Massachusetts lawmakers attempted to pass a more narrow bill in 2001, but the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that it, too, violated state and federal free-speech guarantees. Since then, revised versions have been introduced on Beacon Hill, and last month the legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary gave a favorable report to a bill filed by State Representative Peter Koutoujian. Massachusetts could be the first New England state to adopt such a measure, with provisions that cover art and autographs.
“A woman in my district brought the issue to me,” says Koutoujian. “Her daughter, a college student in Texas, was murdered by a serial killer. He was selling locks of his hair to cult followers. When someone reaps a profit from this sort of crime, it’s a perversion of justice that victimizes society as a whole.”
John Wayne Gacy Jr. (inset) and his Patches the Clown.
New England’s notorious
These days, Mailhot’s not the only New England inmate to catch the hobbyist’s eye. The Supernaught site (which bills itself as a destination for “true crime memorabilia and gallery”) also offers items connected to Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel, convicted of bludgeoning a Greenwich neighbor in his teenage years; serial killer Lewis Lent, in prison for the murder of a child in western Massachusetts; Christopher McCowen, behind bars for the slaying of Cape Cod fashion writer Christa Worthington; and Joseph Druce, who killed pedophile priest John Geoghan while both were in prison.
“That there’s a market for so-called ‘murderabilia’ is completely repellent,” says Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch. His office is investigating whether Mailhot is reaping any monetary gain from the exchange, though the state has no law that specifically forbids it.
“It’s a slap in the face to the victims’ families,” adds Captain Ed Lee, one of the Woonsocket police detectives who cracked the case. “I’d hate to think he’s making any profit.”
Some celebrity slayers have expressed dismay that their names appear on trading sites. Pamela Smart, the Seabrook, New Hampshire, schoolteacher who recruited students to kill her husband, has issued statements slamming dealers who hawk her autograph. And Berkowitz is reportedly so appalled at the trend that he’s wary of signing anything, lest someone peddles the document.
The only response from the Florida dealer who runs the Supernaught site is an online statement in which he brands his media critics hypocrites. The anonymous Massachusetts trader who runs prisonboundserialkillers.com takes a similar tack, with a taunting quote from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. “Media’s like the weather, only it’s man-made weather,” reads his post. “Murder? It’s pure.”
Jerry Harder, the California collector who runs murderauction.com, is one of the few traders who consents to interviews. He insists crime artifacts rarely sell for big money unless the killer involved is dead, and points to Gacy — whose paintings soared in value only after he was executed — as an example. “This whole idea that inmates are getting rich,” says Harder, “is one big myth.”
Harder’s own collection includes necklaces made by Manson and dirt scooped from the grave of the late Henry Lee Lucas, whose notoriety rests on his implausible claim of 300 victims. “A lot of people are interested in dark periods of history,” says Harder. “Maybe they collect mementos of World War II or the Civil Rights struggle. We’re no different. I certainly don’t condone killing anyone.”