Grim bit of history put up for sale

Man auctions rings he says belonged to would-be assassin

September 02, 2000|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

A Maryland bookstore owner will find out tonight who, if anybody, will pay at least $1,500 for two rings said to be worn by would-be assassin Arthur Bremer on May 15, 1972 -- the day he shot presidential candidate George C. Wallace at a Laurel shopping center.

The rings, along with documents related to Bremer's arrest and imprisonment, are up for sale on eBay, the Internet auction site. Bidding closes at 7:58 p.m.

The Bremer memorabilia are being sold by Allan Stypeck, owner of Rockville-based Second Story Books, who says he has owned the items since 1986. Stypeck, who says he has a letter from the state Division of Correction attesting to the rings' authenticity, said the collection is of legitimate historical interest.

"I don't see this item as falling into the repulsive category," said Stypeck, who said his past sales of collectible "oddities" have included an Egyptian mummy, the preserved remains of a Chicago gangster and parts of the rope used to hang a presidential assassin.

So far the market for the Bremer items has been cold. Though the articles have been listed on eBay since Aug. 23, as of last night nobody had bid on them.

The Wallace assassination attempt came as the charismatic Alabama governor was running a hard-charging, racially inflammatory campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination eventually won by Sen. George McGovern.

Bremer's attack left the candidate paralyzed. Wallace died in September 1998 at age 79.

State officials said they have no idea whether the rings are authentic.

"It's a mystery," said Dave Towers, a Division of Correction spokesman.

Towers said that the letterhead of the purported certification letter is real, but that the state has no record of employing Joseph C. Lund, whose signature is on the letter.

"To me this has the flavor of `This is not kosher,'" Towers said.

But Towers confirmed that some of the other documents up for sale, including three disciplinary reports on Bremer for prison fights, are authentic. He said he could not explain how they might have found their way into the hands of a collector, but that authorities are investigating the matter.

Towers said Bremer, who is serving a 53-year sentence at Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, denies having anything to do with the sale. Towers said the state could not arrange an interview with Bremer, who is now 50.

Kevin Purseglove, a spokesman for eBay, said the auction service would remove an item from its Web site if state officials reported that the sale would be illegal.

According to the eBay listing, the Bremer collection includes a 10-karat gold ring from a Milwaukee music school and a plain "friendship-style" metal ring.

Stypeck said he bought the items, along with the blood-stained shirt worn by Wallace on the day of the shooting, in 1986 from a private collector of "oddities" who had bought the articles at a Baltimore antique store. The dealer declined to identify the collector or the store.

The bookstore owner said he has standards for what he will sell. For instance, Stypeck said, he turned down an opportunity to sell paintings by serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

"I'm not interested in selling the personal creations of a mass murderer," Stypeck said. He said he also refuses to participate in the sale of Holocaust-related or Nazi items, except to historical institutions.

Stypeck said he was contacted by a representative of Wallace's family, who sought assurances that Bremer would not profit from the sale. He said that once he told the representative, whom he would not identify, that Bremer would not get any money, he received the family's blessing for the sale. Stypeck said part of the proceeds of any sale would go to a foundation, supported by the Wallace family, for victims of violent crimes.

Stypeck, 50, said there is a lively market for unusual collectibles. He said that among the items he has sold are a piece of the rope used to hang Charles J. Guiteau for the 1881 assassination of President James Garfield, and the corpse of a slain Chicago gangster that had been preserved for decades in the coroner's office.

The seller had a final request to a reporter:

"Do me a favor -- don't make me into a ghoul," he said. "I'm not some grave-digging maniac."

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