Crime Scenes: A Killer Attraction for Visitors

If you're looking for a beautiful five-bedroom, Tudor-style mansion with breathtaking mountain views, has a listing for a place at 749 15th St. in Boulder, Colo.

Don't bother asking for directions. Just follow the ongoing parade of camera crews and gawkers.

The listing for JonBenet Ramsey's home -- for sale at under $1.8 million -- doesn't mention that this is where the little girl was found strangled to death in 1996, just after Christmas.

It could be expected, however, that prospective buyers would find out soon.

To be sure, the media zoo on the front lawn is subsiding, now that charges against John Mark Karr for JonBenet's murder have been dropped.

The steady stream of curiosity seekers, though, won't go away any time soon.

There were certainly plenty of visitors in the decade after the murder leading up to Karr's televised confession earlier this month.

The Ramsey home is just one of many crime scenes and infamous locales that are now listed in guide books for tourists.

"The public spends time reading and watching news reports about these incidents that, after a while, you want to see them for yourself -- not unlike a lot of historical sites you can visit," said Chris Epting, author of such guides as "James Dean Died Here," "Elvis Presley Passed Here" and "The Ruby Slippers, Madonna's Bra and Einstein's Brain."

Epting's travel guides document all sorts of pop-culture landmarks, from the murder scene where O.J. Simpson's ex-wife and another man were stabbed to death, to the New York hotel were Bob Dylan introduced the Beatles to smoking pot.

The Questionable Value of 'Stigmatized' Realty

Private homes that have become grisly crime scenes are often regarded as "stigmatized" real estate, and the value of the property is often diminished.

However, the sites of some famous homes have actually risen in price.

Last year, the Modesto, Calif., bungalow once occupied by convicted double murderer Scott Peterson and his slain pregnant wife, Laci, sold for $390,000 -- $10,000 more than Laci's parents had been asking for the place.

"It's probably the most controversial home in the world," the buyer, real estate agent Gerry Roberts, told The Associated Press, at the time.

Roberts had said that he planned to live there with his wife and three children.

He changed his mind earlier this summer, putting the house on the market for $479,900.

He lowered his asking price by $30,000, and, in August, listed the place on eBay, describing it as "a great family home."

EBay yanked Roberts' first listing, because he identified the place as the Petersons' former home.

When he listed the property again, the auction ended with no bidders.

It's sometimes strange to see what motivates the buyers of stigmatized property.

Last year, a bidding war broke out over the Kansas home of BTK killer Dennis Rader, who admitted to killing 10 people between 1974 and 1991.

One bidder, Byron Jones, offering $60,000 for the home -- $3,000 more than its assessed value -- says he was planning to sell the abode "inch by inch" over the Internet.

Exotic dance club owner Michelle Borin finally plunked down $90,000, saying she had no plans to live in the place.

She just wanted the proceeds to help Rader's family. A court, however, has held up the sale, as victims of the killer have filed a wrongful death suit.

Lizzy Borden's B&B: 'Axe Me Where I Live'

Certainly, there's been public outrage, led by victims' rights groups, when anyone has tried to profit from a violent crime.

Once some time passes, however, even the most heinous act of violence can be turned into a tourist attraction.

At the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast in Fall River, Mass., there's no shortage of thrill seekers ready to check in.

The seemingly quaint New England Inn is the very spot where Andrew and Abby Borden were hacked to death -- and in the last few years, it's been restored to its 1892 splendor, when the abode earned its infamy.

As the twisted nursery rhyme goes:

"Lizzie Borden took an axe,

And gave her mother forty whacks,

When she had seen what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one."

Borden was eventually acquitted, and now, a night in her room is $200.

If you want, you and your friends can rent the entire seven-bedroom house for $1,160. One couple even got married there last year. On Halloween, of course.

If that's too creepy, the house also offers daily tours, where you can pick up $5 hatchet-shaped silver earrings, gift books, T-shirts ("Axe Me Where I Live"), or a $10 vial of basement dust, which comes with a letter of authenticity.

"It's a little piece of history, a mystery that people can still share in," said co-owner Lee-Ann Wilber, who purchased the premises two years ago.

All over the country, yesteryear's crime scenes are today's tourist destinations.

Go to Jesse James' farm in Kearney, Mo., and see the bullet hole in the wall from when the famed gunslinger was killed.

James was standing on a chair and straightening a picture when a member of his outlaw gang shot him in the back in hopes of collecting a $10,000 reward.

The bullet is under Plexiglas and on display, along with a casting of James' skull.

At the Dalton Gang hideout in Meade, Kan., you can creep into the 95-foot-long escape tunnel that runs under the 19th century abode.

More action awaits at Ma Barker's place in Oklawaha, Fla., where they annually re-enact the Jan. 16, 1935, gunfight, when police riddled the home with 3,500 rounds of ammunition.

Then, try relaxing at Al Capone's hideout in Couderay, Wis., a fortified lakeside estate with bulletproof walls, gun turrets and a guard tower.

It's now a restaurant and bar.

Just don't confuse it with the mob boss' other makeshift museums, including a onetime Chicago speakeasy that's now Al Capone's Hideaway & Steakhouse.

Among other historical items, a sign in the men's room says, "Big Al Was Here."

People often feel compelled to visit tragic locations, a motivation that might go back as far as the very first battlefield monument.

You can't say crowds go to Capone's hideout or Borden's place to pay their respects, though.

"It's really a matter of time and taste before something like this becomes acceptable," Epting said.

"I can't imagine the Ramsey house turned into anything like the Borden house, ever. It's not just violence. It's a horrible crime against a child, and that's a million miles over the line."

Bonnie & Clyde's Weekend Getaway

Perhaps only in America can an outlaw like Jesse James rob a railroad in 1873, and then, 81 years later, get the railroad to erect a monument to commemorate this evil deed.

You'll also find such a monument in Adair, Iowa, where his crew committed one of the first train robberies of the Old West, hauling off $2,000.

Every spring, nearly 4,000 Bonnie and Clyde aficionados head to Gibsland, La., to witness the re-enactment of the fateful 1934 shootout that marked the bloody end for the Romeo and Juliet of armed robbery and their two-year crime spree, which left at least 12 people dead.

In Lake City, Colo., they celebrate Alferd Packer Days to commemorate the trial of the first American convicted on cannibalism charges.

In the rugged winter of 1873, Packer was trapped in Colorado's San Juan Mountains along with five other prospectors. He emerged 65 days later looking suspiciously plump.

Now, the mountain marks the event with a two-day celebration, with coffin races, bone-throwing contests, and excursions to Dead Men's Gulch, where Packer's victims were exhumed.

The strange fete eventually inspired "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

While they were students at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the duo collaborated on their first project, "Cannibal: A Musical," a 1996 feature film that promised, "All Singing! All Dancing! All Flesh Eating!"

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at The Wolf Files is published on Tuesdays.