A lock of hair. A half-eaten bag of Reese’s Pieces. Handmade voodoo dolls.
Charles Manson may be dead, but the fascination with his crimes lives on through the grisly — and highly controversial — “murderabilia” items that collectors continue to purchase online.
Critics claim that selling such items cashes in on the pain and heartbreak of victims and their families. So should the practice be banned?
Some experts argue that cracking down on sinister souvenirs violates First Amendment rights and claim that there could be some educational value to criminologists, profilers, and scholars in the items convicted killers leave behind.
Im the wake of Manson’s death, CrimeFeed takes a closer look at the modern murderabilia market — which is dominated by a handful of retailers including Supernaught, SerialKillerInk, and MurderAuctions.
The cult leader, who was serving a life sentence for orchestrating the murders of seven people including pregnant actress Sharon Tate in 1969, reportedly spent a lot of time during his years behind bars making voodoo dolls.
One of his handmade string dolls is listed on online seller Supernaught for $4,200.
The description reads:
Charles Manson handmade string art voodoo doll from the PHU at Corcoran State Prison. Approximately 4 1/2″ x 6″ in size. Manson string art is among the most sought after of all true crime collectibles and far more difficult to obtain than paintings by John Wayne Gacy which are right up there with the one true crime collectible which are sought by completest collectors.
Other items up for grabs include police reports, a signed Charles Manson trading card ($1,995), and a prison rules violation report ($700).
A set of what are described as Manson’s dentures, which Supernaught claims are “the one authentic known set of dentures which came from author Nuel Emmons,” are listed for $100,000.
The set also “includes the sunglasses case in which they came in along with a copy of a COA from Emmons family.”
In spite of their horrific crimes, many people have a morbid fascination with things left behind by killers whose crimes have made headlines — and selling of serial killer artwork; clothing, including a Santa suit worn by kidnapper and serial killer John Edward Robinson; or a signed Ted Bundy Christmas card — can command four-figure prices.
Clown oil paintings by serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who killed at least 33 young boys and men in the mid 1970s in Chicago and buried their bodies in a crawl space under his house, have continued to circulate since he was executed in 1994.
Some are listed online for $2,500 to $2,700.
Personal items from criminals have been changing hands forever, but murderabilia items hit the mainstream in 1988 with the creation of eBay. The site later banned these items — and today, the site’s policy states it only permits items over 100 years old, or books, documentaries, and Hollywood-style movies related to violent crimes to be sold out of “respect for the families and friends of victims.”
But a handful of sellers emerged to fill the void and today, as with the art market, demand is largely determined by supply.
Experts say that the relative rarity of Manson items means that they, unlike, say, something penned by “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez, who was a prolific letter writer, are able to command high prices.
After the Son of Sam murders in New York in the ’70s, lawmakers banned criminals from making money off their crimes. But the law only applies to criminals accepting payments directly. This means that, even though similar Son of Sam laws are on the books in most states, selling of these types of items is usually exempt.
Critics of murderabilia sellers claim that they can profit indirectly, for example, by someone else putting money into their prison commissary account, or sending funds via an attorney or family member.
Andy Kahan of the Mayor’s Crime Victims Office in Houston, who reportedly first coined the term “murderabilia,” has been cataloguing sales since 2001. He has maintained a dedication to wiping out the market for these sinister souvenirs that includes giving lectures across the country and pushing for legislation to make selling them illegal.
To demonstrate the most offensive items he had ever seen being peddled, Kahan showed the Houston Press foot scrapings from “The Railroad Killer” Angel Maturino Reséndiz. Reséndiz, who murdered as many as 15 people in the U.S. and Mexico, offered his foot scrapings for sale online before his 2006 execution.
Kahan told the newspaper, “[Reséndiz] said one time, ‘I will no longer sell anything for less than $50, because I’m famous now. The sad part was, it was true.”
To learn more about Charles Manson, watch Investigation Discovery’s Manson: The Prison Tapes on ID GO now!
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Main photo: Charles Manson [Wikimedia Commons]