Murderabilia refers to mementos, souvenirs or products associated with a murder or murderer, most notably serial killers. Murderabilia might be from the crime scene itself, from the investigation or from an imprisoned or diseased killer. These items fuel a subculture in America, at once both fascinated and repelled by murder. The demand for murderabilia has also fueled a counter movement to stop murder profiteering.
Some of the most famous murderabilia is artwork. Child killer John Wayne Gayce hid the bodies of 29 young men in the crawl space under his house and killed four more for a total of 33 victims. Prior to his arrest, Gayce was a well-liked neighbor who often dressed as a clown to entertain at children’s’ parties. He produced clown paintings from prison, generating a reported $100,000 US Dollars (USD) in income prior to his execution.
Danny Rolling is another inmate who profited from murderabilia. Rolling, known as the “Gainesville Ripper,” was convicted of the 1990 murder of five young students in Gainesville Florida. Rolling was also a prolific prison artist who, with the proxy help of Sondra London, a serial killer groupie, had his own website for a time where he featured his art, writings and other murderabilia.
Though there is plenty of demand for both talented and untalented serial killer art, murderers without an interest in creative endeavors turn to other forms of murderabilia. Autographs on scraps of paper, snatches of hair and even toenail clippings all bring a price on the murderabilia market. Collectors might hunt for such items as the stolen headstone of Ed Gein, Ted Bundy’s hubcaps, splinters of wood from a murderer’s house, or the refrigerator where Jeffrey Dahmer kept victims’ body parts.
The sale of murderabilia is extremely offensive to the families of victims, to many in law enforcement, and to many in the general public who believe murder should not be rewarded by financial gain. In the mid-seventies New York passed “The Son of Sam Law” to prevent serial killer Sam Berkowitz from profiting by selling his story to publishers. Many states followed with their own forms of the law, but the language of such laws doesn’t cover murderabilia.
With the advent of the Internet many forms of murderabilia were being sold online in eBay and in other venues. While some sites, including eBay, changed their policies in an attempt to prevent certain kinds of murderabilia from being traded or sold, the practice continues largely unabated through various outlets online and off. In most cases, murderabilia is not illegal and its sale, though distasteful to some, breaks no laws.
U. S. Congressman David Reichert (R-WA) hopes to change that. Reichert was formerly a King’s County Sheriff and key member of the Green River Task Force that ended with the 2001 arrest and conviction of Gary Leon Ridgway. On 25 September 2007 Reichert proposed a law that would make sending murderabilia through the mail illegal. Representatives Brad Ellsworth (D-IN) and John Cornyn (R-TX) are co-sponsors for the lengthy-named, "Stop the Sale of Murderabilia to Protect the Dignity of Crime Victims Act of 2007." Though the law does not criminalize murderabilia, the inability to pass it through the mail would cripple sales.