The hawking of James “Whitey” Bulger memorabilia has reached fever pitch with Friday’s release of the film “Black Mass,” as online sellers seek big bucks for movie posters featuring Johnny Depp and photos autographed by the real-life gangster and his former cohorts.
But the Bulger item carrying the largest price tag on eBay — a whopping $500,000 for a courtroom sketch of the gangster — is being offered by a surprising seller: a relative of one of Bulger’s alleged victims.
Steve Davis, whose 26-year-old sister, Debra, was strangled in 1981, said he wants to get as much money as possible for two Bulger sketches he purchased from a courtroom artist who chronicled the gangster’s 2013 trial on charges he murdered Davis’s sister and 18 other people.
“Every dime of it . . . anything would go to the victims,” said Davis, who pledged to split any money he gets from the artwork with the families of those Bulger was accused of killing. “I was thinking maybe Johnny Depp would buy it.”
The eBay auction surprised Jane Collins, a gifted courtroom artist who has been capturing Boston’s most celebrated cases for some 30 years. She sold the two sketches to Davis during the trial for $300 apiece. Still, she said she supported Davis’s efforts to help the victims.
“If Steve can help the victims in any way and I’m the vehicle in which they can help them, that’s fine with me,” Collins said. “I feel for the victims.”
Patricia Donahue, whose husband, Michael, was shot to death by Bulger in 1982 while giving a ride home to the gangster’s intended target, said she believed Davis was well-intentioned, but felt any money paid to the families should come from the government.
“He’s very thoughtful and good-hearted, and I’m sure he means well,” said Donahue, adding that if Davis had consulted her before offering the sketches for sale, she would have advised against it. “I don’t want people to take it the wrong way.”
Bulger, 86, is serving a life sentence for participating in 11 murders while running a sprawling criminal enterprise from the 1970s to the 1990s. Jurors found him not guilty of seven other slayings and were unable to reach a verdict on whether he killed Debra Davis.
When Bulger was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in June 2011 after more than 16 years on the run, the FBI found $822,000 cash and 30 guns stuffed in the walls of his apartment. The government has pledged to divide the assets it seized from Bulger among the families of all 19 victims, but to date they have not received any money, angering many of them.
Davis said he bought four sketches from Collins and decided to sell the two he deemed most valuable.
One shows a bearded Bulger, freshly captured, standing in handcuffs before the court in June 2011 as his two younger brothers, William, former president of the Massachusetts Senate and the University of Massachusetts, and John, former Boston Juvenile Court clerk magistrate, watch from the spectator gallery.
The second sketch captures the courtroom scene when Bulger hears the jury’s verdict in the summer of 2013.
Davis said he doesn’t know how to navigate the online shopping site, so asked a friend to post the sketches. One was offered for sale early Wednesday for $500,000, and the second will be posted soon, Davis said. He said he was unaware his friend had put such a hefty price tag on the sketch and that he is open to lower offers.
By Friday night, there were no bids. But the assortment of pricy Bulger memorabilia captured the attention of Andy Kahan, a victims advocate from Houston who has been on a national crusade to stop the sale of so-called “murderablia” from high-profile killers.
“I’m a firm believer in free enterprise and capitalism, but nobody should be able to rob, rape, and murder, and make a profit off of it,” said Kahan, who alerted eBay Friday that it appeared to be violating its own standards by allowing sellers to try to make money from Bulger’s notoriety.
A representative from eBay could not be reached Friday evening.
Kahan was surprised to learn that the sketch was offered by a victim’s relative and said Davis should make that clear on the posting.
“If there’s any money to be made out there, at least the money should be going to whom it should be going to and that’s the victims,” Kahan said.
Davis said he’s not bothered by people selling Bulger memorabilia online.
“It’s free enterprise, let them do what they want in their hearts.”
He said he will entertain bids for the courtroom artwork, but “I’m not going to give them away for peanuts. They’re all framed.”
Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.