COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — A few strands of Charles Manson’s hair. A vintage serial killer board game. A (potentially) haunted last rites kit.

These items may sound like they belong in the home of an Addams Family member, but are actually available for viewing in a small museum located in the back of Offbeat, an oddities and collectibles store in Columbus.

The former auction house turned oddities repository is located at 2202 Elm Drive, just off Macon Road.

Along with the items for view, co-owner Chad Sheppard sells collectibles, records and T-shirts. Art pieces on consignment, signed celebrity prints, toys, specimens — think zebra tongues floating in jars — and vintage taxidermy round out the offerings.

Sheppard said he remembers the first time he purchased an item related to a serial killer.

“When I held it in my hands for the first time it gave me chills almost,” he said.

True crime obsessed

His fascination with murderers and the macabre stretches back to his childhood in Dothan, Alabama, but he makes sure to point out that the collection isn’t meant to glorify homicide.

“I don’t think these guys are cool...I think it’s cool that I can own a piece of history. I’m very intrigued by what makes someone that way because I don’t understand it, I don’t understand how you can go and just have the desire to hurt people,” Sheppard said.

Sheppard said some people might not want to admit they are interested in true crime or serial killers, but the popularity and presence of documentaries in podcasts, on television and on streaming services like Netflix shows society has interest in the grotesque and absurd.

“They wouldn’t play it if people weren’t watching it,” Sheppard said.

A former Army soldier, Sheppard came to Columbus in 1999 and was stationed at Fort Benning. After his service, he left the city in 2015 to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.

He worked in Nashville, Tennessee, and in Florida promoting artists and entertainers like Shaquille O’Neal, he said, before moving back to Columbus to be closer to his four children. He opened Offbeat with his wife Chelsea in May 2019.

The location, which he selected due to the large space and cheap rent, is not just a store but also office space for his day job with Blue Moon Entertainment.

“I’ve got a place where I can have artists come and they can practice here before they hit the road,” Sheppard said. “I’ve got green screen areas, I’ve got sets built for different content creation that we do. I’m trying to make a little one-stop creative spot people can come.”

Art, music space in ColumbusHe also holds concerts in the space, where artists are often given little more than the fees from the door as compensation, he said. A longtime musician and band member himself, he’s puzzled by the lack of a successful alternative music scene in the city.

“You could go to a smaller city in Georgia and have a way bigger turnout as a musician than in Columbus,” he said. “I’ve been here actively doing concerts in Columbus since 2000, 2001...I could fill this entire building with (posters of) shows that I’ve done in Columbus and I can only think of two or three times where I broke even or made a little bit of money and that’s sad.”

He isn’t giving up hope though that one day music will thrive in Columbus.

“I continue doing it because of what it’s done for my life because if I hadn’t have found music, if I hadn’t have found the punk and hardcore scene...it literally saved my life,” Sheppard said. “I know there are kids out there like I was when I was 13, looking for something to call home and something to call family.”

In one corner of the small museum, across from self portraits by serial killers and a letter penned by “Stocking Strangler” Carlton Gary, there are items dedicated to Sheppard’s late best friend, Allen “Nasty” Dillard.

Sheppard called Dillard a staple in the Columbus punk rock scene. The two were in a band together called TwoThirteen, which performed songs based on true crime and serial killers. They also founded a rock-and-roll social club in 2011 called Plug Uglies Wrecking Crew.

Dillard’s ashes were mixed in with the paint that covers the walls and the stage of Offbeat. Sheppard said the presence of Dillard’s spirit keeps him from feeling like anything bad could happen there.

And he remains hopeful that his store will thrive.

“If it wasn’t for my real job, this wouldn’t exist. This has been more like a hobby because people are not spending a lot of money. It’s just hard,” Sheppard said. “I’m glad to be back and I really feel I can make this a success, I’m just trying to find the things that work.”

Sheppard says there is a sense of community at his store that doesn’t exist at chains like Hot Topic or 2nd and Charles.

“I’ve made so many friends in the last like five or six months of other like-minded people,” he said. “It’s a non-judgmental place, you come here despite like your religious background, your race, none of that matters here. It’s so much more than just a store for sure.”

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