6 Insane Ways People Made Money Off True Crime Stories
Whether by listening to podcasts, binging on documentaries, or just loitering on a street corner waiting for some shit to go down, lots of folks are super into true crime these days. However, this isn't anything new. People have always loved a good murder story, which is why the past is filled with jackholes trying to make a quick buck off of other people's morbid curiosity. As a result, there has been true crime merchandising so messed up that it makes our Zodiac Killer collector mugs seem normal by comparison. For example ...
People Learned About Jack The Ripper From Shitty Comics
Before he was the subject of the world's worst museum, people got their information on Jack the Ripper the old-fashioned way: newspapers. But in ye olden days, plenty of people didn't read no good, so lower-class tabloids often presented the stories of the day in the form of elaborate and often very inaccurate illustrations. And the most infamous tabloid of all was The Illustrated Police News, London's premier source for news about monkey duels ...
... or saucy tales of ladies in bathing suits getting their proto-feminism on:
Illustrated Police News was such a titan of fabrication and gossip that it was once voted the "worst newspaper" in Britain (The Sun didn't exist yet). The paper was also at the height of its popularity during the Jack the Ripper murders, meaning that way too many people learned about one of the most horrific killing sprees of all time through what looks like the kind of comic strips that wouldn't even make the funny pages of a suburban gazette.
Since they could draw whatever the hell they liked, the images were sensationally grotesque, like this image of Scotland Yard's finest putting together a dismembered corpse like it's a tricky jigsaw puzzle:
The paper also often featured crude "before and after" doodles of the victims:
And in what may the greatest moment in the history of journalism, the paper employed a wizard to "conjure up the secret actions of Jack the Ripper," though Gandalf mainly focused on the frisky groping and not so much on any details that would help police.
While the sensationalism of the Jack the Ripper coverage may be its most notable, the paper continued into 1938. Which is a shame, because we would've loved to see its reporting on Hitler.
O.J. Simpson's Friend Set Up A Hotline Through Which People Paid To Hear Him Tell Stories
Before it inspired an Oscar-winning documentary, a TV miniseries, and the world's least-thought-out hidden camera show, the O.J. Simpson murder case was the trial of the century. So naturally, like all historic judicial proceedings in the U.S., it generated more souvenir doodads than even George Lucas' insatiable greed could muster. From a board game, for when you want to traumatize everyone aged 9 and up ...
... to the most '90s tchotchkes of them all: goddamn Pogs.
One surprising bit of entrepreneurship came from O.J.'s high school and NFL buddy Al Cowlings -- the driver of the white Bronco during the infamous freeway chase. Instead of cashing in on his five minutes of fame like a normal leech (talk show circuit, tell-all book, O.J.-themed sex tape, etc.), Cowlings went the way of the psychics, sexy singles, and Freddy Krueger by launching a 900 number.
After the trial, people could call the number 1-900-CALL-4AC to listen to "various recorded messages from Cowlings" with stories about both O.J. and Nicole Simpson. For $2.99 a minute (which could buy you quite a few Pogs), Cowling would regale callers in his best movie trailer announcer voice:
Imagine your best friend in jail. Accused of brutally murdering two people. You're about to hear how that ordeal has affected A.C.'s life and his relationship to O.J. Simpson.
Imagine the confusing boner you'd get from hearing that when you thought you were dialing a sex line. But this wasn't the lowest Cowlings could sink. To advertise his "phone a hostage" scheme, he slapped ads on, you guessed it, a white Bronco.
Hold Your Paper Clips In A Neat Replica Of The JFK Assassination Site
Products based on the tragic deaths of beloved presidents don't have a big market. That's why you can't find any John Wilkes Booth fidget spinners, no matter how often we refresh eBay. But there is one exception. The assassination of John F. Kennedy, for reasons beyond mortal understanding, has been commemorated in the oddly banal medium of office supplies.
In 1964, a mere year after JFK was killed, some genius decided to make a small metal recreation of the scene of the crime to sit on your desk. The JFK assassination desk set has been referred to as the "strangest souvenir building ever made," and for good reason.
Finished in bullet-colored bronze, the desk set showcases iconic Elm Street, where Kennedy's open-top limo drove on that fateful day. And lest you didn't think that was already too on the nose, they even put an X on the exact spot where Kennedy was shot:
For a desk toy, the set is disturbingly detailed. It also features the grassy knoll and the book depository, complete with the open window where Oswald was hiding. Even the clock atop the building is set to one minute before the murder.
Someone Made A Rap Song About Making A Murderer
Because the Venn diagram of people who love real-life tragedies and people who love sitting around in their sweatpants eating Funyuns is basically a circle, Netflix releases a shit-ton of crime documentaries every year. One of the most popular was Making A Murderer, the story of Steven Avery, who was acquitted of sexual assault based on DNA evidence, then later convicted of the murder of a different woman. And if you think that sounds like the opening lines of a very dark country song, you'd be wrong. It's actually a rap.
Accused alongside Avery was his nephew, Brendan Dassey, who was 16 at the time. His arrest drew the righteous wrath of his half-brother, an "indie Christian rapper" named Brad, who tried to defend his kin the only way he knew how: through the power of bad rap.
Shortly after the Netflix series came out, Brad (who we like to imagine uses only that name, like a Cher or a Madonna) released a powerfully bland protest rap entitled "They Didn't Do It." With lines like "Yeah injustice slammed in the face of two innocent people" and "Things clearly show that it was just a joke / Cops were only there just to prod and poke," Brad is truly one of the best Christian rappers today. At one point he even rhymes "soda" with "Minnesota." Your move, Yeezy.
Amazingly, though, this wasn't the only song inspired by Making A Murderer. Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, clearly in the "Let's see what else is on Netflix" phase of his career, also wrote a song inspired by the case. The song, "Lake Superior," also contains lines declaring Avery's innocence, such as "Your alibi will never do / When the whole town's got it out for you." We're definitely looking forward to Auerbach's next single, "Guys, Season 2 Of Orange Is The New Black Is Even Better Than The First One."
The Man Who Killed Jesse James Turned It Into A Stage Show
It's weird to think of the assassination of Jesse James as a crime. Firstly, he was a notorious bank robber wanted by the law. Secondly, it was the Old West, where people seemingly did whatever the hell they felt like without repercussions. But it was a crime. Robert Ford shot the legendary outlaw in the back while he was unarmed. And Ford himself became a wanted man afterward, though not in the Wild West sense of the word.
For murdering Jesse James (and receiving a very convenient pardon), Ford decided that he should become a celebrity. With reality television yet to be willed into existence by Lucifer, he found other ways to exploit his macabre stardom. He signed autographs, posed for photos, and most bizarre of all, starred in a stage show about his murder of Jesse James.
The touring play, called Outlaws Of Missouri, found Ford reenacting the killing again and again, like a Groundhog Day if directed by Quentin Tarantino. Of course, Ford didn't feel the need to tell the entire truth, "carefully omitting that he had shot James in the back." The play was popular but not very well-received. Performances were often "greeted with catcalls, jeers, hoots and challenges," and Ford would occasionally jump into the audience and beat the shit out of his critics -- earning him the secret envy of actors everywhere. While there are no pictures of the play, it was carefully recreated in the movie The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, starring Casey Affleck for just the right blend of gravitas / creepy dickhole deserving of the infamous assassin.
Complete Your Killer Collection With These True Crime Trading Cards
Kids growing up with iPads and Xboxes will probably find it hard to believe that children were once entertained by tiny rectangular pieces of cardboard called trading cards. While mainly used to celebrate sports legends or put between the spokes of your bicycle wheels for extra pizzazz, there were some surprisingly niche genres of cards, none moreso than the "True Crime" cards from the '90s.
The cards featured the haunting images of notorious serial killers, like Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer. John Wayne Gacy is even depicted in full clown makeup. (Which makes it his rookie card?) The entire collection is pretty damn disturbing, the kind of thing you'd expect to see Jigsaw use to play Solitaire with in between torture sessions.
Even weirder was one of its expansions, an entire set dedicated to the Charles Manson trial, featuring not only the "family man" himself, but also his victims and his messed up cult of murderous youths.
Sticking the likenesses of real-life monsters onto children's products didn't exactly fly with parents, and victim's rights groups quickly lobbied to ban the cards, pushing for a world in which if children wanted trading cards of depraved murderers, they should go back to collecting O.J. Simpson rookie cards.
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