Gerald Robinson items for sale on ‘murderabilia’ websiteWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
A well-known “true crime collectables” website is offering a set of items related to Toledo priest Gerald Robinson’s funeral.
The one-time lot, priced at $350, includes a photograph of Robinson in his casket, soil from Robinson’s burial plot, a memorial card from Robinson’s funeral and a copy of the July 12 Blade featuring an article about the funeral.
The listing, titled “Gerald Robinson ‘When Satan Wore a Cross’ Funeral Lot,” can be found online at serialkillersink.net.
Serial Killers Ink, a nationally known website based in Florida, is brokering the items on behalf of Toledoan Dan Clay, founder of Grave Fixations, which offers local crime scene and graveyard tours.
Robinson died July 4 in a prison hospice facility. He was serving a sentence of 15 years to life for the 1980 murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, for which he was arrested in 2004 and convicted in 2006.
Robinson’s funeral prompted controversy as local Catholic officials announced he would be given a priest’s funeral. Although he was no longer permitted to take part in public ministry activities, he remained a priest while appeals of his conviction were ongoing. Appeals were still pending at the time of his death.
Clay brought a camera to Robinson’s July 11 visitation at St. Hyacinth Church and took a photo while standing near the casket. No one appeared to notice or stop him, he said.
“I just took my camera and thought, ‘If I can do it, I’ll do it,’” Clay said. “I did it very discreetly.”
He visited Robinson’s grave site about a week later and scooped a vial of dirt.
He then reached out to Eric Holler of Serial Killers Ink about brokering the sale.
“People collect anything and everything,” Clay said. “There’s a market for anything out there.”
Clay said he’s never purchased any “true crime collectables” himself, but he does collect vials of dirt from the grave sites of celebrities and infamous criminals for a personal collection. This is the first time he’s has tried to sell anything.
Holler started Serial Killers Ink about 17 years ago. At first he only sold items related to serial killers, but he has since expanded into other types of crime.
“Everything on the site is legit,” said Holler, who is based in Jacksonville, Florida. “I’ve been writing and corresponding with infamous inmates for years now, since the ’90s. They would send me artwork, letters. They’d go to the prison barber shop and send me locks of their hair.”
At first he sold the items on eBay, but after the site banned such items in 2001, many sellers, including Holler, launched their own websites.
Holler said he doesn’t typically broker items, but will consider it when someone asks.
“99.9 percent of the items [on the site] are mine,” Holler said. “Once in a while I will be contacted by someone who has something they wish to broker.
“In Dan’s case, I knew him. We’re kind of operating in the same genre. He does his crime scene tours. I sell items related to crime,” Holler said. “We met through Facebook years ago; he’s been an associate of mine since then.
“As far as I know, he is the only person able to get photographs from inside the service,” Holler said. “Somehow he was able to take a photo.”
Although many call the items “murderabilia” — and Holler doesn’t reject the name — he prefers the term “true crime collectables.”
“The old stereotype is that only psychos buy this stuff. People say, ‘Who would buy these types of items? Who would want this stuff?’” Holler said. “But my customer base is vast and the last five to 10 years, it’s really picked up. I sell all over the world.”
Buyers include collectors as well as psychologists, professors, police officers, attorneys and more, Holler said.
“People throw the moral question at me, ask ‘How could I do this? Do I feel bad about this?’ No, this is my business,” Holler said.
However, the business is not without controversy. In 2011, Holler’s site came under fire by the family members of victims of Ohio serial killer Anthony Sowell for selling soil from his backyard. Several of Sowell’s victims were buried on his property.
Claudia Vercellotti, a Toledo representative of the organization Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she was horrified to hear about the Robinson items and reached out to Holler by email.
“I asked him, ‘If this was your family, would you want someone doing this?’” Vercellotti said. “It’s a shock to sensibility and common sense.”
She said Holler responded by asking her to stop sending him “harassing” emails, a description Vercellotti denies.
But Vercellotti mainly blamed the Catholic Diocese of Toledo.
“The blame for this falls squarely on the shoulders of the Toledo Catholic Diocese, who had no regard for Sister Pahl when they chose to bury him as a priest in good standing,” Vercellotti said. “If his funeral had been small and simple, if the Diocese of Toledo had exercised any common sense or decency to Sister Pahl’s family and the community at large, perhaps it wouldn’t have gotten the same attention and maybe we wouldn’t be watching a man capitalize off this murder.
“If [Diocesan Administrator] Father [Charles] Ritter had not buried him in a sensationalized, spectacle of a funeral, ask yourself, ‘Would this have happened?’ The answer is probably no. Murders happen every day, people die in prison every day and people aren’t selling their stuff on the Internet. They keyed it up. Clearly that is what kicked up the interest. Their hands are all over this.
“My heart goes out to the Pahl family. This is just one more insult to injury. The idea that anyone would profit off this is devaluing as a women, devaluing as a nun and devaluing as a human being. This is gross. Shame on him. Shame on anyone who bids on or buys this material.”
Sally Oberski, the Toledo Catholic Diocese’s director of communications, declined to comment.
“Such activity doesn’t justify a comment from us,” she wrote in an email to Toledo Free Press.
Holler acknowledged the Robinson items don’t have much academic value, but he said there is a market for such items and filling it is his business. Priests convicted of murder are exceedingly rare and Robinson is believed to be the first to be convicted of murdering a nun.
“I do understand these men and women have done some heinous, brutal crimes. The Gerald Robinson case is horrible. He killed a nun. But people seem to have an interest in dark and morbid history. It’s history. We can’t push history under the rug. It happened. These things happened and there are people who collect these items and people who use these items in the academic field, who study these items to get a better grasp of these individuals.
“I can’t really say a photograph of him lying in a coffin has social value. It’s not going to help anyone understand his crime,” Holler said. “But there are collectors out there that would love to have a photograph of an infamous murderer in his final resting place. People are interested in some really dark things. That’s part of our psyche.
“I do expect it to be sold in the next week or so,” Holler said. “I do foresee it selling.”
Items from notorious killer Charles Manson are among Holler’s fastest-selling items.
“I’ve got Manson items on there but they go quick,” he said. “Everyone wants a piece of Charles Manson.”
Holler said he doesn’t sell items from pedophiles or child killers.
“That’s something I stay away from,” Holler said. He also rarely sells items from victims.
Holler said he’s always been interested in law enforcement and crime. At one time, he wanted to be a police officer.
“This is my career. This is what I do for a living,” Holler said. “It’s my passion. It’s always been my passion.”
Clay, a Toledo native, started Grave Fixations about two and a half years ago and gives up to four tours a week. The tours, which are by appointment only, last about two hours and have 15 to 20 stops, Clay said. Cost is $18 per person or $30 for two people. The tour is “not recommended for the squeamish,” but is respectful, Clay said.
“The whole purpose is to educate people and show people the evil man is capable of,” Clay said. “It doesn’t glorify or glamorize anything. When we’re at the graves, it’s all respect. There’s no circus atmosphere. Some people even bring flowers.”
Of Robinson, Clay said he thinks only God can judge.
“This is a very high-profile crime,” he said. “People have their own ways of judging. I’m not saying he was guilty and I’m not saying he was innocent. I guess we just have to let God judge.”
Updated with comments from Claudia Vercellotti.
Updated with comments from Catholic Diocese of Toledo.
Tags: Anthony Sowell, Charles Manson, Claudia Vercellotti, Dan Clay, Eric Holler, Gerald Robinson, Grave Fixations, Margaret Ann Pahl, murderabilia, Priest, Serial Killers Ink, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, true crime collectables