Spree Killer Lee Boyd Malvo’s Plan to Make Money from SuperMax Prison

by Diane Dimond on July 21, 2014

Lee Boyd Malvo Self-Portrait

Lee Boyd Malvo Self-Portrait

Lee Boyd Malvo, inmate No. 330873, incarcerated at the super-maximum Red Onion State Prison in Pound, Va., has a business plan to make himself some money. He either doesn’t know it is against the law or he doesn’t care.

You won’t learn about this story anywhere else. I was only able to piece it together after speaking to sources, correction officials in Virginia, exchanging emails with a woman in a foreign country and putting two and two together.

You may remember Malvo was half of a two-man killing squad that terrorized, robbed and killed people in about a dozen states back in 2002. When the pair were at the peak of their killing spree, the media incorrectly dubbed the then 17-year old Malvo and his 41-year-old accomplice, John Muhammad, “The Beltway Snipers” and the “D.C. Snipers.”

Muhammad and Malvo After Arrest - circa 2003

Muhammad and Malvo After Arrest – circa 2002

The pair didn’t only go after targets in and around the nation’s capital. They began their murderous binge in Washington state in February 2002. Traveling through nearly a dozen states, their total victim count was 10 injured and 17 dead. They didn’t attract national attention until their random sniper attacks erupted close to the seat of power, in and around Washington, D.C., in October 2002.

After their capture, Muhammad was convicted in 2003 and executed in 2009. Young Malvo was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences with no possible parole. Malvo maintains that after surviving a hellish childhood, he latched on to the much older and controlling Muhammad for stability. He says he was repeatedly sexually abused by Muhammad and was brainwashed into participating in the crime spree.

Malvo’s lawyers are appealing his sentence citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 finding that mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. So far, they have been unsuccessful.

“Brainwashing” by Lee Boyd Malvo

Today, the now 29-year-old Malvo awaits his fate, and I have learned he frequently puts pen to paper and draws: the Christ child with an angel hovering above, an impressive rendition of a young Muhammad Ali and the rapper Drake. Malvo often draws himself alone in his cell, his face usually only partially revealed. The drawings have titles such as, “The Prison Well Made By My Mind” and “Forgive Yourself.”

Malvo’s drawings portraying guns and violence are the most chilling. One piece titled “In Brainwashing” shows two men lying on their stomachs as if scoping out a faraway target. One is aiming an automatic weapon. Off to the right sits a young crossed-legged African-American man (who looks like Malvo) passively watching the scene.

"Syria in Turmoil" by Lee Boyd Malvo

“Syria in Turmoil” by Lee Boyd Malvo

Other drawings are more action-packed. “Syria in Turmoil” portrays a desperate-looking man in a ball cap holding an automatic weapon in his right hand as he uses his left arm to catapult between two cars. Another in this series shows two men with guns outstretched, each moving toward the corner of a brick building from different directions. It’s clear that in an instant one of them will be dead. In a work Malvo calls “Slavery,” guns are replaced by a whip, and chained men are beaten by a jailer with a machete in his belt.

This art is Malvo’s product. His business plan apparently came together after a German woman named Kira Prange began writing him in January.

“I wanted to learn how we accept people without judging them or their past,” Prange wrote me in a series of emails we exchanged.

Red Onion Super Max Prison

Red Onion Super Max Prison – Virginia

The 24-year-old student from Bremen, Germany, told me she is studying to be a social worker and she chose to write Malvo because as a 12-year-old girl she remembered news reports about the manhunt. Prange told me she and Malvo write between one and three letters to each other every week.

“We quickly became good friends, and he asked me if I might help him with his art sale since he had to stop about a year ago,” Prange wrote.

A few weeks ago, Prange created an Internet site for Malvo where she posted 20 of his tablet-sized drawings. Each drawing is offered for $2,000 save for “Brainwashing,” which has a slight notch out of one side and is priced at $1,800. Prange confided to me that she has “about 50 more drawings” from Malvo that she plans to post after her exams are over.

“The main reason for the art sale is Mr. Malvo’s intention to help a close friend financial,” Prange wrote, struggling with English a bit. She did not reveal precise details of their business arrangement, but she made it clear Malvo plans to profit.

Muhammad Was Stability for Abandoned Boy Malvo

Muhammad Was Stability for Abandoned Boy Malvo

“He does receive some of the money,” she wrote.

Interesting, since profiting from the notoriety of a crime is against Virginia law — Code Section 19.2-368.20 to be exact.

It states that any profits received by an inmate as a result of his notoriety “shall require that the defendant and the person with whom the defendant contracts pay (the court, the proceeds to) … be placed in a special escrow account for the victims of the defendant’s crime.”

Is this the law that shut down Malvo’s last attempt to sell his drawings? Did he believe by selling through a foreign intermediary his enterprise might survive under the radar?

On Capitol Hill, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is currently stalled on his third attempt to get legislation passed that would prohibit any federal or state inmate convicted of a violent crime from profiting from the sale of any of their memorabilia. Cornyn’s “Stop the Sale of Murderabilia Act” is stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator's Bill to Stop Convicts Profiting Stalled

Senator’s Bill to Stop Convicts Profiting Stalled

Since his conviction, Malvo has reportedly apologized to one survivor of his shooting spree and to the daughter of one of the dead. He petitioned the court to change his name on the basis that he would be safer if other inmates did not know his identity. In a long tape-recorded interview with the Washington Post in 2012, he lamented his tormented childhood and clearly wishes he had not fallen under Muhammad’s “Master Puppeteer” spell.

In a prison like Red Onion, where most of the population is segregated in individual cells 23 hours a day, Malvo’s artwork is surely one of his few satisfying outlets. But, somehow it has escaped him that it is only of value to a few collectors because he is notorious for committing heinous, bloody crimes.

Something tells me after this news of Malvo’s latest business endeavor hits the headlines, monitors at Red Onion State Prison will be looking more closely at both his incoming and outgoing mail. And they should.


UPDATE: Three days after this column first ran on my Creators Syndicate page and in various newspapers around the country the website where Malvo’s drawings were featured removed them.  I deliberately did not name the site so as to not give the art sale any publicity.

"Prison Well of My Mind" by Lee Boyd Malvo

“Prison Well of My Mind” by Lee Boyd Malvo

Roy Kissel July 21, 2014 at 8:13 am

Sickening. How are the drawings able to be sent so that they are posted online for sale? Seems like it would be easy to put a stop to it. Either search his outgoing mail, or deny him access to a computer to upload and send attachments.

The victims’ families deserve to be respected.

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Twitter Pal Jmoon901 writes:
@DiDimond. I thought you cant profit from your crimes once you are convicted Dianne. How can that be in Va. ?

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Read the column. Malvo tried to pull a fast one by getting a partner in GERMANY. Prison officials should monitor his outgoing mail more closely, don’t ya think? ~ DD

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Twitter Pal tess46 writes:

“@DiDimond I know that NY has a law that prohibits convicts from profiting from their crimes. Do U know how many States have a similar law?”

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Not sure, Tess. But experts in the field tell me its fewer than a dozen states. Virginia was not on the expert’s list of states with “Notoriety for Profit” laws – (made necessary after the US Supreme Court struck down the Son-of-Sam laws as unconstitutional) but when I researched further Virginia did, indeed, have such a law. ~ DD

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Twitter Pal Twitter Pal tess46 responds:

“@DiDimond that is a travesty. We need a legal mind to draft a ‘constitutional’ law. Amazing to me the things declared unconstitutional.”

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 7:58 pm

Facebook Friend Kim Sunderlage writes:

“Is that even allowed? Every few months, prison officials take away Manson’s “artwork” and a big fuss was raised when Gacy wanted to sell his paintings done in prison. I don’t think they permitted that. No matter how you look at this though, he’d be profiting from his crimes. That’s absolutely not permitted. But it won’t stop a black-market operation.”

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Facebook Friend William Drummond writes:

“Imagine this. At San Quentin, the warden shut down the craft shop. Inmates used to make carvings of wood and leatherwork to earn a few bucks. Some of the pieces were nice and were sold in the gift shop. Under the new system ONLY DEATH ROW INMATES can make crafts for sale in the gift shop. And the death row inmates are allowed to have 10-inch knitting needles in order to make their goods for sale. Go figure.”

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Facebook Friend Tracy Petry writes:

“Great reporting. Another murderer trying to make a buck to, “help a friend in need.” Infuriating! And there are sickos who buy this crap.”

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Facebook Friend Cynthia Garbutt writes:

“Sickening. The only way this can be justified, is if ALL the money goes to the victim(s).”

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Facebook Friend Kim Sunderlage writes again:

“@ WILLIAM DRUMMOND: Do you know what happened to the money the gift shop took in? I agree with CYNTHIA GARBUTT: “Sickening. The only way this can be justified, is if ALL the money goes to the victim(s).”
I just remembered this about John Wayne Gacy’s art: The St. Petersburg Times, a Tampa Bay, Fla., newspaper reported: “After his execution, Gacy’s artwork was auctioned off. Some people bought the art solely to destroy it; a bonfire in Naperville, Ill., in June 1994 was attended by 300 people, including family members of nine victims who watched 25 of Gacy’s paintings and drawings burn.”
There are many more works by Gacy out there and prized by certain collectors. With each passing year, the price rises. To me, this is simply some odd and greedy people who are making a profit from crimes — not their crimes, but crimes. It shouldn’t be allowed that anyone make profits from buying/displaying/selling any arts or crafts made by criminals, alive or dead.”

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Facebook Friend Amy Black writes:

“GREAT writing Diane! You are a star for shedding light on this! What a devious problem, as an artist I think he should be allowed to create his drawings, but not be allowed to distribute them or make any money/publicity gains from them in any capacity!”

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Twitter Pal love2swim1951 writes:

“@DiDimond Right! I lived here in Manassas, VA and remember the terror in my kids eyes.”

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Twitter Pal MedicGram writes:

” @DiDimond – – better yet, don’t stop him. A court order intercepting all the proceeds for the victim’s families.”

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Twitter Pal wishingwell50 writes:

” @DiDimond how about stopping Jodi Arias from selling her artwork from prison too?”

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Dear @wishingwell50,

Sounds like a great idea to me! I dunno if Arizona has ‘notoriety for profit’ laws though.

Diane Dimond July 21, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Twitter Pal Chrisahull writes:

” @DiDimond there is something wrong with this, if the proceeds help victims I may be ok with it but if it profits him or his family, no!!!!”

les coleman July 21, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Certainly violent prisoners should not profit from their felonous fame. But, in this case, if Malvos work is sold on a website based outside the USA, using a foreign bank to handle transactions, Va. hands are tied. Malvo simply mails his drawings to his penpal, she keeps the profits offshore. Top choices now are Gibraltar, Isle of Man, Channel Isles, and N. Cyprus. Out of reach of Va laws.

CLS July 23, 2014 at 3:59 am

I find it appalling he created this “art.” It’s appalling he concocted a scheme, to profit from his “creation.” However, I also have to question the minds of anyone who would want to buy it.

I stand amazed.

Diane Dimond July 23, 2014 at 7:35 pm

Northern Virginia Daily Reader Billy Davison writes:

“Why is this POS still breathing? He should have been executed long ago.”

Diane Dimond July 23, 2014 at 7:38 pm

Because he is still appealing his sentence, Mr. Davison. He was 17, a juvenile, when the crimes were committed. His attorneys believe his life sentence was against a Supreme Court ruling several years ago that banned such sentences for defendants like Malvo. ~ DD

Sonni Quick July 6, 2015 at 1:51 pm

And how would that apply to the many inmates who have written books about their life. Gotta be profit there that could help upon release. Would you want to stop that, too, our is there a line drawn in the sand somewhere?

Also, what about the Prison Arts Coalition? Most people who respond to articles like this don’t have a clue about our prison system. Some of what you write is inflammatory, meant to bring out the stupid in people, evidenced by the comments here.

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