After Louisiana State Penitentiary inmate Derrick Todd Lee released artwork and a personal letter for sale on a "murderabilia" website, officials at the prison are questioning whether Lee violated penitentiary rules by seeking profit for his work.
Lee was linked to the deaths of seven women in Louisiana and convicted of murder on Oct. 14, 2004. He received a death-penalty sentence and is currently on death row at the state penitentiary in Angola, La.
During his time on death row, Lee has been working on art projects, which he is attempting to sell online for crime enthusiasts everywhere.
The term "murderabilia," a name for crime-related memorabilia, was coined by Serial Killers Ink website owners Jessika and Eric Gein. The website features artwork, letters and other items from criminals of all walks of life, from Charles Manson to necrophiles and cannibals.
"We created the website because there is a demand for true crime collectibles, and we wanted to cater to that demand," said Jessika Gein, co-founder of Serial Killers Ink.
Lee sent 2 pieces of his work to the website — a sketch of a panda eating bamboo and an illustration of two swans. The art of the swans sold online for $75, Eric Gein said. It is now listed on another website for $200. The panda art was purchased Feb. 7 by a Baton Rouge resident for $100, according to Eric Gein.
There has been an on going investigation since Jan. 25 in response to the online art, said Col. Bobby Achord, head of investigations at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. He said they were informed on Jan. 27 that Lee received a Christmas card from Jessika Gein.
"Lee wrote her a letter in response," Achord said. "He hoped to develop a pen pal."
Gein said as a couple, she and her husband Eric send cards to inmates all the time.
"The card we sent had no mention of art, money or anything of that nature," Gein said.
Gein said Lee responded to the card with a letter stating his interest in selling his work.
In the letter obtained by The Daily Reveille, Lee comments on selling artwork in the past and how he is interested in sending some of his artwork to Gein. Lee said he was also able to receive money in a special prisoner's account through www.JPay.com.
"I have a few art pictures that I ask $20 each for them," Lee wrote in the letter. "I sell them from time to time to help buy things I need in [prison]. If you're interested in any or would like to try'n sell any for me, please let me know."
Jessika Gein said she wasn't aware he had any artwork until he told her.
"Of course I was interested," she said.
Gein said in an e-mail that she and her husband offered Lee his asking price of $20 for each piece of art.
But Achord said if this proves to be true, Lee will have broken prison policy. He said if Lee knew the items were going to be posted for sale on the Internet and if he were to profit from the sale of these items, Lee violated the Department of Corrections rules.
As of now, there is no law in the state of Louisiana to prevent prisoners from profiting from their reputations as well-known criminals. A bill titled "Stop the Sale of Murderabilia to Protect the Dignity of Crime Victims Act" was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn to the United States Congress in 2009 and 2010, but has not become law, Achord said.
Cathy Fontenot, Louisiana State Penitentiary assistant warden, said prisoners at Angola are not allowed to disseminate their materials for profit.
"When we catch them, we will discipline," Fontenot said.
Since the website has acquired Lee's artwork, Gein said it has received harassment from Warden Burl Cain and other law enforcement officials.
"The warden at Angola has gone out of his way to not only state that we scammed Derrick Todd Lee, but that I flirted with him to obtain the artwork," Gein said. "When he was proved wrong, the warden resorted to name-calling, bordering on slander."
Warden Burl Cain denied to comment to The Daily Reveille.
Cain was previously quoted by NBC33 News, saying "it was a scam by a trashy website with no compassion" and, "people are sick to sell it ... and buy it."
Fontenot said penitentiary officials do not want to attract more attention to the website.
"We greatly regret the pain this has caused to the victims' families," Fontenot said.
Lee is the only inmate from Angola who has been involved with Serial Killers Ink.
(source LSU Reveille)