What is America’s fascination with holding cold blooded killers’ status at a celebrity level? The higher the body count, the more fame is pasted to the infamous name. Many choose to write books on them, make movies about them and even make fan clubs or websites devoted in their honor (or in some cases, freedom, such as Charles Manson or Tex Watson). Is this dark fascination (and sometimes extreme obsession) with these criminals growing in murderous rapid numbers? Films are a big part of spreading the word and lives of these special brand of humans. Although it is the major form of biographical entertainment, there are other forms of media that have sprouted up everywhere and some sell for thousands of dollars.
The Serial Killer industry has a cult following that has only gotten bigger over the years. There have been shirts, bubble gum cards, (Jeffrey Dahmer) cooking aprons, comic books, and (most of all) constant written and television coverage of these horrific crimes ( I admit… yes, even the article in which you are reading feeds the machine in a way) . As some newer killers surface, they are compared to their elders… which brings them back into the spotlight once more. Even the convicted themselves have drawings, paintings (some self portraits), sketches, recorded albums and their own art featured in various forms of media today, such as major recording artists’ album covers (sold in major music chains), shirt advertisements in videos (shown on MTV) and many songs are written about these modern day anti-heros. Sometimes, the fandome goes to a much deeper and darker level that just watching or reading their work…
Convicted killers such as the BTK (bind, torture, kill) Killer, Dennis Rader, Aileen Wournos, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and several others have made their way to the screen. A few of these were adaptations from books. Some (such as the BTK Killer and The Zodiac Killer) taunted the local police stations, news papers and television stations. Some believed that this tactic was only a wish to get caught. Others thought it was a way to reach more publicity than what they had already. In some cases, this was very true.
One Serial Killer of Yosemite, named Cary Tyner, began his murderous spree mainly for this reason alone… Attention and fame. His younger brother, Steven, was abducted by a stranger and raised for most of his life. For years, his parents tried to find him and Steve was all they could think about. He finally returned. A book and later, a film was made about him called I know My First Name is Steven (the title is based on his police report). The grief from his fifteen year disappearance turned to fame upon his return home. Steven was killed in a motorcycle accident and shortly afterwards, his jealous older brother went on a killing spree. When he was finally apprehended, he claimed that besides dreaming about killing women when he was a pre-teen, he was upset over his younger brother’s fame. He wanted books and films about him as well. It had worked for his mentors, so why wouldn’t it for him? So far, besides the news media coverage, it hasn’t. They were going to name a park after Steven, but some residents thought that the last name would be more a reminder of his older brother, Cary. Instead, they named the park after one of his local victims of the area.
Serial Killers such as John Wayne Gacy, Richard “the Night Stalker” Ramirez and Kenneth “The Hillside Strangler” Bianchi have made thousands off of their artwork. The (now unfortunately disbanded) metal band Acid Bath used John Wayne Gacy’s self portrait clown paintings as “Pogo the Clown” for their first album cover, When the Kitestring Pops.. Many shirts have been reproduced of this cover and the paintings themselves have sold for over three thousand dollars. Acid Bath also went on to use a very simplistic drawing of Richard Ramirez’s and a more elaborate piece of customized artwork from Kenneth Bianchi. On top of the serial Killers, they used artwork by Dr. Death, himself, Jack Kavorkian for their second major album, Paegan Terrorism Tactics (if you’re a fan of Metal, buy both of these albums). John Wayne Gacy’s art has also been featured on the metal band, Gardy Loo’s album covers as well.
Convicted killers such as Aileen Wornous and Jeffrey Dahmer have had their personal belongings auctioned off for a small fortune. Aileen’s prison shirt has been known to go for quite a high price value. In Jeffrey Dahmer’s case, the auction item is much more macabre than just a e of clothing. Some have paid their hard earned American money on a square patch of Jeffrey’s carpet. If his home apartment carpet weren’t bad enough, guess again. This is a reference to the carpet that he kept in his freezer. The freezer in which he stored severed body parts. I’m cool with owning a Charles Manson shirt here and there, or maybe Aileen’s shirt or a painting by “Pogo”… but Jeffrey Dahmer’s freezer carpet… I think that’s taking it a little too far. Then again, some even go further…
Charles Manson is probably the biggest name in murderous media today (and still after so many years). Some stay tuned to each of his parole hearings just to see what he’ll do or say next. It is quite entertaining, in an odd sort of way. Where else can you hear someone claim to be Christopher Columbus? Even his interviews are usually shown in high viewing volume. Geraldo was one of the most memorable (not only interviews with Manson, but a peek in Geraldo’s career). Movies such as the documentary Manson, Helter Skelter, The Helter Skelter Murders, Charlie’s Family and now Charlie’s Girls (said to star Lindsey Lohan) are still going strong at an independent level. Last House on Dead End Street is also loosely based after the murders of the Manson family. Shirts that read Charlie Don’t Surf are very popular among each coastal beach crowd and everywhere in between. Axel Rose can be seen wearing this shirt on the Don’t Cry video. Guns N’ Roses also did a cover of Charlie’s song Look At Your Game, Girl on a limited print run of their album, The Spaghetti Incident(?). Charlie’s face has appeared on Time Magazine and several other major publications throughout the late sixties and even today. He stayed with Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys and attempted to record with him. Brian has been said to have turned him down, but nevertheless his music was recorded and he has several record albums available today.
Philip Anselmo of the ex-monster Metal group, Pantera can also be seen sporting Charles Manson shirts from time to time. His ex side project, Necrophagia has a Manson Meditation segment on their brutal, Horror movie music video DVD Through Eyes of the Dead. Artists/ Musician/ Film maker, Rob Zombie, is also a big Manson displayer. He can be seen wearing Charlie shirts, using samples in his music and even writing a bit of semi- Charlie (and members of the family) quotes into his Horror films. Personality and Dialog wise…“If someone needs to be killed, you kill ’em… There is no wrong, that’s the way,” uttered by Baby in House of 1,000 Corpses, was a line from one of the girls in the Manson documentary. Otis’ character in itself is practically based off of Manson’s personality…”I am the devil, and I am here to do the devil’s work, otis’ famous line in The Devil’s Rejects, was actually a line used by family member Tex Watson, but worded…”I am the devil and I am here to do the devil’s business.” Finally, in his re-make of Halloween, the news reporter says “Manson like…,” comparing Michael Myers’ brutal family murder to that of Manson’s murderous family.
The nine membered, mask wearing Metal band, Slipknot, also uses a sample of Leslie Van Houtan of Charlie’s “slippie” cult for the intro of their debut, self titled album. It possibly could (for some, or most out there) sum up this entire article in one single repeated and progressively slowed down sentence… “The whole thing, I think is sick… The whole thing, I think is sick….. The whole thing, I think is sic(k).”- Leslie Van Houton.
From here, it can only get a bit more nauseating. Most of these Serial Killers or mass murderers get tons of sympathetic fan mail while in prison. Just as if they were right out of an issue of “Killer Teen Magazine.” Needless to say, it does not stop at fan mail. Some go as far as to request visitation rights, constant mail correspondence or propose the ritual (or sacrificial suicide) of marriage to these lifer inmates. As appalling as this may seem to some, it happens all of the time. Ronald Defeo Jr., Ted Bundy and Kenneth Bianchi were all married while in prison.
Out of all of the negativity, there has to be something positive that counteracts all of this morbid media attention. This unique case is dealing with three (then) teenage boys from Arkansas accused of murdering three other children in a Satanic ritual in nineteen ninety three. HBO was called to document the trial for America Undercover. After seeing that these three teenagers were convicted for all of the wrong reasons and without a drop of physical evidence, the film makers thought to themselves… These guys are innocent.
The documentary aired on HBO and several others around the world started to feel the same. A support group was formed and rallies are held every year in their freedom. Many celebrities such as Winona Ryder, Johnny Depp, Metallica (who provided the soundtrack to both documentaries so far) and Jack Black have rallied in their freedom. Their horrific crimes against humanity and decency did not make them famous (compared to the above mentioned)… Their innocents did. Once they are released, they desire no media attention and want to be forgotten about in this dark spotlight. Unlike those who would kill to be in the limelight, these three men are fighting to escape it, and the position in which they are in at the moment (and have been for over fifteen years now).
One way or another, tragedies such as those mentioned above will be immortalized in various mediums throughout time. Since Jack The Ripper stalked the streets of London… up to Scott Peterson killing his pregnant wife, Lacy on Christmas Eve… there has been media coverage, entertainment sources and a new generation of killers to dig up the crimes, lives, sentences and deaths of the previously convicted and their victims.
Their blood stained laundry and life taking toys of torture in the attic have been left in the open for anyone and everyone to see. Is it for the reasons of retaining and sharing information? The intentions of exploitation… or maybe the most baffling and disturbing motive and Motif Operandi (Method of Operation… or “M.O.”) of them all… pure infatuation.
Murder, Media, Macabre Collectibles and Killer Publicity