Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Culture


* Crime Library's full-length feature stories on the individual serial killers are linked to the killer's name.

Andrew Kahan, Director of the Mayor's Crime Victims Office in Houston and the man said to have coined the term "murderabilia," is one of the most well-known opponents of collectors of serial killer art and artifacts.  But he's not alone.  The families of victims are horrified that other people think it's "fun" to make dolls and trading cards, board games and T-shirts that depict the images and biographies of men and women who brutally took the lives of others — especially children.  Some states have "Son of Sam" laws that prohibit killers from profiting from their crimes, but not all. 

John Walsh
John Walsh

John Walsh, the father of murder victim Adam Walsh and creator of America's Most Wanted, once put together a panel of experts and concerned participants on the issue of killers who offered hair samples, art and other items for sale online.  Ironically, while he and several guests hoped to discourage this form of profiteering by discussing its negative effects, they probably brought more attention to it.  After the show, there were many hits on the Web sites where such murderabilia items are available.

Massachusetts grappled with this issue in November 2005 when sexual predator and serial killer Alfred Gaynor's art was offered on an online auction. Gaynor is serving four life sentences for sodomizing and choking to death four women, according to Reuters, and his pencil sketch of Jesus Christ kneeling by a rock (entitled "A Righteous man's Reward") provoked a debate over his rights.  One of these Web sites is operated by the Fortune Society, a prisoners' advocacy group, which insists that by right of free speech prisoners should be allowed to make and sell their work. Yet the issue really centers on whether killers should be allowed to profit by their notoriety, because without that value-added status, Gaynor's art would probably receive little notice.

Theodore Durrant
Theodore Durrant

Advocacy aside, entrepreneurs have spotted the market value in America's fascination with murder.  It's long been a cultural pastime.  Look at the case of Theodore Durrant, the "Monster of the Belfry."  This handsome medical student went on trial in 1895 for the murder of two young women in San Francisco.  Not only did six area newspapers play it up to the extreme, but the wealthy had "Durrant parties" and considered it high fashion to attend his trial.  Women vied for front row seats and each morning a married woman sent a bouquet of flowers to the doomed defendant.  Reporters dubbed her "the sweet pea girl."

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