A Pablo Picasso collotype can cost you $100,000 or more. A Lou Gehrig autographed baseball as much as $10,000. Alternatively, a painting by Gainesville, Fla., serial killer Danny Rolling can be obtained for about $2,000. If that's not to your liking, you could pick up a signed photocopy of Charles Manson's driver's license for $375. According to the seller, its "perfect for framing."
Murderabilia sales have picked up in recent years despite efforts by victims' advocates to ban them. There are about half-a-dozen dealers who offer hundreds of such items on the Internet. One of the top-selling outlets is serialkillersink.net, a Los Angeles-based company owned and maintained by Eric Gein. According to Gein, his interest in the macabre started about 15 years ago.
"I started writing to infamous serial killers," Gein told AOL News. "I first went with a journalistic approach. Soon after, I decided a book was not really what I wanted to do, at least not at the present time. I gained trust with a lot of these guys, and I did not want to destroy the trust I worked hard for."
About four years ago, Gein decided to turn his interest into a business.
"We are simply providing a service to a market that seems to be somewhat in demand," Gein said. "Why watch a documentary on Discovery ID about a serial murder case when you can own an actual piece from the person being paraded across the television set? We also believe owning a piece of something they have written from their own mind gives people a better insight into the mind of that person than, say, a television documentary or a true crime book."
One of staunchest opponents of murderabilia is Houston crime victim advocate Andy Kahan, who said he has been fighting the sale of "hideous" and "despicable" items for more than a decade.
"From a victim's perspective, there is nothing more nauseating and disgusting to find out the person who murdered one of your loved ones now has items being hawked by third parties for pure profit," Kahan told AOL News. "I am a firm believer in free enterprise and capitalism, but you shouldn't be able to rob, rape and murder – and then turn around and make a buck off of it."
Kahan said he started getting involved in 1999 in trying to stop the sale of murderabilia after reading an article about a New York serial killer whose privileges had been rescinded because the Department of Corrections found out he had artwork for sale on eBay.
"I just figured in my mind where there was one, there had to be others, so I went on eBay and did a search. I ended up finding hundreds of items for sale – everything from serial killer letters to artwork," Kahan said. "Probably like most people, I was under the illusion that this was not legal. How can someone be profiting from some of the most despicable crimes known to man?"
Kahan reached out to eBay's public relations department to learn more.
"They told me they were not the morality police and that as long as it's legal, they have an obligation to offer it to their customers and if I didn't like it, I should go do something about it," he said
So he started buying items and destroying them, he said.
"I got samples of serial killer hair, fingernails, clothing, sexually pornographic artwork, you name it," Kahan added. "Some of the items I kept so that I could use them later for more powerful presentations when talking to elected officials."
In 2001, eBay announced it would no longer allow the sale of murderabilia. The online auction sites' offensive material policy was updated, noting, "We'll remove your listing and suspend your account if you've been convicted of a violent felony and are attempting to use eBay (directly or through another person) to benefit financially from your criminal notoriety."
But murderabilia sellers simply set up their own online shops. As a result, Kahan took his quest to lawmakers.
"We started crafting laws. About eight states have now passed what you call 'notoriety for profit laws,'" Kahan said.
But he realized that most of the transactions are interstate commerce, not affected by state laws. So he pursued federal legislation.
Kahan met with Texas Sen. John Cornyn and drafted Senate Bill 1528 to stop the sale of murderabilia. The bill would make it illegal for inmates to use the U.S. mail as a conduit for shipping items to be sold for profit. The bill was initially picked up in the House by Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., but it has since stalled.
"They never had a hearing and, for the life of me, I can't figure out why we cannot achieve bipartisan support," Kahan said. "I was frankly told that because we lack a Democrat co-sponsor, it was going nowhere"
He said the bill currently is on "life support."
Gein does not understand why Kahan and others are so offended by his merchandise.
"This hobby is the same as collecting celebrity signatures, sport signatures and the like," Gein said. "The negativity should be used in a more productive way, such as to make sure these guys never get out of prison [by] writing to parole boards when their parole dates come up to ensure they are not released. I have sympathy for the families of victims, but at the same time, I have a right to run a legal business. ... this is something we profit from. Not the inmates."
Joe Hiles, a private collector of murderabilia and owner of skcentral.com, agrees with Gein.
"I collect the stuff because I consider them historical documents," Hiles said. "[It may be] morbid, gruesome history, but it is history nonetheless. Fifty years from now, if you mention a name like Anthony Sowell, you'll think of Cleveland history. If you mention David Berkowitz, you think of New York history. Sure, it's not a reminder of a good history, but it's still history."