An art lover who pleaded guilty last summer to murder and sexual torture has put his collection of ancient artifacts on the auction block this weekend to help pay legal fees.

Robert Berdella is confined to prison for life after pleading guilty Aug. 3 to first-degree murder in the death of Larry W. Pearson, 20, of Wichita, Kan. Pearson's decomposed head and other body parts were found buried in Berdella's back yard.Berdella also pleaded guilty in the sexual torture of a man he held captive for days at his Hyde Park house. And he faces charges in the death of Robert A. Sheldon, 23, a California native whose skull was found inside Berdella's house.

Dealers and collectors from across the country were expected in town for the two-day auction that began Saturday and includes more than 2,000 art objects.

"There has never been an auction of this type and dimension in the Midwest," said R. Bond Blackman, the appraiser and authenticator retained to study and catalog the Berdella collection.

Proceeds from the auction will go toward Berdella's legal defense. He previously has been represented by the public defender's office.

A search of Berdella's midtown house last spring led police to two human skulls and 200 pictures of men being tortured - a search prompted by a man who told police he escaped from the house after days of torture and sexual abuse at Berdella's house.

When police first entered the quiet man's unkempt home, they found the collection piled in heaps, from floor to ceiling, throughout the three-story residence.

The flea market shopkeeper had lined the walls with tens of thousands of dollars worth of primitive art, from ancient Roman tear vials to ancestral treasures from the Sepik River region of New Guinea.

Blackman said the quality of the Berdella collection was the result of studied, careful buying over 20 years.

The collection includes a Roman glass, terra cotta bowls and figures, all more than 2,000 years old. The fragile, rainbow-hued bulbs and vials, although paper-thin, are in perfect or almost perfect condition.

Also included are dozens of ceremonial masks from Africa, Guatemala, Asia and Tibet; a vast assortment of jewelry and beads from ancient Egypt, Africa and Europe; American Indian artifacts, notably items from the Pueblo Mississippian and Plains cultures; and samples of native figure carving from the Sepik River region of New Guinea.