As far as crimes go murder is probably the worst. Why is it then that society is so constantly drawn to anything relating to murder? Movies and shows that include murder and violence are viewed by millions of people. Society loves hearing about the gruesome deeds of heartless killers. This public interest creates a vacuum for profit and maybe that vacuum is the reason for the large market for murderabilia.
Looking at murderabilia opens the doors to a host of questions about legality and morality. The question is whether this type of profit from pain and murder is acceptable or whether it is just another evil that stems from murder.
Before we can make any decisions about the morality of murderabilia, it is important to know just what we’re dealing with. Murderabilia are any collectables relating to murders or other violent crimes. Essentially murderabilia is a souvenir from a violent murder. In the market for murderabilia it matters little what the item is as long as it was owned by the killer. Some buyers enjoy the dark history of the objects but still others believe they offer power and control.
Some of the most popular murderabilia is serial killer art. This art is created by serial killers and other mass murderers while in prison. The art itself is often a result of art therapy that occurs in prison to both rehabilitate the murderer and more thoroughly understand their motives. Still other times it is merely a way for the individual to pass the time. Killers such as John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez, Glen Edward Rogers, and Henry Lee Lucas have all created killer art.
The morality of murderabilia has always been questioned. Is it really right to support these killers? Is it right to profit off of the deaths and destruction of others? Those questions and many others caused the banning of the sale of murderabilia on eBay in 2001 and force the market underground. The law just like the morality of murderabilia has also been a grey area. Throughout the years, lawmakers have consistently tried to block the sale of murderabilia and controversy has arisen each time murderabilia was found to be sold. A bill was even introduced by Senators John Cornyn and Amy Klobuchar, it was called “Stop the Sale of Murderabilia to Protect the Dignity of Crime Victims Act of 2010”. Many others however, argue that blocking the sale of murderabilia also blocks the free speech rights of the prisoners. To this day murderabilia remains a thorough grey area.
Despite the legal and moral battles, murderabilia is still a thriving business. Eric Holler runs Serial Killers Ink and internet shop that specializes in murderabilia. The items range from artwork to handwritten letters of various famous serial killers to watercolors and drawings by Adolf Hitler. Holler describes, “Murder and mayhem is a moneymaking business. I think there’s a little bit of darkness in us all. We want to walk to the edge.” Despite the questionable morality, Holler’s business has grown every year since its opening in 2009.
Why is murderabilia so popular? Why is it a growing market? Some experts believe the answers lie in history and others in fame. Murderabilia allows the owner to own a piece of history albeit gruesome history and as psychologist Kit Yarrow put it, “Famous is famous.”
Another question is who gets the money? Do we pay the serial killers for their crimes? The U.S. government has an answer to that question, at least a partial one. Son of Sam laws, enacted in the 1970s allow the state to seize any proceeds of serial killers and use them to compensate the victims’ families. These laws prevent murderers from benefitting, but they do still allow a third party to claim the proceeds from such a sale. In other words the murderer can’t benefit from his murders, but another person can.
Murderabilia falls smack dab in the middle of free speech and morality. How much lapsed morality can be justified by free speech and how much morality can restrict free speech? Is it wrong to sell murderabilia? Is it wrong to profit from the pain and suffering of others? Who should receive the money? All of these are questions that need answers and questions that will undoubtedly have complicated answers. The only thing that can be known for sure is that we live in a culture that is fascinated by the dark and gruesome, and as long as that holds true the business of murderabilia will thrive.
More information on murderabilia at: http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/23/living/murderabilia-artwork-serial-killers-hitler-feat/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murderabilia