The Body Shop

updated 10/11/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/11/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

HALLOWEEN APPROACHES. TIME TO GO up to the attic and break out last year's monster mask, not to mention the vampire teeth and the fake blood. But isn't all this stuff a little old-fashioned? Maybe it's time to accessorize the look with a '90s spin that reminds us of real-life, everyday horrors. How about a beach towel decorated with the chalked outline of a homicide victim? Or a tasteful selection of personalized toe tags, just like those used to identify corpses?

But where to get such macabre paraphernalia? At the Los Angeles County Coroner's office, through whose portals pass roughly 18,000 murder, accident and suicide victims each year. The office, made famous in countless episodes of Quincy, M.E. and by a roster of celebrity customers that ranged from Marilyn Monroe to John Belushi, now sells a complete line of keepsakes-to-die-for, including T-shirts, mugs, lapel pins and tote bags. Many items are emblazoned with the office's mascot, a dog's skeleton wearing a deerstalker hat and named, naturally, Sherlock Bones. "I know the story got out that we sell body bags too," says the office's executive secretary, Marilyn Lewis, 54, who launched the product line in January, "but we don't. We're trying to have fun with this and still not gel tacky. We're very proud of our work."

The souvenirs, which are priced from $4 to $18, have been a huge success. Sales of "coroner ware" generate $1,000 a day in revenue, which is used to fund education programs against drunk driving and youth gang violence.

Phone and letter requests (or coroner ware—as well as acquisitive visitors—have been pouring into Lewis's cramped office, which, she points out, is in the county's administrative building, not the place where the bodies are stashed. Business has been so brisk that the county had to call in marketing consultant Dusty Brogan. "The coroner's office was getting 1,000 calls a week," says Brogan. "They're not equipped to deal with that." Brogan is now looking for someone to handle the merchandising full-time, primarily on a mail-order basis, to sell it across the country.

What exactly is the appeal of these ghoulish knickknacks? To Lewis, it's no mystery. "I think it's the special mystique of Los Angeles," she says. "We have a lot of homicides. We're known for them."

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