The sale and distribution of serial killer art, artifacts stirs controversy

The sale and distribution of serial killer art, artifacts stirs controversy

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Murderabilia — a term first coined by Andy Kahan, former parole officer and victim advocate for the city of Houston — are collectible items from the world’s most
violent crimes and notorious serial killers. These gruesome collectables have been causing thrills for enthusiasts and controversy among victims and their families for years.

Websites like supernaught.com focus on true crime collectibles that anyone can purchase. On the website, one can find categorized serial killer art, books, DVDs and comic books. Murderabilia from infamous killers from the Manson family to Ed Gein can be purchased from on the site. Some of the site’s most interesting items are Santa suits owned by killer/kidnapper John Edward Robinson and a half-eaten bag of Reese’s Pieces candy that once belonged to Charles Manson.

These items can make a lot of money for traders. According to a Sept. 30 CNN article, an auction in New Hampshire recently sold murderabilia from infamous crime couple Bonnie Barker and Clyde Barrow. The
auction sold both personal items and weapons that the couple had on May
23,1934 — the day they were ambushed and killed by police. Among the featured
items were Barrow’s Colt .45, which sold for $240,000 and the Colt .38 found strapped to Barker’s inner thigh when she was killed, which sold for $264,000.

Other items sold in the auction were a pocket watch owned by
Barrow, which was given to his father after his death, and sold for
$36,000. An empty
Bayer aspirin tin that was found on the floor of their car sold for $11,400.

One of America’s most notorious serial killers, John Wayne
Gacy, the “Killer Clown,” took up painting after being imprisoned for his crimes. His paintings continue to be sold by distributors across the country to this day, many years after his 1994 execution. 

Gacy, who killed dozens of young men in the 1970s and buried many in the crawl space under his house, has had his artwork range from $195 for a painting of a bird to $9,500
for a painting of the Seven Dwarves, from Disney’s “Snow White,” playing the Chicago Cubs. His most popular paintings, however, are of clowns, in part because he used to dress as a clown to entertain children before he was arrested for his crimes. 

There are many who oppose murderabilia. Some people have bought Gacy’s paintings to burn and
destroy them. People in Naperville, Illinois, gathered in 1994 to have a bonfire in which 25 of Gacy’s paintings were burned. Among the 300 people in attendance were several family members of
Gacy’s victims.

Several states and eBay have already banned the sale of murderabilia. Texas Senator John Cornyn and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar have teamed up to ban the sale of murderabilia nationwide and introduced a bill called “Stop the Slate of Murderabilia to Protect the Dignity of Crime Victims Act of 2010,” according to a June 18, 2010, Fox News article. 

“No on should be able to rob, rape and murder, and then turn around and make a buck off of it,” said Kahan, who now runs the mayor’s crime victims’ office in Houston, according to a Nov. 7 ABC 20/20 article.

Families of victims are among those protesting the sale of murderabilia, such as Wendy Lavan, mother of Jennifer Louise Still, who was murdered by John Eichinger in 1999.

“It’s so wrong on so many levels,” Lavan told the Huffington Post on Oct. 6. “I felt sick to my stomach. Someone’s life was torn apart, and no one should be able to profit.”

Lawmakers and families are not the only ones fighting for a ban. ABC 20/20 reported that even some of the killers want to put a stop to the sale murderabilia. 

“I know what a nightmare it is to see some of these things
marketed,” said convicted killer David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam,” in the ABC article. “The sale of these things really grieves my heart.”

Murderabilia has been accepted and rejected by many. The ability to buy murderabilia online gives the purchaser anonymous protection. Though the murderabilia market can be offensive to many, it does not look like the sale and collection of murderabilia is showing any signs of slowing down.

Sid Arguello is a senior in psychology and sociology. Please send comments to [email protected]