As hobbies go, Matthew Aaron’s is pretty macabre. An avid reader of true crime novels as a youth, the 37-year-old artist and musician collects artwork by and letters from notorious criminals. “My interest is mainly in criminals from the United States,” says Aaron, “but I correspond with two cannibals overseas.”
After sharing pieces of his murderabilia collection with friends on Myspace, Aaron, who lives in Fishers, began fielding a lot of questions and requests so in early 2009 he created a separate Myspace page, The Last Dime Museum, http://www.myspace.com/444011105.
Aaron, who is currently working on a book with the youngest woman to have ever been sentenced to death in America, Christa Pike, insists that his interest is driven solely by a love of art and a desire to understand the criminal mind.“Your version of the boogeyman is different than mine, only because I actually know him,” Aaron says.
How did you start collecting murderabilia?
I started by reading true crime novels and wanting to get (the criminals’) side of the story. I started with “Helter Skelter” and I wrote to Charlie Manson. It took forever to get a reply from him.
In the waiting time I wrote to the other (Manson) family members and once I started getting some letters back I started looking for the address of any notable criminal that was incarcerated just to kind of get their opinions on the books that I had spent my adolescence reading. So many of them said that the books I had read were inaccurate or a partial account of what had happened.
I’m an artist and I always wanted to see what kind of artwork they made in prison so I offered to trade artwork with them and correspond with them. Everyone needs a friend.
More than just wanting their side of the story, why do you want a piece of their life?
I’m an art collector. Art collecting on any level is about name recognition. Honestly a lot of serial killer art is not graphic or gruesome. A good percentage of it is landscape art.
How often is there a valuable takeaway from your interactions with these people — how often do you get something that adds to your understanding of why these people did what they did?
I think that’s the goal. I’m certainly trying to collect their art not just as papers that I own but as some insight into them. I’m a fair outlet, I’m not the media, I’m not writing a book, I’m the guy on the bus who says hi to anybody. I’m not judging them for what they’ve been convicted of; they’re already doing their time for that.
Do you think you get access to parts of their personality that you wouldn’t if you were purely a murder groupie?
I’ve written to probably of 50 of the most notorious names in our annals of crime and obviously I don’t stay in contact with all of them but I do get Christmas cards or an occasional, “Hey, haven’t heard from you” letter from some of them.
I have really good friends on death row. There are also people I could not stomach one more letter from. I often tell people not to tell me about their crimes. I don’t want to hear about blood and gore, I’m interested in art and prison life.
I’ll tell a local story that’s probably not my proudest moment. Ken and Kari Allen killed their mother and grandparents, dismembered the bodies and put them in their grandparents’ house on Linwood Avenue in Indianapolis. Because it was here, because it was as brutal and gnarly as it was, I began to write Ken and Kari immediately while they were still in jail before their trials. I started writing to them and Ken was atrocious and Kari just wanted a hamburger…
She wanted a picture of a hamburger. She’s a little girl and there are things that she’s never gonna see again. You could just feel her innocence – maybe that’s a bad choice of words — but you could feel her youth, her sadness and regret in her letters. Her brother asked how much he could get for drops of his blood, his hair…he wanted to know what every piece of his life was worth.
I explained to Ken that that’s nowhere near what I am motivated by, that that wasn’t going to cut it in our relationship and he started asking me to return everything he had ever sent and getting real weird and paranoid. In a couple of days I saw on the news they caught him trying to break out. One of the blocks was chipped away and he’d covered it with a poster. So I started the rule that I only correspond with people who never have any real chance of getting out.
Do you have any plans of having a brick and mortar space where you can display your collection?
The safety of the stuff has actually become a concern. The idea has been passed around not only by me but by other big collectors but frankly public opinion is not very high and there’s often been threats to destroy buildings and their contents.
If you were going to prison for the rest of your life, what is the last meal you’d eat in this town and where? I think I’d probably go see Joe (Vuskovich) at Yat’s and have some white chicken chili.