Murderabilia: Murderers Profiting While in Prison

November 16, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
A business is growing inside California State Prisons. While these enterprises are legal, many say its wrong.These days, you can find virtually anything online. And for prices ranging from $5 dollars to $2,500 dollars, you can buy items such as artwork, signatures, and even underwear from convicted killers.

It's memorabilia from murderers that has now come to be known as "murderabilia."

Fresno Attorney Antonio Alvarez was first introduced to the term when he worked as a prosecutor on the Fernando Caro case.

In 1980, Caro murdered two teens in Fowler. And just last month, improvements in D.N.A. technology led investigators to Caro again. Fresno Police say he murdered 8-year-old Victoria Santiago in 1979.

While being locked up in San Quentin, Caro has built a collection of artwork online, in hopes it will help fund his defense.

There are 15 death row inmates at the Central California Women's Facility near Chowchilla. We found at least 2 of them selling murderabilia online. And that doesn't include the other inmates here who are doing the same. Though some say the sale of these items is wrong, it's not illegal.

In 2002, the California Supreme Court struck down the state's Son of Sam Law, which was designed to keep prisoners from profiting from their crimes.

"California dealt with it by extending the statute of limitations, allowing victims to be able to sue defendants for these profits," said Attorney Antonio Alvarez, "It was a big thing then."

Edna Herstein of Fresno says that's not good enough.

In 1977, her 17-year old daughter, Janet was kidnapped and murdered in Southeast Fresno while delivering newspapers. The man who killed her, Ray Dell Sims, is a suspected serial killer. He hasn't cashed in on the crime against Janet Herstein, but her mother says he shouldn't have the chance.

"It's like sending your kid to their room when he's got telephone, television, and all those videogames. What's the point? We put them in jail to punish them, yet he can earn money and save it up and buy a new radio or television or whatever in the world he wants," said Herstein.

People who run these so-called murderabilia websites defend their business.

Ed Mead, a former prison inmate, is the creator of PrisonArt.org. For the past ten years, he has been buying art from prisoners all over the globe and selling them for a profit.

Mead said, "They earn the possibility of being able to make or help make a living once they get out of prison. They're able to contribute to their families' support. Where is the downside?"

Other sites like SerialKillersInc.net sell an array of items from notorious killers like Charles Manson.

"A lot of people do take offense to it. At the same time, a lot of our biggest customers are in the academic field, professors in criminology and we have loaned items to professors to study and share with their class," said Jessika Gein with SerialKillersInk.net.

Victims' Advocate Mike Reynolds said, "That's sick, it's unfortunate. The laws that have been passed have not been adequate. There should be greater influence on it."

Reynolds authored California's Three Strikes Law after his 18-year-old daughter Kimber was murdered in Fresno's Tower District back in 1992. He is frustrated by the notion that people's curiosity will keep murderabilia sites up and running.

"As long as there is a fascination with it, there will always be a certain demand to be closer to these bad people."

Some states do ban murderabilia websites. A federal law has been proposed to ban them all together, but it hasn't gained enough congressional support.

The California Department of Corrections provided a statement to Action News about "murderabilia" saying inmates are not allowed to engage in a business or profession without permission. Although they can't control an outside family member or third-party from making money on these items, prison officials say any profit deposited in the inmate's account may be subject to court ordered restitution.


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