By Christy Strawser
CBS Detroit Managing Editor
It was speculated from the outset, and now it’s confirmed a working suicide machine will be among Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s belongings up for auction later this month.
The machine was dubbed a “Thanatron” by the man known as Dr. Death, and it was allegedly used in the assisted suicides of 130 people. The small machine reportedly has three bottles mounted on a metal frame, each attached to an IV line. The first bottle contained salt water, the second, a sleep-inducer, and the third had a deadly mix of potassium chloride to stop the heart.
The suicide machine is among many items, including Kevorkian’s original oil paintings, whick will be sold for the first time during an auction Oct. 27 and 28 at the New York Institute of Technology, at 61st and Broadway. Auction art appraiser David Streets told the Associated Press all the items will be sold without predeterminated cost estimates.
Fourteen paintings currently in the Armenian Library and Museum of America in Watertown, Mass., will be auctioned, plus eight or nine more held by Kevorkian’s estate attorney Mayer Morganroth in Birmingham.
But that’s not all: The auction will include Kevorkian’s trademark sweaters, painting tools, and personal letters.
“It’s going to be a lot of stuff,” Morganroth said, adding that no pre-determination of value is available.
The only items not being sold, a group of documents and papers, are being given to the University of Michigan, Morganroth said.
The bulk of the profits will go to Kevorkian’s niece Ava Janus, who is his sole inheritor; a portion will go to the charity Kicking Cancer for Kids.
Kevorkian did not sell his original oil paintings during his lifetime, but he chose Ariana Gallery on Main Street to carry some poster reproductions of his artwork — dark images on colorful canvasses with titles like “Nearer My God To Thee” and “Fever.”
A headless corpse is served up on a dinner plate in one, another has an orchid pierced through the eye of a skull. Morganroth said they deal with themes like the Holocaust and fear of death. Kevorkian reportedly took up the brush after taking art classes in the 1960’s.
“They’re beautiful paintings, some of them are stark, but to see those paintings … Some of them are strictly beautiful paintings,” Morganroth said.
So, what’s the value? It’s hard to tell.
Ann Kuffler, owner of Ariana Gallery, said the famed physician’s posters have doubled in price since his June death at the age of 83 — following decades of controversy, jail time, and national attention for his assisted suicide crusade. The posters sold for $250 during his life, now they’re $500 each.
“They sell moderately well,” Kuffler said. “We sold a lot in the first couple of weeks (after his death).”
As for the rest of the auction, it’s impossible to gauge how much people will pay for Kevorkian’s letters, sweaters, and the tools of his trade. But Morganroth hopes no amount of auction hooplah overshadows the memory of Kevorkian, who he remembers as a good friend and community-minded small town doctor.
Morganroth noted that Kevorkian was a “brilliant” man who taught himself languages including Japanese, French and German. He also wrote music and books.
“But I think the thing to rememebr most about him is that although he took risks, everything he did was for the benefit of others and he never charged anyone for doing it. It was never for himself,” Morganroth said, adding: “He drove an old car, shopped at the Salvation Army, he spent very little on himself, and never really profited from anything during his lifetime.
“Everything he did, whether people agreed with him or not, everything he did was for others. Never for himself.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.