When Shane Bugbee peered inside the large metal box, he knew he'd found the mother lode. Among the contents were the leather jacket John Wayne Gacy was wearing when he was arrested, a ring of keys including a handcuff key, and Gacy's wallet, which contained his driver's license, his Social Security card, and his membership card from Clowns of America International. In short order Bugbee, a dealer in serial-murder-related collectibles, posted an inventory on one of the many Web sites he maintains, www.pogotheclown.com, and the bidding began.
Among the first items to go were the keys, a license plate off Gacy's car, and a cigar box containing a bottle of baby oil, which gave Bugbee the creeps as soon as he saw it. "The box was all worn and greasy," he says. "I opened it up with a stick, and I was like, 'Oh man, fuck, a jerk-off box, ugh!' All those fantasies, get 'em back in there!" Before slamming the lid Bugbee saw an oily handprint on the label of the bottle. "But that's the shit people want," he adds.
Bugbee broke into the Gacy collectibles market in 1992, when he bought a painting from the portly torturer-murderer. He began buying and reselling them shortly thereafter. "I'd get them from Gacy for $30 to $50 depending on the size, and I'd slap a zero or two on the price and turn 'em around," he says. In 1995 he helped Gacy set up a 900 number featuring recordings of him telling his side of the story for $1.99 a minute. Bugbee also helped the killer publish A Question of Doubt, in which Gacy argued that other parties were responsible for the corpses found buried under his house. "It's garbage as far as reading goes," Bugbee says.
Bugbee never met Gacy in person and professes to have despised him. He prefers "honest" killers, "the ones that don't blame mommy." Richard Ramirez, LA's so-called Night Stalker, for instance: "He has no remorse," says Bugbee. "I remember he signed one of his letters, 'On a hot night, in a cold heart, I'd do it all over again.' He revels in it. He didn't blame his parents, he didn't blame anything, he just said, 'This is who I am.'"
Bugbee has made contact with several killers and their families over the years. He won't reveal how he acquired this batch of Gacy's effects, except to say that he dealt with a group of people that included members of Gacy's family and his legal team, to whom he paid a sum "in the mid five figures." In the course of his career as a very public dealer in atrocious artifacts, Bugbee has weathered fierce criticism from victim's rights advocates and the relatives of murder victims. He thinks a lot of them are in no position to point their fingers at him. "I've met a lot of people--have had to deal with them on radio talk shows and such--and I really think they're just sick individuals and they're looking to make a living off of it, just as I am. Some people get bit by the media bug, the adrenaline of their 15 minutes of fame. John Walsh is the pope of that, he's their idol. They look at him and say, 'Wow, he made a whole career of that.'"
Bugbee actually has his own family connection to the victim of a famous killer. "Mary Ann Jordan, one of Richard Speck's victims, was my wife's father's cousin, so when we started dating, my wife said I should kind of be quiet around her parents about what I did for a living. They asked me about it once, but we haven't really talked about it since." Bugbee adds that his in-laws seemed reassured to know he was in it for the money: "If it were a hobby of mine, that'd be really fucked-up!"
There are still plenty of collectibles available at Bugbee's Web site, but the window of opportunity for buying Gacy's rosary, his prayer card, or his personal copies of Clout: Mayor Daley and His City and Perry: A Transformed Transsexual (inscribed by the author with a personal dedication to Gacy) may be closing fast. "There's a bidding war going on for the whole lot," Bugbee says. "I've been contacted by a couple of people telling me that John Waters is one of the people interested."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lloyd DeGrane.