The Menendez brothers may not be part of official collectible sets of killer trading cards — which sparked outrage when they were first introduced in 1992 and have continued to be controversial as new editions pop up every few years — but their surprise cameo on an NBA trading card means collectors of murder memorabilia can probably still include them in their decks.
Lyle and Erik Menendez were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1989 murders of their wealthy parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez. The case was highly publicized, with the brothers first blaming the murders on the mob, and, once caught, claiming that they were victims of sexual abuse. But during the period between the murders in August 1989, and the brothers’ arrests in March 1990, they went on a lavish spending spree with their parents’ insurance money, buying Rolex watches, new cars — and courtside tickets to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
It was their spending — a total of about $700,000 during that five-month period — that made authorities suspicious, and that last year led crime writer Stephen Zerance to discover that they appear in the background of Mark Jackson’s 1990 trading card. Zerance told the website SLAM that he was looking for evidence that the brothers really did all of the over-the-top spending that’s been reported.
— Beckett Media (@beckettmedia) December 8, 2018
“My friend and I, who is also a true-crime head, knew that the brothers went on a lavish spending spree after they got an insurance payout from their parents’ death,” Zerance said. He thought he might be able to find documentation of their reported purchase of courtside seats in the Getty Images database. When that came up empty, he had the idea that maybe the pair had been captured on a trading card, so he began scouring old cards from the season following the murders on eBay until he spotted the brothers on the Mark Jackson card. He bought up a bunch of the cards for ten cents each.
Zerance posted his findings on Twitter, but his discovery didn’t get much traction until it made its way to Reddit. Once word got around, eBay banned the sale of the card under their prohibition of the sale of anything “affiliated with murders or serial killers.” They haven’t consistently enforced the ban, however, and several of the cards are currently for sale for $15, $20, and $35 — with many of the listings specifically mentioning the fact that the Menendez brothers are visible in the background.
Murderer memorabilia is a confoundingly popular area of interest for collectors. An auction of items belonging to Unibomber Ted Kaczynski brought in about $190,000 total, including $20,000 for the sweatshirt and sunglasses featured in the infamous police sketch. A Christmas card from Ted Bundy sold for $3,000, and a lock of Charles Manson’s hair is currently on sale for $2,400. There are several websites specifically dedicated to “murderabilia,” selling everything from paintings by John Wayne Gacey to scraped-off foot skin from “Railway Killer” Angel Resendiz. The demand for Menendez merch clearly isn’t quite as high as these infamous killers, given the still-moderate price tag on these cards, but there are undoubtedly some collectors of the macabre out there who will be delighted to own an NBA trading card commemorating the outlandish spending spree the brothers went on with the insurance money they got from killing their parents.