Like many of you, I was disturbed by the story of Andrea Yates, the Houston mother who drowned her children, one by one, in her bathtub.
My emotions ran the gamut from anger to sympathy. Never did I sense a business opportunity.
Someone did. Before those five children were even buried in the ground, before their father had even finished his eulogies, a truck driver named Charles Ziegler III, who lives in a place called Penndel, Pennsylvania, was trying to auction off a Web address with the mother’s name.
Ziegler, upon hearing of the murders, ran out and registered the domain name AndreaPiaYates.com for less than $50.
He then listed it on eBay Tuesday, with an opening bid of $500,000.
The bidding reportedly soared to $752,000 before eBay halted the auction, claiming it was in bad taste.
Someone selling, someone buying.
I could live to be 1,000; I will never understand the mentality of people who see opportunity in grief, who sell souvenirs of the recently dead.
I will never understand why someone wants a killer’s Web address. I will never understand the O.J. Simpson, JonBenet Ramsey or Columbine High School opportunists who have done everything but set up a lemonade stand at the grave sites.
So I called Ziegler, the man selling the Yates name. He seemed agitated.
“My friends are advising me to just shut up about this,” he said.
“Hey, I’m just trying to buy a house, that’s all. I’m a working guy.”
I said for $750,000, he could buy a whale of a house.
“We don’t know if that was a real offer,” he replied. “They might never have come up with the money.”
Yes, but you would have taken it.
“Yeah. But I was just trying to buy a house.”
Don’t you understand, I asked, why people see your selling something with Andrea Yates’ name as exploiting a terrible tragedy?
“Hey. I feel sorry for that husband. I really do. I got kids of my own.
“I wasn’t trying to hurt anybody.
“I’m just trying to buy a house.”
Business isn’t booming
As I listened to Ziegler, I was perplexed. On the one hand, he seemed truly upset.
On the other hand, he has not only registered Yates’ name but also has 250 other names in his stable, including BonnyLeeBakley.com, for the murdered wife of actor Robert Blake.
Ziegler was hoping to sell that one for $1 million.
“I thought this could be a good business,” he said. “But so far, I haven’t sold a single name. Not one. I’m, like, 10 grand in the hole.
“I’m just looking for one big sale and that’s it. Then I can buy a house, you know?
“I never expected a reaction like this. I’m getting threats. People in Texas are sending me e-mails; they’re saying they want to kill me.”
Think about that. A woman murders her children. An opportunist tries to cash in. Furious people now want to murder him. What a cycle.
Ziegler said he had been reading about all these people making quick money on the Internet. He said he figured he could do the same.
He said that he was just a little guy trying to stay afloat, that he had bills to pay, that he had kids to feed. He said, for the fifth time, that he was just trying to buy a house.
What he didn’t seem to get is that you don’t build a home from the ashes of someone else’s.
“I don’t think I’ll be doing this again,” he said.
Why not, I asked?
“Not after this reaction.”
That’s good, I said.
“It’s been crazy.”
Then again, he has also registered the .net and .org versions of AndreaPiaYates — just to keep his options open.
“You know,” he said, before hanging up, “if I didn’t grab that name, someone else would have.”
And that’s the saddest thing of all.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.