Anyone who has ever watched The Silence of the Lambs with macabre delight knows the fascination gruesome death can provoke. But no fictional horror can produce the frisson generated by real items currently being sold on websites like SerialKillersInk.net and MurderAuction.com: artifacts, relics and artwork straight from the crime scenes and prison cells of the worlds most famous serial killers.
Current listings on the websites include a handwritten confession letter from Gary Ridgway, aka the "Green River Killer," who strangled women in Washington ("Scarce!" the ad reads); a handwritten letter from Ted Kaczynski, aka the "Unabomber"; and a self-portrait by Danny Rolling, aka the "Gainesville Ripper," who mutilated the bodies of his victims and posed them in strange positions before leaving the scene of the crime.
"It is a 100% real thing," the listing for Rolling's portrait reads. The seller, a vendor from Japan with 79 five-star reviews, is asking $2,000 for the portrait.
"Every man has to have a hobby," MurderAuction.com's site banner reads.
According to a recent ABC story, there are six websites in the U.S. that cater to this macabre market. Dealers obtain items by befriending prisoners and giving them the attention they often crave, according to the network's interview with the founder of Serial Killers Ink, Eric Gein.
"You can't write Manson and say, 'Send me some artwork.' It doesn't work like that," Gein told ABC. "The relationship we have with these infamous serial killers, it takes time, it takes trust. You have to build a friendship, build a relationship just like you would with anyone else."
While it's illegal for criminals to profit from their own crimes -- whether it be through memorabilia or movie rights -- third parties can sell items as long as none of the profits go directly to inmates. Still, vendors send gifts and the occasional check.
Banned on eBay, but Still Sought After
There have always been collectors of perverse and controversial objects -- Nazi flags, crime scene debris, etc. -- the murder memorabilia market emerged in full force with the rise of the Web. In 2001, eBay banned "items deemed offensive, including true crime memorabilia," according to MurderAuction's website. In 2005, Murder Auction became the first site of its kind to launch, with a unique collection of serial killer items.
Now, there are spin-off sites, serial killer Christmas and Birthday cards, and even a trade magazine, MurderZine 3, which features art and articles written by serial killers as well as "exclusive interviews" conducted by Serial Killers Ink. "The magazine your Mother warned you about!" the publication boasts.
Online visibility has also brought about criticism from advocacy groups, families of victims, and media. "The media is exceptionally good at altering facts and presenting one sided accounts," SerialKillersInk's site reads. "They know that the only viable option for them is to present this hobby in a negative light."
"We do sympathize with the families of victims," the "About Us" continues. "We're sure they have a tremendous amount of pain to bare, but we make no apologies for our business. We are not breaking any laws. This is America and we have a right to make a living."
But families of victims continue to be shocked and disgusted by what they find on the websites. Pam Hobbs of West Memphis, Tenn., told her local TV station, WMC-TV earlier this week that the sale of crime scene and autopsy photos from the murder of her son on MuderAuction.com was "sick."
Asked Hobbs: "What type of sick individual would want to make a profit off of showing my dead baby?"