The word Murderabilia is the name that’s given to the collecting of items that were once owned or created by infamous and notorious people such as serial killers. There are auction websites run by dealers who specialise in obtaining and selling items that are directly linked to serial killers and their crimes. Items such as letters, paintings and drawings are some of the most popular items collected. Autograph collecting is a popular pastime for many, especially of film, music and sporting stars. The value of an autograph depends on the status of the person, their popularity and where applicable their notoriety. If a person is involved in criminality their public perception will attract more attention than someone who is ‘squeaky clean’. Take for example former American football star and actor O.J. Simpson, his autograph more than quadrupled in value after his car-dash on the freeway post the discovery of the two dead people he stood trial for murdering.
Murderers and serial killers fall feet first into the notorious category. These people attract widespread media attention and spawn countless book and films based on their heinous crimes.
The demand from the public to learn more about individual serial killers is at an all time high and society has gotten to the point now where it’s not just enough to know about the crimes, members of the public want to write to the killers and correspond directly with them in a bid to satisfy a yearning to have a ‘safe’ association with the murderer.
Ed Gein items
The Killer Clown
Serial killer John Wayne Gacy who was put to death in 1994 for the murder of 33 young men and boys corresponded with anybody who would care to write to him. Brian Dennehy portrayed Gacy, AKA ‘The Killer Clown in the 1992 film ‘To Catch a Killer’. Gacy operated a lucrative business while in prison where he painted pictures that he sold to his countless pen pals. He enjoyed painting scenes from Disney films as well as much darker images of sex and death. His most famous painting was a self- portrait that he produced of himself as his alter ego ‘Pogo the Clown’. Before his arrest for Murder Gacy would dress up as Pogo to entertain at children’s parties and hospitals. In Gacy’s painted 33 red stripes in the clown outfit in the painting, one strip for each of his victims.
These paintings were sold direct by Gacy with him collecting all money which he allegedly spent on drugs and sex while in prison. Gacy’s artwork is much sought after and can go for multiple thousands of pounds for an individual piece. It’s rumoured that A-list Hollywood celebrates are among collectors of Gacy’s artwork.
Apprehended Serial Killers serving their sentences in various forms of institutions are looked upon as approachable and truth be told once they are locked up their world becomes so small that their egos crave attention and the only way they can feel important now is if a letter comes their way. This area of true crime culture gives an opportunity for the killer to keep their own longevity up and by writing back to establish a chain of communication where both parties get what they need. This set-up forms the basis for items entering onto the open market. It tends not to be the killer who profits financially, but the third party who gets the letters and items from them that they then sell on to collectors.
John Wayne Gacy, Pogo the Clown painting
Son of Sam
In America there is a law that prohibits a person convicted of a crime from profiting from their criminality. This is called the ‘Son of Sam’ law and was put in place to ensure that David Berkowitz AKA ‘The Son of Sam’ did not sell the rights to his life story for financial gain.
British serial killer Dennis Nilsen was convicted in 1983 for the murder of 15 men. He exclusively reveals his thoughts on Murderabilia and the place it has in contemporary society.
…Well, I guess what’s really fascinating is the motivations in those who find collecting ‘fascinating’. Of course people are fascinated in what interests them and one wonders at the core of the subject which provokes this frisson of interest. Conventionally taboo subjects invokes ‘frisson’ in the beholder which ‘proves’ the contradictions in the basic human character…this ‘paradox’ conflicts between feelings of both “repellent disgust” and “attractive fascinations” …an unresolved conflict so central to the human condition.
You are not allowed to hear from me directly about my full personal history because my volumes of autobiographies has been banned by the Home Office… and this absence of direct voice from the subject means that all public speculations come to the fore second-hand and invariably inaccurate in the fuller public record of expressive truth from the front of personal experience.
In my own case the motive for my written work was never by way of a wish for personal financial reward, but as an act of revealing public atonement for the wreckage that I made in my past life.
I do hear from outside correspondents that pieces of Nilsen memorabilia are being sold on the outside market…usually via the Internet…letters and things. However I have never sold any such items to anyone in this regard since my conviction…although others have sold my effects as being their own decision.
Obsessive collecting strikes me as being one manifestation of personal insecurity in ‘arresting’ (or trying to) the physical elements associated with the ‘frissive fascination’ …as a kind of trophy to reinforce an internal fantasy. There also seems to be an element which seeks to mitigate fear through close tactile contact with objects associated with that fear…i.e. “Murderabillia”.
In addition, some collectors will feel ‘potent’ by closeness to such objects associated with the subject…and a ‘spiritual’ ingestion of the potency perceived in the subject and his notorious actions.
Collecting is akin to an addiction…an irrational drive to possess ‘the full set’…a compulsion towards a ‘magically’ unobtainable ‘goal’ which is never and can never be realised because of its artificiality investing importance in what are, in effect, a series of inanimate objects which result in nothing but a fortifying of the fantasy.
As we are all viewed as “subjects of the Crown” and not “citizens of the State” we have no written constitution which protects rights of normal expression…causing many in this country to take recourse in the European Convention of Human Rights whose Articles are the nearest thing we have to a “constitution”. You can see, every day, for yourself the accumulation erosions of civil liberty in this country from state and its growing paranoia to ‘control’ people and expression. The PC brigade has a barely concealed agenda which comes from distracting focus away from the really important issues on to something else. i.e., the polluters of our fresh air being smokers rather than the global industrial complex and its activities.
Well the mark of a free country is also the freedom to collect memorabilia/ Murderabillia…and that’s that. People seem to collect everything. Do you think that this stems originally from our tens of thousands of years as “hunter-gatherers”? This might well be itself an extension from the ‘squirrel urge’ to secrete a cache of nuts ‘for the winter’…which, when you think of it in terms of material survival…isn’t such a bad idea.
All historians rely on all the records, letters and other sources …as primary evidence of the historian’s interpretations of past events and the motivations of people who participated in them.
It’s a shame that my own ‘primary evidence’ on my own life has been cut from the loop of understanding through official policy.
It’s human nature to be fascinated by the macabre and extreme. Horror films are a good case in point. The safe thrills from watching a fictional killer on screen has grown numb and like a drug we look for something harder, more fulfilling, but at the same time from a safe zone where there is no danger. Writing to a killer may satisfy that thirst for now, but what’s next?
John wayne Gacy painting depicting famous horror film monsters
Steven F Scouller will be writing bi-weekly true crime articles for Popcorn Horror. Find out more about him at his official website.