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10 serial killers artists

 A digital stock render of a clown painting
Image: | Above: A digital stock render of a clown painting

The grim world of ‘murderabilia’ sees those folk attracted to the darker side of life buy, sell, trade and grow obsessed with true crime collectables. Rare items linked to famous murders, killers, cults and crimes can go for a pretty penny in this small but dedicated - and quite serious - world.

Few items fetch as much money as paintings or drawings from the brush or pencil of a high-profile serial killer, though.

Of course, were these paintings not created by some of the world’s most infamous and evil characters, they would fascinate no one. Few art critics would sit up and take notice and no collectors would be interested in acquiring them.

Here are ten examples of notorious serial killers and their ‘art’.

1. John Wayne Gacy

What makes serial killer art so disturbing is the often-uneasy clash of innocence and violence. In the most famous example of a painting by John Wayne Gacy, he depicts a killer clown. It is - as anyone familiar with the wretched man will know - a self-portrait.

Gacy killed 33 young men and boys across many years, while never raising the suspicions of locals. To them, he was just the local tradesman who would dress up as 'Pogo the Clown' to entertain kids in the neighbourhood.

2. Henry Lee Lucas

At one point after Henry Lee Lucas’ arrest, Texas Rangers were convinced that they had apprehended one of history’s most prolific murderers. It turned out that, while Lucas was a cold-blooded killer with plenty of blood on his hands, he was also a habitual and pathological liar. In the end, only three of the 600 murders he confessed to were tied to him, although he almost certainly committed many more.

In prison, Lucas took up art. His works are a mixture of styles, with some relatively bland landscapes in one corner and some more graphic and troubling imagery in another. One particularly noteworthy piece of work from May 2000 shows the view of a killer holding a smoking gun as seen through a giant, bloody hole in the head of the shooter’s victim.

3. Otis Toole

Otis Toole was a known accomplice of Henry Lee Lucas, convicted of six murders himself and also a keen artist. He enjoyed sketching multi-coloured drawings of demons and creatures in the naïve style. Suffice it to say, none hang in any respected art galleries anywhere in the world.

4. Glen Edward Rogers

‘Casanova Killer’ Glen Edward Rogers’ prison paintings might look out of place in the Louvre or a Guggenheim, but his bright skull and skeleton-heavy works aren’t terrible. They look very much like the kinds of tattoo designs you might expect to see adorning the forearms of a particularly tough 1980s biker.

5. Dennis Rader

The artistic works of ‘The BTK Killer’ Dennis Rader tended to be representations of his sexual fetishes and crimes. He would often photograph his victims and even himself wearing his victims’ clothes. He also liked to take pictures of dolls made to look like women he had killed. Therefore, it makes sense that the Wichita murderer would also commit his perversities to canvas.

Rader’s art wasn’t about any form of expression of creativity, though. It was all just about reliving his past crimes and indulging in his bondage and dominance fantasies.

6. Samuel Little

It’s somewhat surprising that Samuel Little is not the most infamous serial killer of all time. Convicted of 60 murders, ‘The Choke and Stroke Killer’ confessed to 33 more and is believed by many LA County Police officials to be telling the truth.

Somewhat incredibly, police were able to identify large swathes of Little’s victims from accurate drawings he offered to provide in custody. The jarring images may not suggest that Little is much of an artist, but they do demonstrate he had an incredible memory.

7. Arthur Shawcross

The Genesee River Killer and Vietnam vet Arthur John Shawcross famously once said, ‘the government taught me how to kill, but not how to stop’. His jail artworks have an oddly childish tinge to them, covering subjects like magical castles and fairytale witches.

8. Danny Rolling

The Gainesville Ripper may not be the highest-profile killer on this list, but his disturbing artwork is arguably the most interesting. His drawings are intricate charcoal affairs, often depicting unsettling scenes of violence and fantasy, sometimes in a vintage tattoo style.

9. Richard Ramirez

A not insignificant amount of art-based ‘murderabilia’ online comes in the form of quick sketches by ‘The Night Stalker’ Richard Ramirez. The sheer number of works in circulation don’t point to an overwhelming desire to create art, though. Instead, there was a more cynical reason underpinning it: enterprise.

True crime ephemera collector Eric Holler cultivated a relationship with Ramirez, encouraging him to draw and paint and send the works to him. Holler would then sell them and split the profits with the killer.

10. Charles Manson

A sociopathic and manipulative cult leader who is always considered a serial killer, despite never having killed, Charles Manson was a talented musician before he decided to form his murderous ‘Family’ in the face of an imagined impending race war. His songwriting was better than his painting and drawing, but only just. There is quality to the psychedelic work he produced, much of which included various levels of self-portraiture.