What is it? It’s the dark fascination we have with past criminals, and the era that they inhabited. Case in point-the 90’s, which had its share of strange and deadly criminal behavior. Case in point-the infamous Unabomber:
People who enter Harvard at 16 and earn Ph.D.s in math before becoming professors at U.C. Berkeley aren’t generally seen as future killers. However, Kaczynksi showed signs of mental illness—in particular, he complained people were conspiring against him. He also became a devout Luddite. (His sister-in-law recalls him writing, “Technology has already made it impossible for us to live as physically independent beings.”) In time he largely exiled himself from the world, entering that cabin with no running water or electricity in 1973.
He struck the people who knew him as harmless. Even as evidence started to emerge of his true identity, his brother David continued to insist, “Ted’s never been violent. I’ve never seen him violent.” Indeed, in one of the bizarre ironies of the case, David appears to have helped Ted construct his longtime home. “That’s our understanding,” Christoffersen said. “It was some brother time they had spent together in the woods building this cabin, trying to maintain a relationship.”
The 90s was a decade that teetered on the brink of the 21st century. It was a time when we wanted to leave the messes of the last century behind us and move forward. But it was also an era in which celebrity and crime became blurred to the point of surreal absurdity. Another case in point-OJ Simpson, and his white Bronco:
The Bronco’s current owner Mike Gilbert — Simpson’s former sports agent — will try to strike a deal for the car on “Pawn Stars,” the series set at the Las Vegas-based World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. The episode, “If the Pawn Don’t Fit,” airs Aug. 14 at 10 p.m. on History.
“Not many people realize it’s for sale … and I just thought it was a really cool thing to put on the show,” says “Pawn Stars” personality Rick Harrison, who co-owns World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. “I never glorify gangsters or murderers on the show … and I think OJ is a douchebag … who did some really bad things. I’m a dad with six kids and I’m trying to teach each of them a little bit of morality.
“But I felt it would be good for the show and I figured I’d give it a shot.”
There’s that and the fact that interest in Simpson is, once again, at a fever pitch, now that he’s scheduled to be released on parole as early as October after serving nine years behind bars in Nevada for participating in a 2007 armed robbery.
“Celebrity” criminals have been with us throughout history-the Jack the Rippers, the Al Capones, the cases that reflect the darker side of human nature and ourselves. In the online social media era, criminals can gain instant celebrity status with their acts, and we can feel a visceral sense of satisfaction in seeing them exposed and caught. When real celebrities go bad, they can be a lesson for the rest of us. But what about the lessons of the past?