Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Culture

Killers in the Kitchen

There's no end of serial killer kitsch.  You know it's entered the realm of tacky when you can purchase paintings of Dorothy Puente or David Berkowitz on black velvet, drink coffee from a mug featuring Ed Gein or Charles Manson, or fry up some meat wearing a Jeffrey Dahmer apron.  You might even enjoy the pretty scene of a Night Stalker snow globe. Jack the Ripper has a whole line of accessories that feature bloody knives, T-shirts, throw pillows, baseball jerseys, caps, camisoles, thongs, aprons, carrying totes, and even a Teddy Bear wearing a miniature T.  For keeping track of your schedule, marketers have made calendars indicating that "Murder can be Fun."  For each date, there's a different murder, or a killer's birth or death day.  If you prefer a memorable outing, Niagara Falls includes among its ubiquitous wax museums a criminal hall of fame, which includes a photo-op at the end where you can sit in an electric chair and get a buzz.

Carl Panzram
Carl Panzram

One site presents an array of T-shirts that feature Carl Panzram, Albert Fish, Ted Bundy, Aileen Wuornos, and many others.  Another site has "huggable" demented dolls, Manson and Dahmer.  If you don't want to hug, you can opt for a serial killer wall clock.  The Jeffrey Dahmer Slay Set comes with a doll that wears a zippered suit; unzip it and out come the various parts of a "dismemberable" victim.  These can be stored in "Jeff's trash can."  The slogan on the package goes, "Open me up for a sure delight, and see who I ate for dinner last night."  Sometimes, it's possible to get an action figure, although those Web sites are hit-and-miss.  Someone's idea of Jack the Ripper is available, as is the "Zodiac Killer" from CA, the omnipresent Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy in his clown get-up, and the evil Richard Ramirez.  If you're satisfied with a mere two-dimensional rendition, trading cards are available through Shell-tone Productions.  On the back of each card are grim but vital statistics.

Book cover: Serial Killer Coloring book
Book cover: Serial Killer Coloring book

Then there are serial killer coloring books with cartoonish drawings and games, such as a maze through which you can assist Gacy to find space in his dirt floor basement to bury another victim.  Fox and Levin claimed that that there was also a 1992 comic book that depicted his sexual habits with victims.  If you're inclined, and your friendships are strong enough to take it, there are greeting cards and postcards that feature photos of many different killers.  You choose one and then add a song of your choice to it, along with a greeting.

To test your knowledge, you can go to a quiz online (featuring individual killers or by decade), or even determine what kind of serial killer you might be.  You can also see how well you can make a distinction between photos of computer programmers and photos of serial killers.  (One is both).    

When all is said and done, serial killer culture is no more imaginative than a tourist town comprised of one store after another that offer only T-shirts, coffee mugs, key rings, or wax figures.  Despite the keen interest, the merchandise is mundane fare - like the killers themselves, when the cultural allure is stripped from them.


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