Why we need our own ‘Son of Sam’ law
“Great condition original 4” x 6” snapshot of Canadian serial killer Clifford Olson with a sticker attached to the back, upon which he has typed a note and signed in ink. Comes with an 8 1/2” x 11” sheet featuring a printed arrest record detailing his life and crimes — a great companion item for mutual display.”
— Description of an item up for bids on www.murderauction.com (Yours, for only $US35!)
How would you like a signed glossy photograph of Warren White, who was convicted of second-degree murder for the strangling and dismemberment of his girlfriend, Amanda Power, in St. John’s in 2008?
How about the prison-house ramblings of Shirley Turner, had she left any behind, after she had allegedly killed the father of her child and then drowned their child?
Or how about a signed yearbook from Malcolm Norman Cuff, who brutally killed two young women in the Corner Brook area in the late 1970s and early 1980s?
Does the thought of anyone buying those things appall you?
Does the thought of murderers cashing in on their notoriety disgust and sicken you?
Do you think it’s wrong that twisted people with a thirst for the macabre treat criminals like celebrities and are willing to pay for a piece of them?
Then you’d best stay away from websites pushing murder memorabilia — not just items owned by serial killers and such, but merchandise spawned by some people’s gruesome adulation of murderers.
On www.murderauction.com, the starting bid is US$300 for “An item so scarce that it’s actually unheard-of: the autograph of Grammy Award winner Jim Gordon, legendary rock performer and creator of the classic tune ‘Layla’ … Did we mention that he cut off his mother’s head and carried it around in a bowling bag?”
Now, “Layla” was written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon and made famous by Derek and the Dominoes, but apparently Gordon’s musical talent is less interesting to some than the fact that he killed his mother during what was thought to be a schizophrenic episode.
For all your shopping needs
The website www.murdermementoes.com advertises thusly:
“Murder Mementos is your one stop online store for all products macabre. Find serial killer posters,
T-shirts and other products. Read personal jail journals by David Berkowitz (Son of Sam). See paintings by John Wayne Gacy. Learn about the facts of hundreds of murder cases (solved and unsolved) and sort through a comprehensive list of serial killers and places to buy their own memorabilia. Use Murderabilia at Murder Mementos.com for all of your macabre online shopping needs.”
If you’re like me and you don’t actually have any “macabre online shopping needs,” you might still be curious as to where all of this murder merchandise comes from. After all, many jurisdictions in the United States have enacted a version of the so-called Son of Sam law, first established in New York to prevent David Berkowitz from profiting directly from selling the rights to his story to a publisher. Proceeds, instead, would be used to compensate his victims. Other states soon jumped on board.
Of course, there’s nothing to stop convicted killers of finding agents willing to help them distribute their memorabilia, but at least the Son of Sam laws offer a measure of regulation.
Not in Canada, or N.L.
You might also be interested to know that while proceeds of crime legislation demands the forfeiture of illegally gotten gains, such as money made from drug trafficking or booze bootlegging, there is no such law in Canada that prevents killers from profiting from their own sinister reputations.
Former air force colonel Russell Williams’ vehicle was destroyed after he committed his chilling rapes and murders in Ontario, and his illicit lingerie collection was seized as evidence, but what if he wanted to tell his life story?
According to Suzanne Leclerc, senior media relations officer with the Correctional Service of Canada, there is no policy “preventing inmates from writing and publishing their own books” unless such activity would jeopardize the safety of another person or the institution.
“The other relevant factor,” Leclerc wrote, “would be any provincial legislation that prohibits inmates/offenders from benefiting from writing/publishing books.”
Unfortunately, we have no provincial legislation either, according to the provincial Department of Justice.
Some provinces do have their own version of the Son of Sam law, however, including Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.
Putting it to the test
As is noted on the website for the law offices of Boudrot Rogers in Nova Scotia, the Profits of Criminal Notoriety Act was used in Saskatchewan to deprive convicted murderer and former provincial cabinet minister Colin Thatcher from benefiting from any “past and future proceeds” from the sale of Thatcher’s book “Final Appeal: Anatomy of a Frame.”
While Thatcher fought back, arguing the law interfered with his right to freedom of expression, the courts sided with the province, noting that “the law did not prevent him from writing or publishing the book, but rather prevented him from profiting from it.”
It seems rather incongruous that a federal government that prides itself on being “tough on crime” would allow such a gaping loophole to exist in the law.
Perhaps it’s time this country or this province moved to enact a law that would prevent convicted killers from benefiting directly from their crimes — though I agree such legislation should not stifle freedom of expression. Russell Williams’ wife, for example, might shine some light on the nature of the monster she was married to by telling and selling her story, without Williams himself gaining from the project.
If we don’t pursue such legislation, it might only be a matter of time before more of our own killers start hawking their odious wares.
Psst! Wanna buy a Paul Bernardo coffee mug? How about a Willie Pickton apron?
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.