SAVANNAH, Ga. --Valerie Fennel Aiken Boles rarely allowed people to take her picture or touch her.
She believed doing so put her at risk of being hexed, according to writer John Berendt.
"When you gave her money, she didn't want you to hand it to her," Berendt said by telephone Friday. "You had to put it down on a table or on the floor, because that way you can't 'work' with her hands. If you touch her, you're 'working her hand.' "
Boles died early Friday morning at Beaufort Memorial Hospital. Her age was undetermined.
She was better known as the mysterious voodoo priestess "Minerva" in Berendt's novel "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," which is set in Savannah. She was played by actress Irma P. Hall in the 1997 movie of the same name, starring John Cusack, Kevin Spacey and directed by Clint Eastwood.
Beaufort County Coronor Ed Allen said family members had not finalized arrangements and did not wish to speak publicly as of late Friday.
Berendt described Boles' in his 1993 book as the character "Minerva," who was befriended by Savannah antiques dealer Jim Williams. Minerva leads Williams and a New York writer to a nearby graveyard to cast a spell on former Chatham County District Attorney Spencer Lawton, who had filed murder charges against Williams in the fatal shooting of friend Danny Hansford.
Other than the name change, the story about Boles in the novel is true, Berendt said.
"There's nothing I can add to that evening. It's verbatim what she said and what he said and what we did," he said.
According to the book, Minerva is the common-law wife of the late Dr. Buzzard, "the last great voodoo practitioner in Beaufort County." "When Dr. Buzzard died," Berendt wrote, "Minerva put on his purple glasses and set herself up as a root doctor. She uses some of his techniques and some of her own, too."
To the people who came to know her through Williams, Boles showed an aversion to public attention and an intense suspicion of strangers.
Berendt said he knew of only two occasions she allowed herself to be photographed: once for a national morning show shortly after the release of the 1997 movie, and once in 2004 for Life Magazine.
Williams' attorney, Sonny Seiler, recalled visits with her on a bench outdoors in Monterey Square. "We'd sit out there a few minutes, but she'd never say anything. She didn't trust me," Seiler said.
Later in 2002, Seiler accompanied friends on a visit to Boles' Beaufort home.
"The house reeked of some strange incense," he said. "I gave her some money, and she smiled. I asked her if she ever got back to Savannah, and she said she didn't. She said she couldn't travel."
John Duncan, owner of V&J Duncan Antique Maps, Prints and Books, said Savannah tour guide Martha Hicks Ellzey later became a close friend to Boles and used to take her to his shop.
"Martha brought her by several times to see us," Duncan said. "I must say, (Boles) was very strong-willed, with a foul mouth, and refused to have pictures taken."
Ellzey, owner of Southern Hospitality Tours, declined to confirm Boles' death when reached Friday.
"I was not going to call the media until I talked to the family because it has not gotten around to all the family yet," she said. "This is very private, and I don't want anything (reported) at this point."
Berendt said Boles once claimed to be "in communication" with Williams after his death in 1990.
"She said she was in contact, but she didn't say what he was doing or saying," he said.