Harold Schechter, a Queens College professor who has studied serial killers and our culture’s obsession with their mayhem, scoffs at the notion that collecting represents some great moral breakdown. He sees it as a harmless hobby.
“People don’t realize our culture is much less violent today than in the past,” he says. “Not so long ago, people would take their kids to see public executions, and the hangman would earn tips by selling sections of the rope as souvenirs. The only thing new here is the Internet technology. I can certainly see where it’s offensive to people, but that’s a matter of taste, not morality.”
Another scholar takes a more squeamish view. Jack Levin, a Northeastern University criminologist who has interviewed a number of killers behind bars, sees something untoward about giving murderers marquee billing. But he skips scolding traders and collectors, and instead lays the blame on news and entertainment media.
He got it straight from the horse’s mouth. “When I interviewed Charles Manson, he told me, ‘I’m the most famous person who ever lived,’ ” recalls Levin. “Sadly, he’s not that far off.”
John Larrabee is a freelance writer who has reported on the Mailhot case since the day of Mailhot’s arrest. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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