Murderabilia – Congress looks at law to help foil sales of grisly collectibles

People collect all sorts of things, stamps, coins, velvet Elvis paintings, & old manuscripts. And some collect murderabilia, a term I had not heard before.

Round and chrome, it looks a lot like an average hubcap from a vintage VW Bug.
But this one is special. And it’s for sale.
It’s off the 1968 Beetle that Ted Bundy drove as he roamed the West in the mid-1970s murdering young women. From Washington state to Colorado to Utah, Bundy is considered among the most diabolical serial killers in U.S. history.

Although he was executed in Florida’s electric chair more than 18 years ago, anything connected to Bundy is a hot commodity in “murderabilia” — items offered by a handful of Web sites.
The starting bid for the hubcap from Bundy’s Beetle is $3,500. Or how about $1,700 for a signed note that Bundy smuggled to another prisoner on Florida’s death row? Along with Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, Bundy’s stuff is the most sought after, said Andy Kahan, director of the Houston mayor’s crime victims office. Kahan has led the effort to limit such sales.

I agree this is macabre. I agree with Ebay’s decision not to sell such items. But this is a “slippery slope” issue, where do you stop? John Wilkes Booth? Hitler? Genghis Khan? King Leopold II of Belgium? Martha Stewart?

But don’t worry, Congress to the rescue. This is a national priority under the Commerce Clause!

Five states — Texas, California, New Jersey, Michigan and Utah — have passed laws aimed at limiting such sales. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has introduced legislation that would prohibit state and federal prisoners from mailing such items.
“The more notorious, the more violent the crime, the more morbid curiosity some people have,” Cornyn said. “For all the upsides and benefits of the Internet, this is sort of the dark side of technology.”
Reichert [WA] said he would take a “hard look” at introducing similar legislation in the House.
One of Kahan’s best-known supporters is Berkowitz, whose killings of six people terrorized New York City in the 1970s. In a letter to Kahan, Berkowitz said he had no control over his articles and writings that turn up on the Web, adding he was “bothered and troubled” by the auction sites.

Bundy and Ridgway do share one thing in common — they have their own line of greeting cards available at www.morbid curiosityshop.com. A Valentine card featuring a drawing of Bundy carries the greeting, “Love You to Death.” A Ridgway greeting card reads “Who Knows What Evil Dwells in the Hearts of Men.”
“Rod Serling couldn’t make this stuff up,” Kahan said.

Um, that is Sterling. Even I know that.

Bohannon operates the Web site www.murderauction.com and is also a collector [ED: collector?]. He had hair from Manson, artwork from Texas serial killer Elmer Wayne Henley and hundreds of letters from convicted murders.
In addition to the Bundy hub cap, his Web site offers a Manson fingerprint chart, a Zodiac killer wanted poster and a tracing of serial killer Alfred Gaynor’s right hand.
As of Sunday evening, there were few bids logged on current Murder.auction items.
Bohannon said most of what he offers can be authenticated, including the Bundy hubcap. The hubcap was removed from the vehicle in 2002 after the VW was purchased at a Salt Lake City police auction by a deputy sheriff.
Bohannon said he and other collectors are being treated unfairly. He said efforts to limit such sales would violate their constitutional rights to free expression.
“The media has a lot to do with who is sought after,” Bohannon said. “It’s all about sensationalism. I think people have been collecting stuff like this since the days of the Old West. People probably have old guns tucked away.”
Terry Hinds’ sister, Cynthia, disappeared in August 1982. Her body was found five days later, another victim of the Green River Killer.
Hinds said he wasn’t aware that anyone was selling stuff linked to serial killers. Those who traffic in it, he said, shouldn’t be profiting.
“Of course it upsets me,” he said. “If anyone is making money off this, it should go to the families.”

Why? Most of the families of those killed by the Green River Killer had already written off that relation. Why should they get money? They didn’t support them while living, so why should they get a death bonus? Yes, I find this seedy, but I’m not about to make the decision about what is allowed (Martha Stewart shawl auctioned off to support prison ministries), vice what is not.

I know I’m ignoring the Son of Sam laws issues. I see this as another USA hubris law, assuming that if it is outlawed in the USA, the rest of the world is cowed into submission.

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Richard Gardner
About Richard Gardner
Richard Gardner is a “retired” Navy Submarine Officer with military policy, arms control, and budgeting experience. He contributed over 100 pieces to OTB between January 2004 and August 2008, covering special events. He has a BS in Engineering from the University of California, Irvine.

Comments

  1. Boyd says:

    Um, that is Sterling. Even I know that.

    Is that your dry wit again? Since I can’t see the expression on your face, I can’t tell. lol

  2. markm says:

    “But don’t worry, Congress to the rescue.”

    Hey, at least it’s not another building naming…or re-naming.

  3. Anderson says:

    “If anyone is making money off this, it should go to the families.”

    What kind of family member would *want* to raise money from ghouls?

  4. SDM says:
  5. Boyd says:

    I’ve made similar “corrections” to things James has said in the past, SDM, only to learn he was cracking a joke. Hence my first comment.

    And since it’s so obvious, and having read James for many years, I expect he’s making a joke. James has pretty good Google-fu.

  6. Steve Plunk says:

    I saw an article recently showing the suit Lincoln wore when he was assassinated being packed away by a museum curator after display. What’s the difference? Ownership and display of such artifacts (and they are all artifacts from having a historical nature) is and has been common throughout history. Congress is again feeling more important than it was ever meant to be.

  7. markm says:

    “I saw an article recently showing the suit Lincoln wore when he was assassinated being packed away by a museum curator after display. What’s the difference?”

    Ats what I was thinking. A little insignificant trivia: What Dearborn Michigan museum has the chair Lincoln was shot in as well as the Kennedy assasination car?? (HINT: The word FORD is in the name)