Murderabilia: When Does a Fascination With Crime Go Too Far?

Inside the minds of those involved in collecting and selling murderabilia.

Objects collected by "murderabilia" fans can vary from cars and houses to letters from killers like Charles Manson. Pictured, police escort Manson in 1999.
By + More

Instead, he says, murderers become more notorious.

"We give them infamy and immortality that they richly don't deserve, all achieved by committing some of the world's most cold-blooded, diabolical crimes in this country's history," he says.

Accused: Society and its fascination with murder

In "Why We Love Serial Killers," which will be released by Skyhorse Publishing in fall 2014, Bonn writes that the public's fascination with serial killers is multifaceted and complex. The fascination comes about because people cannot understand how someone could commit a horrendous crime against strangers, often without motive, he writes. 

A physical response also takes place. Those watching stories about serial killers or reading books about them receive a jolt of adrenaline, which is a hormone that produces a powerful, stimulating and even addictive effect on the human brain – similar to a person's reaction during a roller coaster ride or monster movie.

Monsters are thought of as "scary fun," Bonn writes, just as serial killers are. Horror is pleasurable to people when it is presented in a controlled setting, such as in entertainment or on the news.

"People are drawn to serial killers because they elicit excitement similar to disasters such as train wrecks or earthquakes," he writes.

The public both humanizes and dehumanizes serial killers, Bonn concludes. People humanize serial killers by realizing that something within the human condition – that is, something from within the world we do understand – created the serial killer, he writes. 

"They are driven by inner demons that even they may not comprehend," Bonn writes. "Like it or not, the serial killer is one of us."

Concurrently, the public, media and justice system dehumanize serial killers by portraying them as "larger-than-life celebrity monsters," he writes. This occurs because the framing of serial killers clarifies certain moral boundaries separating good and evil in society: Serial killers often are viewed simply as "evil," Bonn writes, and therefore society views itself as separate from the killer.

For example, someone might think, "I may not be a saint, but at least I don't kill people!" The danger with such a construction is that it desensitizes the public to the actual horrors endured by the victims of serial killers and their loved ones, according to Bonn.

"The harsh reality of serial homicide is comprehended by individuals only ... when a loved one is unfortunate enough to fall victim to a psychopathic predator," Bonn writes.

Damages: Victim's families

Harriett Semander's greatest regret is that she never attended her daughter Elena's soccer or field hockey games because of her severe allergies.

Elena had received a field hockey scholarship to the University of Denver. She then joined the soccer team, which won the division championship that year, and was vocal about the disproportionate funding between men's and women's college sports. Frustrated, she returned to attend college in Houston and lived at home.

Elena planned to be a math teacher and coach – just like her father. She was the oldest of four siblings -- three girls and a boy. 

"She would help me with homework, take me shopping and give me advice on friends and boys," says JoAnna Nicolaou, her sister. "I remember one time she told me, 'Never let a boy get the best of you. And if he does, never let him know it!' Great advice for a 15-year-old girl!"

Elena coached the church basketball team and danced in the Houston Greek Festival in a long red-and-black dress. She stopped wearing hosiery long before it was a fashion statement, Nicolaou says, and it didn't take long for her sisters to follow.

"She often would go out with her friends, wearing a very fashionable outfit, but then would put her own signature on the outfit by adding a baseball or cowboy hat," Nicolaou says.

On Feb. 7, 1982, Elena didn't return home from a night out with friends. Semander went to church while her husband made phone calls. At the time, Semander wasn't concerned because, after all, Elena was an adult.