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.
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The Semanders finally received the call from police: Elena's body was found in a dumpster. 

She was the victim of Carl "Coral" Eugene Watts, a man who killed at least 11 others. If Watts hadn't confessed six months after the murder, Elena's family never would have known who killed her.

Elena could have been saved. She hit her car's horn and cried for help, but a drunken man in the car parked behind hers assumed a lovers' quarrel was occurring and didn't help. Two cars drove by and did not stop. Watts hit her on the side of the head and put a choke hold on her. He dragged her into the bushes and strangled her to death.

Elena was one week from turning 21. Watts died in 2007 of prostate cancer in a Michigan prison.

"Once he died a great burden was lifted off me," Semander admits. It was the end of seemingly endless parole hearings and checking up on her daughter's killer.

She finally was able to put him out of her mind.

"People don't understand that the criminal and the victim are bonded together with that act," Semander says.

The reminder of her daughter was constant. Semander would begin setting the table for six, and then remember there were only five to feed. But just as Semander's healing and grieving process was taking shape, an item for sale online surfaced: one of Watts' letters.

"I remember I got this sick feeling in my stomach," Semander says. "It's just not right. It glamorizes the criminal. It's someone's freedom to buy or sell these items, but their freedom is stepping on my freedom."

"When it hits you personally, you can't ignore it," she says.

Semander thinks about her daughter much during the holiday season, but suppresses her grief for the sake of her other children, who now are grown and have families of their own. She allows herself to grieve openly by herself every year around Elena's birthday. 

Semander finally went to the University of Denver a few years after her daughter's death. She went to the athletic field, taking in the green grass and picturing Elena running up and down with her field hockey stick.

Says Nicolaou: "Time has put distance between the pain of yesterday and the reality of today, but the weight of the loss will remain forever."

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