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Youth trading cards appeal to sense of justice, greed


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Two Denver-area entrepreneurs are hoping to capitalize on two of America's fascinations -- true crime and trading cards -- by stocking convenience stores with packs of cards featuring missing children and fugitives.

The owners believe the idea will pay off, largely because it appeals to an enduring human trait: greed.

The hook? Observant cardholders could earn up to $2,000 for spotting missing children and the usual Crime Stoppers reward for supplying the lowdown on felony suspects.

"Kids are greedy," said Doug Thrall, a Denver real estate broker.

Said Larry Ruppel, an Arvada, Colo., manufacturer and Thrall's partner in Muggs International Inc.: "That's the main reason kids collect cards, because they think it will get them money."

Mr. Thrall and Mr. Ruppel plan to sell the 10-card packets for 99 cents, they hope in convenience stores around the country by this fall.

One card in each packet will update previously released cards by listing found children or captured suspects. The missing children and fugitive cards would be sold separately, they said.

"There will be new cards every 30 days," Mr. Thrall said.

"There are about 7,000 active non-custodial and stranger-abduction cases in the nation. That's about 22 years' worth of business. . . . We'll never run out of felons."

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation will provide the company with photographs and information about missing children from across the country, and Crime Stoppers International will supply the information on felony suspects.

Muggs International will pay the reward for missing children; Crime Stoppers will handle criminal rewards.

"A murderer is possible," Mr. Thrall said. "However, we are going to stay away from the graphic description stuff that is going on with [other companies]. CSI is very sensitive to victims' rights.

"We find that the victims are more than anxious to card someone. They want them behind bars faster than anyone."

By dividing the nation into thirds, the cards will feature three cards depicting a missing child or felony suspect from each section.

Parents have approval before a card is issued on a child, and victims will have approval before information about a suspect is released.

Carol Clark, coordinator of the CBI's Missing Children's Project, thinks the cards will help in finding some of the 900 missing children in Colorado alone.

Mr. Thrall and Mr. Ruppel do not believe that children will be affected adversely by collecting the cards. Television is already jTC flooded with programs re-creating true crime, and missing children are often a large part of those programs, they said.

The cards will not include graphic information about the crimes.

Local police said they support the missing children cards because "the more you get the children's names, faces and descriptions out -- especially among other children -- the more chance you have that someone will see and recognize one of them," said Deputy Chief Paul Ricks.

The crime cards, however, are less appealing.

"It tends to glorify the lifestyle of that type of individual, and I don't approve of that," he said. "It's similar to that of the serial killer cards."

Those cards recently touched off a nationwide debate.

Most recently, a Forestville, Calif., trading card company and the American Civil Liberties Union sued Nassau County, N.Y., for banning the sale of mass murderer trading cards to minors.

Eclipse Enterprises argues that the law violates free speech and due process rights under the U.S. and New York constitutions.

Nassau County, population 1.3 million, reportedly is the first place in the country to ban sale of the cards to minors, though a similar measure has already been approved by the New York state Senate.

Eclipse announced last winter that it would produce a set of trading cards with gangsters, crime fighters and such mass murderers as Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and Charles Manson.

The cards quickly drew condemnation from victims' rights groups and the families of slain relatives. Critics argued that the killer cards glamorize violence, harm young people and cause more trauma for the families of the victims.

Roger Simon is on vacation. His column will resume Sept. 9.

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