William Harder’s home is filled with photographs of men and women he calls friends. But to others, they are iconic figures in dark parts of American history.
His story starts 18 years ago when he came across Richard Ramirez’s artwork online. Ramirez is otherwise known as the “night stalker.” He was a convicted serial killer who raped and tortured more than a dozen people in California.
“I then decided to find Richard Ramirez’s address on death row in California. It took a while and I found it and wrote him a letter and sure enough, he wrote back.”
They struck up a friendship and that’s when Harder started to become a regular visitor at San Quentin State Prison.
“It was like looking at a venomous snake in a way and it was really neat when you think about what he had done, the actions he had committed to get him in prison. This is someone who tortured people recreationally.”
Harder then started his mission to reach out to the other inmates, including the infamous Charles Manson.
“Sometimes it is hard to hold back excitement when you are meeting someone like Manson. It’s exciting. I took more from my visits with Charles Manson than any other inmate I met.”
Harder also became close to convicted serial killer Dorothea Puente. She ran a boarding house in Sacramento and murdered her elderly boarders before cashing their Social Security checks.
Harder says he sat with her for hours a day while she was in hospice care before she passed. Now he has her with him in his home.
“She was Catholic so I picked out an urn for her. I am not a theistic person, but I would like to think of her as watching over me.”
After 18 years of this journey, he has visited prisons in four different states, three different death rows, and more than 90 convicted murderers.
His house has become a makeshift “murderabilia” museum. Almost every cabinet and wall is lined with the artwork created by inmates.
“The thing I have found I love the most is inmate true crime related memorabilia. It is not something you can buy at Walmart.”
To share his passion of inmate art with others, he created the website murderauction.com where you can list buy or bid on items from inmates.
Harder says none of the inmates receive any of the profits, but it doesn’t stop victims’ advocates and families fighting against him. He adds that the main reason he got into this was to help people.
“I try to be, as silly as this sounds, a little ray of sunshine. Prison sucks and you get abandoned by your family.”
He wants to provide peace for these convicted killers in the last years of their lives.
“I’ve got a good life, and I’ve had a good life, and I want to be able to give back a little.”