Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Culture

Killer Art

book cover:  Killer Clown:  The John Wayne Gacy Murders
book cover: Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders

A news item in November 2005 featured Nikki Stone, a musician who purchased a painting of "Pogo the Clown" done by infamous killer John Wayne Gacy, who murdered 33 young men and kept the remains of 29 of them beneath his house.  According to Stone, once he acquired the painting for $3000, he was hit with a load of bad luck.  His dog died, his mother was diagnosed with cancer, and several associates who agreed to store the work experienced their own brand of negative incidents —accidents and fires.  "I just want to be rid of it," he said to Laurel J. Stewart for the Boston Herald.  In the same article, it was noted that actor Johnny Depp had also once acquired a Gacy painting of the same ilk, but had "developed a pathological fear of clowns and had unloaded the artwork."

Imprisoned killers have time on their hands and some use art to express or enrich themselves.  Whether or not they have talent, they acquire eager agents and collectors. Gacy, among the most famous, managed to make over $100,000 from his paintings, which featured anything from the seven dwarves to other killers to himself in a clown outfit.  Although he was eventually executed, his work is still in demand.  As with artists of genuine cultural merit, his death enhanced the value of his art to collectors.

Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy

Plans were once in place for a serial killer museum, to be operated by Jonathan Davis, who owns a number of artworks and killer-related items, such as the tan Volkswagen bug with which Ted Bundy picked up girls and transported corpses.  Davis also owns Gacy's former clown suit, as well as legal documents signed by killers, including a confession letter from Albert Fish (which is also said to be owned by another collector).  He's never complained about a run of bad luck, although he did get sued for supposedly reneging on a deal to help finance the museum.

Gerard Schaefer
Gerard Schaefer

With the popularity of many "anything-goes" Internet sites, it's not difficult for the most violent offenders to find buyers.  Gerard Schaefer, convicted of two 1970s murders and suspected in 34, published a collection of gruesomely illustrated short stories before he died.  Police believed they amounted to a voyeuristic autobiography, a way to relive his crimes and become famous without actually confessing.

Charles Ng, formerly partnered with Leonard Lake to torture numerous people to death, sells his origami; Lawrence "Pliers" Bittaker offers greeting cards, and Charles Manson makes puppets.  Infamous "celebrity" killers like Richard Ramirez, the Los Angeles "Night Stalker," maintain their gruesome reputations by drawing devils, dismemberments, and stabbings.  Dennis Nilsen, a British killer who kept body parts in his home and drew renditions of them for the police, was recently denied the right in England to publish his autobiography.  He'll probably find a willing underground method for it, and an audience.  Ian Brady, the surviving partner of the "Moors Murders" team that tortured and killed children in Britain, had to go to an American publisher to get his book The Gates of Janus published.

Arthur Shawcross
Arthur Shawcross

But these killers are sometimes thwarted.  Rochester-based killer Arthur Shawcross, the Genesee River Strangler, came up against New York State's policy against profit from murder when he attempted to sell artwork, poems and autographs via associates on eBay.  He was sentenced to two years of solitary confinement and five years without access to arts and crafts privileges.

Besides art and artifacts made by the killers, some people — especially females — try to get as close to the killers as possible.  They want more than something the killer touched; they want the killer himself.

 

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