How Charles Manson and Other Serial Killers Made Money in Jail

Under Son of Sam laws, criminals are not allowed to profit from their crimes. As such, in some states, convicted serial killers such as Charles Manson are not allowed to sell or trade writings, artwork, interviews, poetry, books, and so forth. Still, that hasn’t stopped some murderers from making money while incarcerated.
How much have serial killers profited from their notoriety? Let’s take a quick look at eight well-known criminals, including Manson (No. 5), and find out.

1. Jeffrey Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer
He received donations from around the world. | Eugene Garcia/AFP/Getty Images
  • Convicted in 1992 of murdering 16 boys and men

Known as the “Milwaukee Cannibal,” Jeffrey Dahmer was sentenced to 15 life terms in prison after he was convicted of murdering 16 boys and men. Many of the murders involved necrophilia, cannibalism, and the preservation of body parts. He would lure his victims to his apartment and then kill them, often dismembering their bodies.
Once behind bars, Dahmer received donations from random letter-writers around the world, The New York Times reported in 1994. This included money along with Bible literature, money so Dahmer could purchase cigarettes, and money to reimburse Dahmer for postage when he mailed out art books. In all, Dahmer received more than $12,000 in donations from around the world, the article stated.
On top of the donations he received, Dahmer earned 2 cents per hour as a prison gymnasium janitor. In January 1994, according to prison records, Dahmer’s assets were $4,284, and he used his money to order items through catalogs like magazines, comic books, and cassette tapes featuring Gregorian chants and sounds of humpback whales.
Dahmer was beaten to death by a fellow prison inmate in 1994.
Next: This “killer clown” liked to paint pictures of himself.

2. John Wayne Gacy

John Wayne Gacy
 Gacy often dressed as his clown alter-ego. | Steve Terrell/Wikimedia Commons
  • Convicted in 1980 of murdering at least 33 young men

John Wayne Gacy was a serial killer and rapist convicted of torturing and murdering at least 33 teenage boys and young men between 1972 and 1978 in the Chicago area. Skeletal remains were found buried underneath Gacy’s home. He became known as the “Killer Clown” due to his appearances in earlier years at charitable events dressed as “Pogo the Clown.”
While in prison, Gacy began to paint. Most of his artwork featured clowns. Some of these paintings depicted Gacy himself as Pogo the Clown. Until 1985, Gacy was permitted to earn money from selling the paintings. He sold 19 paintings, and maintained that his artwork was intended to “bring joy into people’s lives.” Other works of his have been sold at auctions, fetching $200 to $20,000 each. Upon Gacy’s 1994 execution by lethal injection in Illinois, his lawyers auctioned off his remaining artwork. At that time, two men acquired 25 paintings and burned them at a communal bonfire attended by 3,000 people. In attendance were relatives of some of Gacy’s victims.
Next: The devil made him do it.

3. David Berkowitz

Son of Hope book
He wrote a book while in prison. | Amazon
  • Convicted in 1977 of murdering 6, wounding 8

The first Son of Sam law was created in New York after David Berkowitz had committed a series of murders in 1976. Berkowitz had referred to himself as “Son of Sam.” Berkowitz pleaded guilty to eight separate shooting attacks in New York City, all done with a .44 caliber revolver. Berkowitz eluded the police during a manhunt, leaving letters mocking investigators and promising further crimes. The killing spree received widespread media attention. Berkowitz was caught in 1977 and confessed to all of the murders, claiming to have been obeying the orders of a demon.
Berkowitz received six life sentences. After he entered prison, rumor had it he was being offered large amounts of money to tell his story to publishers and movie studios. He also sought out an exorcist to help him compose an autobiography, but the offer was not accepted. Over the years, he has developed memoirs with the help of evangelical Christians. Since converting to born-again Christianity, he now refers to himself as “Son of Hope.” His book was released in 2006, titled, “Some of Hope: The Prison Journals of David Berkowitz.” Due to the law, he has not received any royalties or profit from sales of his book, other writings, or interviews.
Berkowitz remains in prison today.
Next: He sold his signature for cigarette money.

4. Richard Speck

Stateville Correctional Center
He sold his art for money out of the prison. | RW2/Wikimedia Commons
  • Convicted of raping and murdering 8 student nurses in 1966

Richard Speck was a serial killer who tortured, raped, and murdered eight student nurses from South Chicago Community Hospital in 1966. Speck was convicted in 1967 and given the death penalty. The sentence was later changed to life in prison due to issues with jury selection.
Speck was held at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois. The prison offers ceramics and painting classes for inmates. While Speck was not enrolled in the art classes, he was known to sell his signature or his paintings for cigarette money, Chicago Tribune reported. The article also quoted a source as saying Speck would sell his artwork from prison for up to $500. Speck’s artwork was displayed with that of other serial killers at an art gallery in the mid-’90s.
Speck died in prison of a heart attack in 1991.
Next: Manson received a few cents for every sold item of this.

5. Charles Manson

Charles Manson t-shirt
He received money from T-shirt sales. |
  • Convicted in 1971 of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the deaths of 7 people

A Google search for “Charles Manson net worth” brings up several websites that claim the 83-year-old serial killer was worth $400,000. Manson, a cult leader imprisoned at Corcoran State Prison in California after the 1969 murders of pregnant film actress Sharon Tate and six other people, passed away on Nov. 19, 2017. As a prisoner, he had no access to a computer and lived off a $35-per-month stipend.
Fortune reported on the “staggering” amount of Manson merchandise available for purchase, such as stickers, patches, and T-shirts — as well as fact that Manson sold art online that he had created in prison. He did receive a small profit from some merchandise, according to a 1993 article from The New York Times. The killer received 10 cents for each $17 T-shirt sold featuring his likeness and the words “Charlie Don’t Surf.”
In an interview published in 2014, a man claiming to be Manson’s estranged son said Manson had a lot of money.
Next: During his trial, he admitted to mutilation and cannibalism.

6. Arthur John Shawcross

Kodak Headquarters, Rochester New York
The Genessee River Killer terrorized people in the Rochester, New York, area.  Guy Solimano/Getty Images)
  • Convicted in 1990 of murdering 10 people

Known as the Genessee River Killer, Arthur Shawcross was convicted of killing 14 people in total. After killing two children in 1972, he was convicted and jailed but released after 12 years. In 1990, he was convicted of 10 murders of women between 1988 and 1989. During his trial, he admitted to mutilation and cannibalism. Authorities said he preyed on prostitutes, raping and mutilating victims before dumping their bodies in remote locations in the Rochester, New York area.
When imprisoned, Shawcross sold paintings and poems out of his cell in upstate New York. Some of his paintings sold for nearly $600. In 2002, protests erupted over Shawcross profiting from his prison artwork. The State Corrections Department then discontinued its annual inmate art show and also banned the sale of art made in prisons. Under the program, inmates had been able to own art supplies and pocket half the proceeds from their art sales. Shawcross had produced and sold an artwork in 2001 of Princess Diana, which sold for as much as $540.
Shawcross remained in prison until he died of a heart attack in 2008.
Next: His artwork depicted his victims’ tombstones.

7. Anthony Sowell

Anthony Sowell Letter
His notes are still being sold. |
  • Convicted in 2011 of 11 counts of murder and 70 counts of rape, kidnapping, and abuse of a corpse

Anthony Sowell, now 58, was arrested in 2009 after the bodies of 11 women were discovered at his Cleveland, Ohio residence. He went on to be convicted in 2011 of murder, rape, and kidnapping.
In 2012, a website that sells serial killers’ artwork was criticized for selling works created by Sowell. At the time, a drawing by Sowell of 11 tombstones was listed on the website for sale for $175. Also for sale were images described as of Sowell as a baby. The featuring and profiting from the artwork was met with criticism from a victim’s relative. Sowell maintained that although he was providing the artwork, he was not profiting personally from it whatsoever.
In response to Sowell’s artwork being sold, Cuyahoga County, Ohio Prosecutor Tim McGinty was quoted as saying prisons should “severely restrict” murderers’ access to the public, and any money they receive as a result of their notoriety should be given to the victims’ families as restitution.
Upon conviction, Sowell was handed the death penalty. He appealed the sentence, and his case was offered to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to review the appeal. Sowell is now scheduled to be executed in 2020.
Next: He had a visit from Susan Sarandon.

8. James Allridge

James Allridge painting piano wave
Allridge sold his art while in prison. | Family of James Allridge
  • Convicted in 1987 of murdering a convenience store clerk

James Allridge may not have been a serial killer, but the death row inmate did make headlines when he helped support his legal team by selling his art over the internet. Allridge was convicted of taking part in the murder of a Fort Worth, Texas, convenience store clerk in 1985. In jail, Allridge taught himself to draw and received criticism for profiting from his artwork. He was said to have reached celebrity status when death row opponent Susan Sarandon visited him in 2004.
“You can paint all you want; you can draw all you want. But you shouldn’t be able to profit off it,” said Andy Kahan, director of Houston’s Victims Assistance Center. He said Allridge was “gaining fame and notoriety and getting visits from Hollywood celebrities – and all because he killed somebody.”
Allridge was executed by the state of Texas in 2004.
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