Senators Try to Halt Sale of Gruesome 'Murderabilia'

Artwork from serial killers. Dirt from a murder victim's grave. A killer's autographed photo.

Morbid as it is, these are just a few examples of the tasteless items connected with violent crime scenes that have gone on sale as part of what is called the "murderabilia" market. And two senators want to put a stop to it.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., have teamed up to introduce a bill in Congress that would outlaw what most people view as a disgusting industry.

"I'm of the opinion you just shouldn't be able to rob, rape and murder and be able to turn around and make a profit off it," Andy Kahan, director of the Houston mayor's Crime Victims Office, told Fox News.

Though few would argue with that statement, the niche market of murderabilia has been thriving doing just that. A murderabilia website was recently found to be selling a patch of the three miles of road on which James Byrd Jr. was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas, by white supremacists 12 years ago. Plus it was selling dirt from his grave. Byrd's death is credited with spurring state-level hate crime laws in Texas as well as the federal hate crimes law. For those family members, Kahan said, "It's like being gutted all over again by our criminal justice system."

Byrd's sister Louvon Harris and Houston Mayor Annise Parker joined Cornyn for a recent press conference introducing the bill.

Klobuchar told Fox News, "The bigger crime here is not necessarily any money they bring in but the hurt that they cause for the victims or their families."

The bill is called the "Stop the Sale of Murderabilia to Protect the Dignity of Crime Victims Act of 2010," and comes after several individual fights over the issue.

Auction site eBay no longer sells murderabilia after a protracted battle with Kahan, but according to his count, at least six websites turn a profit selling notorious serial killers and murderers' "letters, artwork ... even some of the most mundane objects that one can imagine, including their hair, fingernails, and clothing -- anything that one can attach to their name using recognition that they achieved from committing some of the most diabolical crimes."

Klobuchar, who defended victims for eight years as a prosecutor, told Fox News that third parties were hocking the Minnesota-based want-ad murderer's autographed photos and Christmas cards.

If the bill passes, however, prisoners won't be able to mail out anything that can be sold in interstate commerce, and family members of victims will be allowed to seek injunctions, damages and reasonable attorney's fees from murderabilia profiteers.

If you're surprised that there wasn't already a law keeping criminals from making money off their crimes, you're in good company.

Steeped in the cause of protecting victims, even Kahan believed that so-called "Son of Sam laws," named after serial killer David Berkowitz, existed. However, the Supreme Court has treated the sale of murderabilia as a free speech issue and has struck down those laws.

A famous case involved the story of the Dec. 8, 1963, casino kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr., the son of the late entertainer. Columbia Pictures offered the kidnappers Barry Keenan, Joseph Amsler and John Irwin upwards of $750,000 for the rights to their story. Frank Sinatra Jr. sued the trio in 1998, under California's version of a Son of Sam law. But California's Supreme Court sided with the kidnappers.

The FTC has also failed to curb what Kahan said amounts to "blood money." And no matter how much Kahan would like to enforce a law across state lines, he can't. It's a federal matter.That's what compelled the Houston crime fighter to take his cause up to the federal level, reaching out to his local senator Cornyn.

"It's a (product) of a sick mind," the Texas Republican told Fox News recently, adding, "it doesn't allow victims' families to get the closure they deserve."

Klobuchar echoed her co-sponsor's point, saying, "What the victims want to do is put this behind them. They want to know that the person who killed their loved one is getting their just desserts instead of their just profits."

It was Cornyn who first pushed the "Stop the Sale of Murderabilia to Protect the Dignity of Crime Victims Act of 2007." The Texas senator was incensed that killers could sell their "knickknacks" while incarcerated.

Like many bills, however, the 2007 version got lost in the shuffle. "Stop the Sale of Murderabilia to Protect the Dignity of Crime Victims Act of 2010" is a virtual clone of the previously attempted legislation, but with Klobuchar's backing, the senators hope that this bill can pass -- even unanimously.

Right now, the Senate has its hands full concentrating on the BP oil spill and possibly tackling climate change legislation and illegal immigration.

"Of course there's bigger issues than this one," Klobuchar said. Still, she said, "It doesn't mean you just shrug your shoulders and say, 'Killers should be able to put their stuff on a website.'"

Kahan, who hopes the bill passes, acknowledged that getting rid of all the third party sellers is "kinda like exterminating cockroaches."

The bill aimed at crippling the small market for those who idolize the worst of the worst is only the first step, though, according to Kahan. The media needs to drop its obsession with profiling them.

"Everybody in the room knows who John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and David Berkowitz are, but I'll bet my bottom dollar no one can name any of their victims. And that's the sad reality that we find (ourselves) in," he said.