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Archive for Saturday, February 10, 2001

Morbid memorabilia proves not to be a collection to die for

February 10, 2001

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The good news is nobody in Lawrence is buying.

The 10 letters and cards from convicted serial killers that Randy Walker has for sale at the Lawrence Antique Mall, 830 Mass., have sat untouched in a glass case for months.

An interest in unusual and bizarre collectibles led Randy Walker to
his fascination with serial killer memorabilia. Walker, Lawrence,
is shown Friday with items from infamous murderers including Henry
Lee Lucas, David Berkowitz and John Wayne Gacy.

An interest in unusual and bizarre collectibles led Randy Walker to his fascination with serial killer memorabilia. Walker, Lawrence, is shown Friday with items from infamous murderers including Henry Lee Lucas, David Berkowitz and John Wayne Gacy.

Like millions of movie-goers who will flock to see "Hannibal," Walker is fascinated by serial killers. But most people don't own a Christmas card from John Wayne Gacy, a letter from "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz or artwork from Charles Manson.

And apparently they don't want to, or at least they don't want to pay the $40 to $1,000 Walker is asking for the items.

"I think it's some level of morbid curiosity," that is behind the fascination he and others have with serial killers, Walker, a Lawrence resident, said. "We all have some sort of dark side, but it's always contained. That curiosity is so abnormal even when I think about it."

Walker isn't the only one fascinated by serial killers.

Chris Crandall, an associate professor at Kansas University, allows students in his beginning psychology class to choose the topic for one class period each semester. He said serial killers are second only to sex in popularity with students.

"One of the things that's interesting about serial killers is they're famous," Crandall said. "They get media coverage. Being a fan of a serial killer isn't that much different than being a fan of a rock star, except you have a tolerance for weirdness.

"The thing of it is, the grisly side of it is often presented so sanitized and so clean and so easy that you can be interested in it, without being part of the sordid, creepy part of it."

Crandall said movies like "Hannibal," the sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs" that opened in theaters Friday, add to the idea that multiple murders can be chic.

It was the notoriety of Manson, the notorious 1960s California cult leader and convicted killer, that first sparked Walker's interest in serial killers.

He said he started writing to imprisoned serial killers about 15 years ago, thinking he could make money on the items. But over time, gathering personal mementos from the serial killers he read about in books and saw in movies has become a personal quest.

Walker's collection now includes about 40 items, including letters, cards, photos and artwork. He bought most of his items using the Internet.

One of his prized possessions is a Christmas card from Gacy, who killed about 30 boys and men in Chicago before being caught in 1978. The photo inside shows Gacy dressed in the clown outfit he often donned to entertain neighborhood children.

The serial killer memorabilia is just part of Walker's bizarre collectibles. He also has more than 200 photos of dead people and collects antique embalming bottles and makeup from funeral parlors.

Although Walker, a cook at Kappa Alpha Theta sorority at KU, hasn't had much luck selling items, antique mall co-owner Larry Billings said the memorabilia have brought complaints from some customers who consider the items inappropriate for display at the mall.

"It's just another collectible item that you don't see very often," Billings said. "Some people would never imagine seeing something like that. Obviously, it's very collectible there's not a lot of things like that out there. As an antique mall, we try to get a huge variety of items."

Walker does plan to see "Hannibal." He admits that he, like many, likes to know about the killers from afar.

"They want to get close but not too close," Walker said. "It's like a roller coaster. It's a safe thrill."

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