BTK relics nab profits on the Net
03/27/2012 1:44 PM
03/27/2012 1:44 PM
A letter from serial killer Dennis Rader sold at auction for $100 on the Internet, and a Texas man who monitors the sale of "murderabilia" said he expects more BTK items to be purchased in coming months.
"This is just the beginning of the merchandising of Rader/BTK — whatever you want to call him," said Andy Kahan, director of the crime-victim's assistance program in Houston. "This is a burgeoning industry. I would be shocked if he didn't get in on the action."
For decades, an eclectic group of collectors from around the country has dealt in items with ties to some of the nation's most notorious murderers, Kahan said. Buying and selling such items has become easier with the growing popularity of the Internet.
At one Web site last week, collectors could bid on foot scrapings from serial killer Angel Ramirez, on death row in Texas, or a vial of dirt from the crawl space where executed serial killer John Wayne Gacy buried his victims.
Kahan, who said he regularly monitors Web sites that specialize in the sale of crime memorabilia, said the Rader letter sold Thursday for about $100 at murderauction.com. It was the first item he knows of that's been sold in Kansas.
"You've never had to deal with this issue before," he said. "Now you do."
Four states — Texas, California, Florida and New Jersey — have passed "murderabilia" laws that prevent anyone from profiting from a criminal's notoriety, Kahan said.
He got interested in the issue more than five years ago when he found dozens of items related to other serial killers at the eBay Internet auction site.
"I said, 'No way. This can't be legal.'" he said.
Kahan was among those who lobbied eBay to stop selling criminal artifacts. The company imposed a ban on such objects in May 2001.
Although several Rader items — including citation letters he sent in his role as Park City's compliance supervisor — went up for sale on eBay shortly after his Feb. 25 arrest, the items were removed after eBay officials realized why they had been posted.
After eBay stopped allowing crime memorabilia, Kahan said, a handful of collectors opened their own Web sites.
The Rader letter carried this description by its owner:
"This is... supposedly the first letter from Dennis Rader to anyone outside of law enforcement or the media. In it he jokingly refers to himself as "The Suspect" and a few other surprises.... It is handwritten and is initialed in full twice, and signed in full twice!!! Photo available for serious inquiries."
The seller, identified only as "unlucky13," does not explain how he obtained the letter.
Kansas has a "Son of Sam" law that prevents criminals from profiting from book or movie deals, but it says nothing about letters, said Ann Swegle, Sedgwick County deputy district attorney.
"The statute doesn't deal at all with physical artifacts," she said.
Swegle said Rader conceivably could sell his hair, his toothbrush or his toenail clippings — but victims' families could probably seize that money through civil lawsuits. Friday, the fourth such suit was filed against Rader.
Lawyer and state Sen. Phil Journey, R-Haysville, said he wasn't surprised to hear that a Rader letter had turned up on a Web site devoted to crime artifacts.
"I think it's morbid," he said. "I don't know why anybody would bid on it or pay for it, but people seem to be fascinated with outlaws or castoffs in our society."
But Journey said he didn't think the state should prohibit third parties, such as "unlucky13," from dealing in artifacts that have been lawfully obtained.
"It is, in effect, a violation of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution," he said. "You can't take someone's property without due process of law.
"When you start affecting third persons who have no criminal culpability, then it's like prohibiting the sale of World War II memorabilia because it has a swastika on it. You know people collect that stuff."
Corinne Radke, the local victim advocate for Parents of Murdered Children, disagreed. She said she doesn't think anyone should be allowed to make money because of Rader's notoriety.
"It is sick," she said. "Nobody should be able to profit from it."