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'Murderabilia' websites sell items from Va. killer

Tuesday - 7/31/2012, 1:20pm  ET

Gov. McDonnell discusses murderabilia

Neal Augenstein, wtop

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RICHMOND, Va. - Writings from and pictures of an aspiring rapper serving life for killing his 16-year-old girlfriend, her parents and her friend are being auctioned online.

Several so-called "murderabilia" websites are selling items from Richard Samuel Alden McCroskey III, a "horrorcore" rapper who sang about bludgeoning and raping people before the 2009 murders.

Virginia, like many states, has a "Son of Sam" law that bars criminals from profiting from their crimes but the law does not prevent a third party from selling such items, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports ( http://bit.ly/Mfk26e). The law is named for New York serial killer David Berkowitz, who referred to himself as Son of Sam.

"This was once an underground market that through the Internet has now come into mainstream America and across the world," said Andy Kahan, a victim advocate for the city of Houston who monitors websites that sell murderabilia. "This is an insidious and despicable industry that cheapens the lives of innocent crime victims."

In one of the letters for sale, McCroskey asked for photographs of two of his victims. McCroskey was sentenced to life in September 2010 after pleading guilty to killing his girlfriend, 16-year-old Emma Niederbrock; her parents, Presbyterian minister Mark Niederbrock and Longwood University professor Debra Kelley; and Emma's 18-year-old friend, Melanie Wells of Inwood, W.Va. Their bodies were found in Kelley's home.

In other letters to pen pals and to auction operators, McCroskey answers questions about the murders and talks about life behind bars. The letters have sold for $15 to $50, and a 4x6 glossy photo with McCroskey holding an upside down cross and signed in his rapper alter ego "SykoSam" went for $25.

Eric Gein runs murderabilia and true crime collectables website Serial Killers Ink from Jacksonville, Fla. He said McCroskey did not receive any money from the sales and doubts he even knows the letters were sold.

"I understand the opposition against me because it's not for everyone. But it's history. It's dark history _ but it's history," Gein told the paper. "The McCroskey pieces might not be history, but the (Charles) Manson items that we sell and pieces like that are definitely history. And they do sell _ I make money."

Gein said collecting true crime items as a hobby is increasing. He pointed to last year's sale of "Unabomber" Theodore Kaczynski items in an auction run by the U.S. Marshals Service, which raised more than $230,000 for Kaczynski's victims and their families.

With McCroskey, Gein said he contacted him and started a relationship through the mail.

Virginia inmates do not have Internet access, but they are allowed to mail out anything they'd like as long as it doesn't threaten public safety.

James F. Hodgson, a friend of three of McCroskey's victims, said he thought McCroskey's plea agreement banned him from publishing or producing anything related to the killings.

"It's disconcerting when you think of the victims or survivors' perspective," he said.

Prince Edward County Commonwealth's Attorney James R. Ennis said he was unaware of the sales and would look into them. One of McCroskey's attorneys, Cary B. Bowen, said he and Ennis "would be pretty disappointed if Sam started to do that."

"We had a gentlemen's agreement (and) it would be unfortunate (for McCroskey) to capitalize on such a situation," Bowen said.

McCroskey declined to be interviewed by the newspaper. In a letter to the AP after his arrest, he offered to discuss the crimes for payment. The AP does not pay for interviews.

Eight states _ Alabama, California, Florida, New Jersey, Michigan, Montana, Texas and Utah _ have passed "notoriety-for-profit" laws that make it illegal for inmates to ship personally produced items out of prison for sale, Kahan said.

An effort is under way to enact a federal law that would stop inmates from sending personalized items out of prison via mail. But it is unlikely a federal law could bar sales by third parties.

Kahan acknowledges it would be difficult to enact a law targeting third parties that could withstand a First Amendment challenge.

"That's who I wanted to go after _ the dealers _ because, quite frankly, I find them even as reprehensible as the killers themselves because they are living amongst us," Kahan said.

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Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, http://www.timesdispatch.com


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)