Who would buy the Unabomber's shoes, dishes, typewriter, rambling letters -- or even his copy of Strunk & White's "Elements of Style"?
A lot people, apparently.
When a federal appeals court last month ordered the government to sell thousands of pages of Theodore Kaczynski's papers and other personal property to the highest bidder, it created an immediate stir in the shadowy collectibles world of "murderabilia."
"I know collectors in Florida, New York, California, Ohio -- they would probably love to get anything from him," said Tod Bohannon, owner of Murderauction.com, an auction Web site for murder memorabilia.
Bohannon's site, created earlier this year after eBay banned the sale of murder-related items amid protests from victims rights groups, features dozens of items from killers including John Wayne Gacy's framed Illinois license plate.
Experts believe the Unabomber's journals could fetch more than $1,000 a piece.
But it is this fascination with the macabre that the government cited when opposing release of the Kaczynski's property, which has been in the government's procession since the FBI raided his cabin in 1996. The three-judge panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit disagreed, ruling that the property should be sold to help cover the $15 million that Kaczynski was ordered to pay bombing victims in restitution.
Some victims said they were appalled at the thought of the Unabomber's letters going to the highest bidders.
Gary Wright of Salt Lake City, hit by an explosive device sent by the Unabomber in 1987 that lodged a nail through his chin and left him with 200 shrapnel wounds, said he is bothered by the possibility that bomb-making schematics and victims' personal information would be among the items sold.
To "put it out there on [auction] or something, that's a pretty big deal because they are releasing things that are impinging on others' privacy," said Wright, who was in recovery for three years. "I don't think there's ever enough money to pay for damage to your body, or your mind, or your psyche. I don't think [the money] will play a part in making me feel any sort of reconciliation with the event."
David Kaczynski, Theodore's brother, also criticized release of the papers, saying it made him feel "heartsick" that there would be some "commercial value placed by some fascination of crime and violence."
In 1995, after the Unabomber's 35,000-word manifesto was published in the New York Times and The Washington Post, David Kaczynski called the FBI because he thought the writing was similar to his brother's. The tip led federal authorities to his brother's Montana cabin.
Kaczynski pleaded guilty in 1998 to sending bombs to victims across the country. The bombs killed three people and injured 23 between 1978 and 1995. Kaczynski is serving four consecutive life sentences in federal prison.
In his writings, he warned that modern technology was destroying human freedom. His manifesto said that he had to kill people to get his message to the public and make a lasting impression.
Kaczynski has been seeking the return of his papers from the government so that he could donate them to the University of Michigan, which has a collection of materials documenting the history of radical thought.
The 9th Circuit ruled July 15 that prosecutors must develop a plan for selling Kaczynski's belongings "in a commercially reasonable manner calculated to maximize the monetary return to Kaczynski's victims and their families."
But that ruling, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ana Maria Martel said, will open up the sale not only of Kaczynski's papers but also of his personal effects, including empty jars of peanut butter, oatmeal containers, a rock, a plastic container with white clumpy powder, and a brown envelope marked "autobiography." These kinds of mementos are ripe for the murderabilia market.
Bohann said he is most interested in the personal effects. Kaczynski's hairbrush or a toothbrush, he said, could go for about $500 each.
If the government goes through with the auction, it's likely that some of Kaczynski's items will show up on murderabilia Web sites, said Andy Kahan, the director of the Houston mayor's crime victims office.
"This stuff is going to be sold no matter what," he said.