Smile! Mugshot mag flying off shelves
Getting arrested has never been something to boast about, and thanks to a new weekly publication, it may have gotten even more embarrassing.
Launched June 1, Crime Times offers page after page of mugshots of offenders booked on crimes ranging from disorderly conduct to first-degree murder. At a time when most local publications are free, this tabloid– distributed across Charlottesville and surrounding counties– sells for $1, and yet it's flying off the shelves.
"We asked for 10 the first week," says Mike Brown, owner of Brown's convenience store on Avon Street (formerly Stoney's Grocery). Now, Brown says, he sells 100 copies within days of delivery and calls it "our best-selling publication."
Over on Market Street, it's the same story at the Lucky 7. "We get a big stack of them, and they're gone by the end of the week," says employee Tony Lechmanski.
Sure enough, says Crime Times publisher Wade McMurray, demand for the publication runs high– from an initial print run of 5,000 to 16,000 today. He expects that number to go even higher as he considers moving into the Fredericksburg and Fairfax markets.
"It's been going up by about 1,000 copies a week," says McMurray.
The publication is a family affair. First, 64-year-old McMurray, a truck driver now on disability, helped his brother launch a similar mugshot publication from Lynchburg to Roanoke. When that publication took off, McMurray and his 37-year-old son, Brad, who's worked in marketing and sales, set their sights on Central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley.
"Our main goal," he says, "is to help inform the public and show the police in a good light by showing what work they've been doing."
Overhead is minimal, and McMurray says that with the exception of Central Virginia Regional Jail in Orange (which has asserted that mugshots are exempt from disclosure), getting the pictures hasn't proven difficult. The father-son team are the sole employees, and they pay only for printing, distribution, and about $3 per mugshot.
While an ad for the bailbonding business 1-800-For-Bail ran for several weeks, ads in recent issues have featured only unsolved crimes or missing persons– and the McMurrays don't charge for those. In July, for instance, a full page was dedicated to the unsolved case of Morgan Harrington, the Virginia Tech student slain after a 2009 Metallica concert in Charlottesville.
"Hard to believe, but they had never heard about Morgan Harrington," says Kenny Jarels, a Harrington family supporter who created that ad.
Mugshot mags exist in other markets, and national websites like The Smoking Gun wouldn't exist without the sad snaps of busted celebrities. So why are Central Virginians hungry enough for images of ordinary people accused mostly of drunk driving and drug possession to open their wallets and pull out a dollar?
"They want to be aware of what their neighbors are into," says McMurray. "You can kind of keep up with what the local people are doing."
Special online-only editor's note posted several months after this story ran: Due to the high volume of calls we have received from frustrated readers unable to find contact information for Crime Times, here it is as retrieved from the pages of the magazine: firstname.lastname@example.org