About the same time that Michael Aamodt, a professor at Radford University in Virginia, started cataloguing serial killers, trading cards popped up. Aamodt’s Serial Killer Data Base, compiled with the help of students, is academic, respectable. See here for a prior blog re Aamodt’s Radford work.
Serial killer Trading cards are not respectable, at least they weren’t back in 1992. They are still bought and sold on Amazon, Etsy, and Ebay.
Aamodt’s catalogue has over five thousand entries from around the world, mostly from the U.S. Professor Aamodt, homicide archivist Thomas Hargrove (creator of The Murder Accountability Project, MAP), and others help solve murders and advance our knowledge of these archetypal bad guys:
“Serial killers are not usually particularly bright, having an average I.Q. of 94.5, according to the database.
[And] they divide into types.
- Those who feel bound to rid the world of people they regard as immoral or undesirable—such as drug addicts, immigrants, or promiscuous women—are called missionaries.
- Black widows kill men, usually to inherit money or to claim insurance;
- bluebeards kill women, either for money or as an assertion of power.
- A nurse who kills patients is called an angel of death.
- A troller meets a victim by chance, and
- a trapper either observes his victims or works at a place, such as a hospital, where his victims come to him.” (New Yorker, 2017
What’s up with serial killer trading cards?
So why’re trading cards devoted to spreading info about serial killers stigmatized by so many?
This New York Times article, written back in 1992 in the midst of the controversy, sheds enough light on the subject to be quoted in its entirety;
‘True Crime’ Cards Thriving Despite Outrage.
“They may never be worth as much as a Pete Rose rookie card or a 1952 Mickey Mantle, but trading cards that feature the grim visages of Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and other notorious murderers are selling apace after months of action by parents and victims’ rights groups to ban them.
In at least eight states and in Canada, efforts to boycott the cards or to make their sale illegal have largely failed. But the publicity has introduced the cards to more people, the card manufacturers say, and has increased sales beyond the companies’ ability to supply them.
“We’ve never sold anything this well in our lives,” said Catherine Yronwode, editor in chief of Eclipse Enterprises in Forestville, Calif. “The notoriety proved to be the best publicity we could have hoped for.” The company has sold about $1 million worth of the cards, more than 10 times the sales of any of its other cards.
Sets of Bad Guys
The furor began with Eclipse’s announcement early this year that it would print “True Crime” trading cards depicting serial killers, mass murderers, gangsters and law enforcement agents. Parents and advocates for crime victims’rights, fearing that the criminals would supplant sports figures as heroes, began waging mass-mailing campaigns calling for a boycott of the cards and pressuring politicians to ban their sale.
In New York, a state senator and a state assemblyman introduced bills in March to ban the sale of the cards to children under age 17. The bills stated that the cards would “appeal to the depraved interest of minors in crime” and could contribute to an increase in juvenile offenses. A New Jersey bill would have provided a jail sentence of up to 18 months and a fine of $1,500 to anyone who sold the cards to minors. In Maryland, a bill was introduced that would have levied a fine of $1,000 for anyone who sold or bought the cards. Offenders would also have faced up to a year in jail.
These and most other measures that would have banned the cards were roundly voted down. Only one effort succeeded, a law passed in June by Nassau County on Long Island that makes selling the cards to minors a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.
Not Meant for Children.
Miss Yronwode (pronounced ironwood), who has debated critics of the “True Crime” cards on television programs, contends that the cards were never intended to glorify murderers. She points out that her company’s cards also cover a variety of historical and political topics: one batch documents the savings and loan scandal, for example; another the Kennedy assassination theories.
“Like with other of the historical and social cards that we produce, we were trying to document the roots and the history of crime with these,” she said. “We wanted something that crime buffs and crime-science professors would like. Frankly, kids would have a difficult time reading them.”
The crime series also includes famous crime fighters like Elliot Ness, the Federal agent who brought down Al Capone’s crime empire, and J. Edgar Hoover, as well as a card about the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ psychological profiles of psychopathic killers.
Families of the victims of recent murders believe the cards are meant to sensationalize the crimes, not simply to document them. “Everyone thinks it’s a joke, something to make money off of us,” said Shirley Hughes, whose son Anthony was one of Mr. Dahmer’s victims.
Last month, families of seven of Mr. Dahmer’s victims sued a publisher who produced a comic book chronicling Mr. Dahmer’s murders. A judge in Milwaukee, ruling that the comic violated Wisconsin’s privacy laws, ordered the publisher to stop selling it and to give up any profits from it.
But card companies like Eclipse say they plan to continue publishing crime cards. And Joseph Cano, who owns One Flight Up comic book store in Newark, said he would continue selling them, despite the opposition and the hostile telephone calls he sometimes receives.
‘I sell what sells,’ he said. ‘And ever since the hoopla, these cards sell. If you ask me, you see worse stuff than this on television.'”