the Tarot for her patients fairly well – or so she thought at the time. Compulsion has, for that matter, less of a ‘negative’ association in the English language than in Dutch and she had spent a lot of time in Canada.

In the diary Lucia had written on seven occasions that she had “succumbed to her compulsion”. Followed by “I do do some good with it”. It reflects her ambivalence. On the one hand she wanted to read the cards for patients to help them in her own way; on the other hand she'd actually indulged in something that she didn't feel was appropriate in a nurse-patient relationship. Her daughter and her partner certainly mustn't get to know about it. Of course they knew that Lucia read the Tarot. But especially her level-headed partner, whom she hadn't known all that long, would certainly not have appreciated it and would have found it very unprofessional of her. Her job as a nurse was very precious to her and people would have found it extremely stupid that she took risks with Tarot cards.

Lucia herself admits that occasionally, due to her fascination and belief in the Tarot, she was unable to resist the temptation. She certainly did not believe that the tarot would contribute anything to the healing of the patient. But she very much did believe that her patients would benefit from the Tarot, in that they would be better able to cope with their problems. She saw the Tarot as a kind of mirror which she could hold up to people, through which they themselves could come to a better insight and handling of their problems.

Lucia was extensively examined in the Pieter Baan centre, her personality profile showed no compulsive disorders. The researchers found her own explanation for the word compulsion very plausible. The ethereal performance with the Tarot and the need to do something special for her patients fitted, according to them, with her theatrical personality.

Nevertheless the court and the court of appeal coupled, at an early stage, the word compulsion with a compulsion to murder. That is why the interpretation of Mrs.S's death as an unnatural one was so fundamental to the furnishing of proof. She was the only patient who died on a day in which Lucia had written in her diary that she had submitted to her compulsion. All the attending doctors and the experts have given evidence that this patient died a natural death and was in the terminal stages of cancer, which was much disseminated. A certain letter from a surgeon, which was sent to the court after the session, was the only foundation upon which the furnishing of proof for this case to be one of murder was based. And with that the ‘murder-compulsion’ story was set. You just have to believe it…

There is absolutely no rational argument to think that the word compulsion in Lucia's diary does not relate to her tendency to (very occasionally) read the Tarot for a patient. Lucia's benign belief in the Tarot may have played a part in the wild fantasies that were let loose on her during the trial, and from that the belief in a compulsion to murder certainly is malignant.