Auction website still offering killers' items
Canadian officials had promised in 2008 to look into MurderAuction issue
A U.S.-based website that allows people to sell letters and art from murderers still offers items linked to notorious Canadian killers despite the correctional service's promise to investigate the situation.
Among the items being offered on MurderAuction.com are signed notes and photos from jailed B.C. killer Clifford Olson and artwork by cult leader Roch Theriault, who was killed in a New Brunswick prison earlier this year. The macabre website also offers a drawing of convicted killer Karla Homolka by an artist.
Items from Robert Pickton, the B.C. pig farmer who was convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of six women, have also been for sale on the site, confirmed MurderAuction's operator.
The 2008 revelation about the Olson material, reportedly offered for sale on the site by someone who corresponded with the serial killer, prompted the Correctional Service of Canada to investigate how his personal prison items wound up for sale in an online auction.
In a letter, the commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, Don Head, told the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime in 2008 that officials were "investigating the matter fully and will take all necessary actions, within our power to protect the victims' interests and needs."
Who they are
Roch Theriault led a bizarre cult at Burnt River, Ont., between 1977 and 1989. He killed his wife by disemboweling her, and chopped off the hand of another woman.
Clifford Olson is serving 11 concurrent life sentences for the murders of eight girls and three boys in B.C.'s Lower Mainland in the early 1980s.
Karla Homolka was released from a Montreal area prison in July 2005 after serving a 12-year manslaughter term for the deaths of two Ontario girls.
Robert Pickton, a B.C. pig farmer who was convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of six women.
"If we find we are, somehow, constrained by the law we will identify options for discussion with the minister," said Head.
The victims group, which had written the correctional service about the items, still has not heard back from Head.
Issue surfaces again
Despite the promise of an investigation into the Olson matter, more material from other criminals has shown up on the website, including from Theriault.
In 2009, the Correctional Service of Canada said it was preventing Theriault's work from leaving Dorchester Penitentiary, and Stockwell Day, who was then public safety minister, expressed concern that that killer was benefiting from work done in prison.
But the works are still on the site, along with other items from notorious U.S. killers such as Charles Manson and Ted Bundy.
One of the pieces of artwork reportedly by Theriault is a trace of his hand dated October 2007, when he would have been in prison.
There is no verification that these items are from Olson or from Theriault.
One of the items available regarding Olson has a signature, reportedly his, and shows him sitting on a clothes dryer in the common room of the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in early 1994. There were no bids and the auction on the item, which had a starting bid of $35 US, was set to close on Sept. 13.
The person offering that item is listed as being from Georgia. No other details are available about the seller.
Another item being offered on the site, from Bermuda, is a book written by famous FBI profiler John Douglas and signed by Clifford Robert Olson.
It is described on the website as a one-of-a-kind book —read and signed by Olson in prison.
"There is a section in the book were John Douglas talks about Clifford Olson in the book.....very scarce!"
It's available as a straight buyout for $299.
The Homolka item is a dark painting that shows her glowering. It's being offered for sale for $179.99.
There are rules
Should Canada's prisons crack down? Is there value in a killer's artwork?
It doesn't appear that there is much the government can do, despite its promises and assurances, to stop prisoners from sending material to people who then sell it on the MurderAuction site.
In an email response to CBC News, a correctional service spokesperson wrote that the department oversees prisoners under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which prohibits and restricts material that may include: risk to a person's safety, risk to the security of an institution, interference with an individual correctional plan, display of offensive or discriminatory materials and criminal publications such as hate literature or obscene works.
If the material doesn't violate those rules, prisoners are free to mail letters.
Christa McGregor, a spokesperson for Correctional Service of Canada, said there was no formal board of investigation conducted into the Olson items on the MurderAuction site. She said the warden at the prison where he is housed would have looked into it but there is no formal report.
The service is aware the items exist, McGregor said, and doesn't condone them being posted for sale, but they "don't have jurisdiction when they get on a site."
Sharon Rosenfeldt, the mother of one of the children killed by Olson and president of the Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, said that she was "appalled at this going on."
She wondered how prisoners like Olson could get material out of prison. She has not heard back from the service or the government about the status of the investigation into the release of the materials, despite the promises that were made. Some in her group have talked to MurderAuction about the actual sale of items and were told that the site can legally sell the material.
William Harder, owner of MurderAuction, said prisoners have the right to send out material and his site has the right to be the conduit for sales.
Harder, who has corresponded with Olson in the past, said there are certain things he won’t allow to be sold on the site, including grave dirt and photos of kids, but the material from Pickton and other Canadians has been OK.
"It's not illegal," said Harder, who admitted he gets death threats every couple of months from people upset by the website.
He argued that it wasn't wrong for Canada's killers to make money from items like photos or letters. Some Canadian material has been sold recently, he said.
The Olson material on the site now may be from a few years ago, said Harder, who speculated the killer wants to lay low for a while.
What often happens, Harder said, is collectors will contact the prisoner and correspond with them and then put the material up for sale. Harder has no knowledge of whether money exchanges hands, and said prison guards often play a part in the exchange, knowing it is happening and sometimes helping.
Harder said he has no knowledge of that happening in Canada.
In Canada, a person cannot profit from a book or a film that is based on anything related to their crime.