In the early '90s, serial killer John Wayne Gacy spent his days on death row creating extraordinarily creepy paintings of clowns. So memorabilia dealer Stephen Koschal wrote the murderer in prison and offered to be his agent.
Brickell resident Koschal estimates he sold 150 of the paintings by Gacy, who was executed in 1994, including many special commissions. The dealer took one such painting, depicting two faceless boxers, to autograph shows and paid seven former champs, including Muhammad Ali and Floyd Patterson, to sign it. The bizarre artifact sold for $1,375.
Koschal similarly persuaded baseball Hall of Famers such as Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams to put their John Hancocks on Gacy's painting of a team of dwarfs playing baseball against the Chicago Cubs, which he peddled for $9,500. The dealer somehow even got Richard Nixon's signature on another baseball-themed Gacy masterpiece.
While Koschal openly admits that "if Joe DiMaggio knew what he was signing, there's no way he would have gone through with it," he says of outraged peers: "They're jealous they didn't think of it first."
Koschal, who's been selling autographed memorabilia for more than 40 years, might be the most hated man in the industry. He's been accused in trade publications and watchdog websites of forging the signatures of Geronimo, Elvis Presley, the NASA Apollo 11 crew, Walt Disney, and Martin Luther King Jr.
Says New York dealer Herman Darvick, who claims his former friend Koschal had Nixon sign blank pieces of paper, typed the ex-prez's resignation statement above the signature, and sold it as the real thing: "He's evil."
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Koschal's enemies in the industry have even published a 2003 New Jersey restraining order his mother filed against him. He acknowledges he was "harassing" Mom, trying to recover a collection of bone fragments from each of the Catholic Church's 365 saints--"worth more than $1 million," he says.
On his various websites, Koschal has regularly returned his critics' fire. In June 2008, he was sued for libel in Palm Beach County by trade organization Universal Autograph Collector's Club (UACC) after he accused its treasurer of theft. As part of a settlement, he was forced to publish a retraction. "This guy's a dangerous son of a bitch," warns the slandered treasurer, Al Wittnebert. "This is the kind of guy who will poison your cat."
These days, Koschal says he's "retired" from autograph hunting, instead writing trade books on topics such as the theory that Ronald Reagan's mother is responsible for most signatures attributed to him. Wittnebert claims another lawsuit is forthcoming because the Reagan tome is "completely plagiarized" from an old UACC publication.