The Dark Market Of 'Murderabilia'

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By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 6, 2008

There is a reason we have prisons. One of them is to keep people like Hadden Clark far, far away from the rest of us.

You do remember Hadden Clark, don't you?

Clark was the cross-dressing schizophrenic from Bethesda who killed 6-year-old Michele Dorr with a butcher knife on May 31, 1986. When he finally took police to the body 13 1/2 years later in Montgomery County's Paint Branch Park, it made national news. He was a serial killer (he also killed 23-year-old Laura Houghteling of Bethesda, and possibly many others) and claimed to be a blood-drinking cannibal. There was a book, lots of television.

He's locked up for life, but he hasn't forgotten his fans.

From his prison cell in Jessup, Clark peddles drawings of little girls, Bugs Bunny and his prison smock on Web sites that cater to people who want talismans from the murderous, the sadistic and the truly sick. When The Post wrote Clark to ask him how much he made in the business, he wrote back asking for a Girl Scout calendar and pictures of the reporter "when you were a little girl in dresses . . . I love girls."

And Lee Malvo. You didn't think Washington sniper Lee Boyd Malvo would just go away, did you? His self-portrait and letters are a hit on a Web site called Daisy Seven, motto: "Where Crime Pays. Every Day." It promotes him as "Our favorite sniper kid" and "Our Beltway buddy." His stuff goes for about $30 a pop but is sold out at the moment.

The trade in crime memorabilia -- a letter from Charlie Manson, a sketch by John Wayne Gacy, a postcard from Ted Bundy -- has become a dark part of the fascination with violence and celebrity. Most of the goods are created by serial killers in prison and peddled by dealers outside bars for modest profit.

Critics call it "murderabilia." It has risen and flourished and been banished from mainstream Web sites and been hatcheted by outraged state legislation and risen again, and now Congress is trying to punish it on a federal level. There are many rooms in the house of American culture, and the trade in the trinkets and baubles of killers is the indelible grease stain on the garage floor. It's wet and oily and it smells nasty and it's not going away.

"It's all-American style entertainment," writes David Berkowitz, the now-remorseful serial killer, in a recent letter that described his dismay with the crime memorabilia trade and the public fascination with homicidal violence.

"I was John Wayne Gacy's mule," says Rick Staton, the legendary collector, by phone from his home in Baton Rouge, La. He's describing how he became the exclusive art dealer for the man who killed more than 30 young males in Chicago and how they evaded the Illinois law set up to stop Gacy from selling his paintings. "It was a brush with deviant celebrity. It was unique. I had him do a portrait of my 2-year-old son. It's something to tell your grandkids about."


"Well, at least my grandkids. They may be different from yours."

CONTINUED     1                 >

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