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Wrestler’s auction draws tough bidding

Killer’s ring shoes, velvet robes sold

William Logue of Lynn hoped to win Killer Kowalski wrestling posters at yesterday’s auction William Logue of Lynn hoped to win Killer Kowalski wrestling posters at yesterday’s auction (Jessey Dearing for The Boston Globe)
By Laura J. Nelson
Globe Correspondent / August 12, 2011

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SAUGUS - The bidding battle was as tense as any wrestling match.

“We have $4,250,’’ auctioneer Tonya A. Cameron called into the microphone last night. “Do I hear $4,500? $4,500? I can promise you, you’ll never get your hands on a robe like this again.’’

Phil Castinetti, in the back of the crowded showroom, winced and shook his head. He had paid a pretty penny for other memorabilia from storied pro wrestler Walter “Killer’’ Kowalski.

But this was a price too high.

“Sold! For $4,250, to Buyer Number 700!’’ Cameron shouted, and assistants carted the teal crushed-velvet robe away. Castinetti was not Buyer 700.

The velvet robe was one of 300 lots Cameron’s auction company, TAC Auctions Inc., collected from Kowalski’s Malden estate. The wrestler, a Hall of Fame member made legendary during television’s early days, died in 2008 of complications from a heart attack. A portion of each sale went to Kowalski’s widow, Theresa Ferrioli, who has Alzheimer’s disease and lives in a nursing home.

At the showroom off Route 1, signed Killer action figures and wrestling posters were next to vases, glassware, and cameras from the Kowalski home. Some attendees bought merchandise to resell on eBay. Others just wanted to touch memorabilia.

“It’s kind of sad to me,’’ said Leonard Caplan, who runs a radio show called “Wrestling Talk.’’ Kowalski was the first guest, in June 1987. “All his belongings just spread out like that, as if he wasn’t a big deal.’’

A handful of close friends came to rescue those belongings from an uncertain fate.

Richard Byrne, who owns the Malden building where Kowalski ran a wrestling school, hoped to buy one of three ring robes, worn just before a wrestler begins a match, to display at the school. Instead, Buyer 700 - an anonymous Internet bidder - snapped up more than $6,500 worth of merchandise, including the $4,250 robe and a pair of wrestling boots ($650).

“It has to be Triple H,’’ Byrne said. “Who else could it be? Who else would have that deep of pockets?’’

“Triple H’’ would be Paul Michael Lévesque, World Wrestling Entertainment’s chief operating officer and an alum of Killer Kowalski’s Pro Wrestling School. He planned to bid remotely for his teacher’s belongings, Byrne said.

Other items fetched lower prices: trading cards and photographs sold for $50. Elaine Maxwell of Stoneham bought a Killer poster, a Christmas present for her 11-year-old grandson, Owen, for $25.

Castinetti, who met Kowalski on a softball team in the ’80s, had been holding out for a robe to display in a sports-themed room in his house. He balked three times: twice at price, and once ceding to friend Toby Peterson.

As Peterson gathered a purple velvet robe into his arms and wrote a check for $450, the auctions moved on to Chinese vases and household knickknacks.

Byrne, in the front row, smiled as Buyer 700 won bracelets, posters, and Ziplock bags stuffed with ticket stubs and photos.

“Don’t worry,’’ Byrne said. “They’re in good hands, going to a good home.’’

Laura J. Nelson can be reached at lnelson@globe.com.