Selling souls and other things
<?EM-dummyText [Drophead goes here] ?>
If you wanted to buy Joe Druce's sneakers for $300, sorry, but you're too late.
So, too, if you wanted to buy crime scene photos from inside the cell at the Souza-Baranowski prison in Shirley where Druce murdered the convicted pedophile and defrocked priest John Geoghan in 2003. They've been snapped up.
And if you had your eye on those autographed photos of a bare chested Geoghan lying dead, you're plain out of luck.
The website that offered the photos of the murdered Geoghan boasted that they were taken "shortly after his demise. Druce has signed the sheet twice. The sheet has folds as it was folded to fit into a regular sized envelope. A very unique item as it is highly unusual for a killer to sign victim photographs. One of a kind item."
But, if you hurry now, you can still buy for $40 a signed copy of a tracing Druce did of his left hand — "These are the hands that killed pedophile priest John Geoghan," the website pitch says.
So, as you sit there enjoying your Sunday morning breakfast, consider this: Joe Druce, twice convicted of murder, is part of a thriving cottage industry in which those convicted of some of the most sickening violence imaginable make money by putting their thoughts, their clothing, their Napoleon Dynamite-caliber drawings, and even evidence from their trials up for sale on websites run by people who, as Oscar Wilde might have put it, know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
I thought the Massachusetts Department of Correction might be upset to learn that Druce was a prolific presence on so-called murderabilia websites.
"That's sickening," Chris Fallon, a DOC spokesman, said.
But, he added, there was nothing the DOC could do about it.
"We search all incoming mail for contraband," Fallon said, "but we can't control what they mail out. It's really difficult on our end to police what they're sending out."
The DOC does document where inmates send their correspondence, and if Druce or anybody else was dumb enough to address a letter to Serial Killer Ink or any other of the half-dozen websites that trade in such detritus, it might trigger some extra scrutiny.
But, more likely, says Andy Kahan, the victim's advocate for the city of Houston, Druce is putting his stuff up for sale via a third party.
It was Kahan, a one-time Northeastern student turned victim's advocate, who popularized the phrase murderabilia even as he has tried to shut the industry down.
"It is the most insidious, sick industry I've ever seen in 30 years in the criminal justice system," said Kahan.
He once had to inform a Waltham woman whose daughter was murdered by a serial killer in Texas that the killer's personal effects were being sold online.
"She was stunned, mortified," he said. "Nobody should be able to murder and turn around and make a buck from it."
Eric Holler has a different view. Holler owns Serial Killer Ink, a website that traffics in the property of killers. His website sold Druce's sneakers and various letters and photos and currently has three pages of Druce items available for purchase. Holler considers Druce a real catch.
"We are honored to list items connected to Mr. Druce on our website," Holler said. "We regularly receive e-mails and messages of support from people around the world in regards to Joe. It is no secret that he is viewed as a hero to many, especially those who have been abused by pedophiles within the confines of the Catholic Church."
Holler sees Druce not as some psycho killer but as a principled vigilante.
"His constant mantra is 'Leave the children alone' which seems to serve as a stark warning to those who abuse children and that they should be prepared to pay the ultimate consequences once they enter the prison system," Holler said.
I don't see how Druce's murdering a 68-year-old pedophile or sending fake anthrax letters to Jewish lawyers fits into that profile of him as some kind of folk hero, but maybe I'm old fashioned like that.
For all his praise of Druce, Holler wasn't forthcoming about how he and Druce divvy up the cash.
"We do not and have never discussed our finances with the media," he said.
Kahan says that because most of the transactions in murderabilia are conducted through the mail, one way to outlaw it would be with federal legislation. Since 2007, legislation proposing a ban on criminals profiting from their notoriety has been filed in Congress four times, and has not resulted in a single hearing.
Kahan says the battle is incremental. eBay stopped selling murderabilia after Kahan raised questions. But the industry just moved shop.
"Facebook is the new conduit for this industry," Kahan said. "Sellers who used to use eBay set up shop on their own, using Facebook. We've asked Facebook to stop them, but they've said no."
Fallon, the spokesman for the state Department of Correction, says the department is constrained in confiscating personal effects. Druce was able to put his Nike sneakers up for sale by getting them to someone on the outside. Fallon said correctional officials are not permitted to dispose of items of clothing like sneakers without offering the inmate's relatives the opportunity to pick them up.
The state's inmate locator indicates that Druce is now serving his life sentence at a facility in Arizona.
Fallon said he could not provide any information about when or to where Druce was moved from Massachusetts to Arizona.
There has always been a whiff of crazy around Druce. Six years ago, a woman from South Carolina who identified herself as a Christian minister and an Air Force veteran announced that she was going to marry Druce, whom she had corresponded with in prison but had never met in person. Alas, the wedding never took place.
A jury rejected Druce's insanity defense and convicted him in 2006 of first-degree murder in the killing of Geoghan, who was serving a 10-year sentence for molesting a boy but had been protected by the Boston Archdiocese, and ultimately the statute of limitations, from allegations that he had raped and molested hundreds of children.
The website that sold his Nike sneakers acknowledged that Druce wasn't wearing them when he killed Geoghan. For whoever bought them, that didn't matter.