Inside the Creepy Underground World of Serial Killer Art, Where Manson Means Money
John Wayne Gacy, the notorious serial killer and children’s birthday clown who tortured and murdered 33 men and boys, was executed for his crimes almost 25 years ago. But his artwork—he created thousands of paintings both before and after his imprisonment—has never been more popular, or lucrative.
One of his many clown self-portraits—he went by the nom de clown Pogo—sold at a high-end art auction in Philadelphia last April for $7,500, considerably more than the $2,000 high estimate, according to Antiques and the Arts Weekly. At sites like Murder Auction, Supernaught True Crime Gallery, and other online purveyors of serial killer collectibles, Gacy paintings are fetching anywhere from $6,000 to $175,000, the latter price tag for an oil painting of Gacy’s house highlighting the crawl space where he buried his victims.
Stephen Koschal, a 50-year vet of the memorabilia business who’s sold hundreds of Gacy paintings, estimates that there are between 2,000 and 2,500 Gacy originals in circulation today, and the prices just keep going up. “His Pogo paintings were only going for about $250 in the early ‘90s,” Koschal says. “But these days they can sell for as much as $50,000.”
Gacy is far from the only serial killer whose artwork has become a hot commodity in recent years. At sites like Serial Killers Ink, True Crime Auction House, and Murder Museum, you can purchase original illustrations and paintings by some of the most infamous murderers in recent history, like Richard Ramirez and Charles Manson. And it’s not just criminals with name recognition selling their artistic wares. There are dozens of convicted murderers and rapists with art available for sale, including death row artistes like John Robinson, Andre Crawford, Eugene McWatters (“The Salerno Strangler”), Alfred J. Gaynor, and Keith Jesperson (“The Happy Face Killer”). They rarely get Gacy prices—most of their work sells for hundreds rather than thousands. But it wasn’t that long ago that even Gacy wasn’t getting Gacy prices.
Andy Kahan, a victims rights advocate in Houston, Texas, has been following the rise of “murderabilia”—a term he coined—since 1999, when he first discovered a serial killer’s art for sale in a New York newspaper. Since then, he’s been the most vocal watchdog and critic of this growing marketplace, watching it evolve from a handful of dealers on eBay to an industry worth, by Kahan’s estimate, a quarter of a million dollars annually.
A serial killer with artistic ambitions is no longer an exception. Although most of them, unlike Gacy, don’t transform into artists until after they get handcuffed. “When you end up on death row now, two things happen,” Kahan says. “You get reborn and you turn into DaVinci.”