Plan to sell trading cards of serial, mass murderers outrages victims' families

January 31, 1992|By New York Times News Service

SANTA ROSA, Calif. -- Relatives of crime victims and their advocates are condemning a small company's decision to publish trading cards featuring serial killers and mass murderers.

The trading cards, similar to those featuring baseball players, are to be released in May and will include the stories and color portraits of such convicted killers as Ted Bundy and Ramon Salcido, and accused mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Bundy, who admitted killing 20 women, was executed Jan. 24, 1989 in Florida. Salcido has been sentenced to death in the gas chamber for the 1989 murders of seven people in Sonoma County.

Dahmer has pleaded guilty but insane in the killing and dismemberment of 15 people in Milwaukee, where a jury is in the process of deciding whether to send him to prison or a mental institution.

"I cannot imagine what it would do to my daughter to have a kid come up to her at school and show her the trading card," said Catherine Toovey, whose husband, Tracy, was murdered by Salcido. Mrs. Toovey, her daughter and son still live in the Sonoma Valley.

Equally appalled at the cards was Art Murchison, a counselor who works with the relatives of Dahmer's victims in Milwaukee.

"They're looking to make money off of other people's pain and misery," said Mr. Murchison, program director for the agency Career Youth Development Inc.

The publisher and one of the writers strongly defended the series on the 55 different killers. They consider their work identical to news reports on the killers, they said.

"I think Newsweek is much more lurid than anything we publish," said Dean Mullaney, an owner of Eclipse Enterprises in Forestville, 60 miles north of San Francisco. Newsweek featured Dahmer on its cover this week.

"To assume it's a quick-buck thing or just something to sensationalize would be to do us a disservice," said Valerie Jones, who wrote the text for the series with Peggy Collier.

Eclipse publishes about six sets of trading cards a year. Some of its series lampooned those accused in the Iran-contra affair and the savings and loan scandals.

The murder cards will feature the killer's color picture on one side -- drawn by artist Jon Bright -- and the story on the other.

For Dahmer, the top of the yet-to-be-released card reads: "Killed: 11 plus; Location: Milwaukee; M.O.: Strangulation." The text begins: "Born in 1959, Jeffrey Dahmer spent a lonely childhood in Ohio, an intelligent underachiever who studied chemistry and mutilated animals."

The suggested price is 99 cents for a pack of 12 cards.

The solicitation to retailers and wholesalers speaks of "lurid, tantalizing, and sensationalistic" cards and promises that "the fraternity of killers includes names mothers scare their children with."

Mr. Mullaney and Ms. Jones maintain the cards contain valuable information and don't present the killers as heroes. Eclipse did not put the names of any victims on the cards and expects to sell relatively few cards to young people.

Victims' advocates argue that putting killers on trading cards glorifies murder and murderers. Moreover, it reopens wounds suffered by the families of the dead, they said.

"We don't want kids to be looking up to Jeffrey Dahmer and the rest of these people," said Miriam Gaon, victim advocate for the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office.

Christine Edmunds of the National Victims Center in Washington, D.C., said the notoriety of being on something like a trading card is "what many of these killers want."

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