Monday, December 24, 2012

The Museum of Crime and Punishment

I love the handcuff stanchions.
One of the fun adventures I was able to take while on vacation was to the Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington D.C. I had actually never heard of it before this, but my sister found out about it and got us tickets. It happens to be just down the street from the International Spy Museum...next on my list of to-do's for Washington D.C.

The museum is composed of numerous categories of crime and punishment. The largest section of the museum deals with crimes and criminals.

When you first walk into the building--before you're in the actual museum itself, Ted Bundy's Volkswagen Bug is on display. There's a placard that details the history of Bundy's crimes as well as the history of the vehicle and who owned it after Bundy.


On display at the start of the museum are some medieval devices that were used for punishment. Several say they could have been rented out for "quarrelsome wives." And this, folks, is why the period is referred to as the "Dark Ages"!

Next comes the "Wild West" era of American crime history. I loved the recruitment poster for Pony Express riders. Makes me want to sign right up!

Growing up, I always wanted to put my sister in jail.

Oliver, do you need a job?

On the wall in a NM prison, 1901

Guns and other memorabilia from Wyatt Earp and the O.K. Corral are on display; Wild Bill Hickcock's revolver; various badges from law enforcement officers at the time.


In some instances, movie props are on display. The 1934 Ford used in the Warren Beatty movie about Bonnie and Clyde is one example. Numerous weapons from movies are also displayed, especially in the section of the museum on the mob.


You'll see displays on violent crimes, serial murderers, kidnappings, etc., but there is also a section that deals with "Silent Crimes"--identity theft, computer crimes, etc.

And a particular favorite of mine was the section on America's dumbest criminals. One guy was going to attack his girlfriend who threw him out with a snapping turtle. Turtle wouldn't snap, and the girlfriend had enough time to call the police. AND the girlfriend liked the turtle, and she still has it as a pet!

There were also some odd items included throughout the museum, like the vanity from Al Capone's bathroom in the Lexington Hotel. They have tiles from the bathroom as well. But what is absolutely fascinating and simultaneously terrifying is reading the information, background and statistics on the crimes and their perpetrators. And there are a lot of people who make a hobby of collecting memorabilia from crimes.

John Wayne Gacy's clown costumes

This baseball was smuggled into and out of the prison housing Charles Manson. His signature and a serial killer's signature are both on the ball.


The museum has a lot of mug shots.


Know who this is?

There's a section on famous American prisons and prison wardens. Here's a simulated prison cell that you can walk into and get a feel for the size.


And here's a replication of what Capone's prison cell looked like before he was sent off to Alcatraz, where try as he might, he couldn't buy the system. He was treated the same as all the other inmates on The Rock.


There is original art from on display, produced by notorious killers, including John Wayne Gacy.


The next section of the museum covers law enforcement officers. There's a section on the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Eliot Ness, and various other well-known and not so well-known law enforcement officers. Those familiar with Caleb Carr's THE ALIENIST will likely appreciate the small placard about Theodore Roosevelt as the president of the New York City Police Board.

This section also includes the tools of the trade throughout history, even a Harley Davidson that was purchased after he retired by the officer who rode it on duty.



This section made me immediately think of Robert Crais' upcoming novel SUSPECT about a service dog.



And the picture isn't the greatest, but this brought to mind Carol Starkey.


The next section of the museum is the Crime Scene Investigations section. As you enter this section, there's a crime scene scenario. At the end of the section, after you've gone through evidence collection displays and information, you test your skills on the scenario. There are quite a few interaction sections in this part of the museum, including a video where you can see what kind of eye witness you would be. It's fun, but you know you're trying to pay attention in that instance. In an everyday situation you'd not be trying so hard to remember details.


There's a simulator where you try to match fingerprints, another simulator to match bullet striations...I was very successful on both.

Finally, at the very bottom of the museum, a TV film set for America's Most Wanted is housed. They do actual filming here at times, but no one is ever notified WHEN it will be taking place. So, John Walsh is on site in the museum at times.




The museum earns some extra credit for having this small display on crime writers! Yay!




The only drawback to the museum is the abundance of mistakes in the copy of the placards. I'm sure those things cost quite a bit to produce, so I'd think they'd have several people going over them for editing purposes. And even having been an English teacher, I'm very easy going about typos. It happens, we're all human. But there were quite a few. But I have to say, if that's the only disappointment, it was a successful adventure!

I highly recommend visiting to all my crime fiction-loving friends! So on your next trip to D.C., make sure the Museum of Crime and Punishment is on your itinerary.

6 comments:

Beth F December 24, 2012 at 7:07 AM  

How cool is that museum? I had no idea it existed. And the spy one? Definitely on my list of places to visit. Merry Christmas to you.

bermudaonion December 24, 2012 at 8:33 AM  

Parts of that look interesting and parts look like they would creep me out. Is that mug shot Steve Jobs?

Jen December 24, 2012 at 11:41 AM  

Close Kathy, it's Bill Gates. And yes, parts of the museum are mega creepy...it's very eye-opening to see this part of American culture!

Lori L December 24, 2012 at 12:28 PM  

Fascinating! I didn't even know this museum existed! On my next trip to DC I'll have to put it on the list of places I want to see - of course there never seems to be enough time to cover everything on my lists.

Christine December 27, 2012 at 12:01 PM  

On my list of must-see if I make it back to D.C. So much to see and do in our nation's capital! Was anyone else more wigged out by JWG's clown suits than medieval pieces? I don't have a problem with clowns in general, but to know who and how those suits were used....*shudder*.

Thanks for sharing the highlights of the museum!

Jenn's Bookshelves January 1, 2013 at 6:56 PM  

How sad is it that I'm 30 minutes from DC and haven't been to this museum!?

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