Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The National Museum of Crime & Punishment: Washington, DC

David has always been slightly disconcerted by my interest in crime.  Like a lot of people, I like shows that deal with crime like Law & Order (Jerry Orbach, Benjamin Bratt and Angie Harmon episodes are my favorite) and Criminal Minds (Penelope and Dr. Reid).  But I really prefer true crime shows like American Justice, Deadly Women, Forensic Files or Snapped.  I have tried to explain that I like the part where they show how they solved the crime but he isn't buying it.  He thinks I am trying to get away with it someday when I decide to off him.  I will say I have learned a thing or two from these shows that might help in that event:
  1. Leave your cell phone at home.  So many people get busted when they call someone or they say they were home but their phone says otherwise.
  2. Poison is hard to detect and hard to prove if you do it right, also it is the preferred method for women killers.
  3. Get your story straight and stick to it at all costs.  Changing your story never works in your favor.
  4. Ask for an attorney.  Do not talk to the police.  I saw a show once where a young man was convicted of murdering a woman based on the fact that his bedroom window overlooked the dump site (at a great distance) and he had some drawings that "resembled" the crime scene.  He spent a LONG time in prison before they caught the real killer.  I always thought if you didn't have anything to hide, you didn't need an attorney, that show changed my mind forever.
I first became interested in this topic when I was a senior in high school and my government teacher, Mrs. Campbell, assigned a book report on a true crime novel.  I picked The Stranger Beside Me by Anne Rule.  Anne Rule has written a lot of crime books but this one is unique in that she personally knew the criminal, serial killer Ted Bundy.  They had worked on a suicide hotline together, as ironic as that is.

The first thing we see in the museum?  Ted Bundy's Volkswagen.  Whoever thought of using the handcuffs on the stanchions is brilliant.

This museum has an audio tour option.  It looks a little like a remote control but it has a speaker at the top you put to your ear like a phone.  When you come to a handcuff with a number in it, you punch in the number and it plays.  I paid the extra couple of bucks to do this mainly because the narrator is Bill Kurtis (narrator of American Justice and other crime shows).  I would listen to Bill Kurtis talk about earwax.  I love his voice.

I thought this museum would be mainly serial killers and big names in crime, which it did have, but there is a lot more than that.  It starts in the middle ages and goes from there.  There is a lot of information on various punishments and torture devices making me really glad I didn't live in the middle ages.

Even being a baker was dangerous.  There were other displays on things like the Iron Maiden, being drawn & quartered and placed on The Rack.  All very unpleasant.

From there you move into the age of Pirates and then the Old West.  On to the Mob and Bonnie & Clyde.

I don't think this was the real Bonnie & Clyde car, I think it was from the movie but I am not sure.  Like at the other places we visited in DC, people were sometimes a problem.

Hey, I was reading that.

And that.

Ugh, more teenagers.  I won't get to try my hand at safe cracking as Waldo and his friends are going to be there a while and there is a long line.

As expected there are sections for famous criminals, even a board of celebrity mug shots.  My fellow Montanan, Ted Kaczynski graces one wall.  Susan Smith another.  There is a display on the assassinated Presidents.  You can look at, but not sit in, a real electric chair, a guillotine, a gas chamber, a gurney setup for lethal injection.  

And you learn that my old home state of Texas is far and away the worst place to be on Death Row.  They have executed a lot more prisoners than any other state.

But like the show Law & Order, this museum is only partly about the crime.  About half of the museum is dedicated to law enforcement.  There are displays on famous lawmen like Eliot Ness and J Edgar Hoover and the creation of the FBI.  

That's me on the bottom monitor, learning about facial recognition.

You can learn about fingerprinting and get an electronic picture of your prints.  I didn't do this because I have done this for real.  I was fingerprinted when I went to work at a bank years ago and there was that time I was arrested...

You can do a lie detector test on yourself.  Those bars show I am lying.  This is really sad as I am the only person around so I am lying to myself.

I am going to memorize these and start using them when we play cards with our friend Steven, a former policeman.  I think I may need 10-30 fairly often.

 The answer is no.  I can do the push-ups and sit-ups but thankfully there is no one around to see that I can't do the one pull-up on the bar they have there.  They also have a shoot/don't shoot simulator and a car chase simulator but I can't do either one as no one is around to supervise. 

There is a computer where you can look up officers killed in the line of duty.  It wasn't easy to work with even though there were search options.  I hung with it and located one of David's great grandfathers, Dallas County (TX) Constable W. Riley Burnett.

They have a crime lab, that guy getting ready for his autopsy.  They also have a full room set up as a crime scene and a video you can watch to see how your eyewitness skills are.  I got 4 out of 6 answers correct.  I know this is not a realistic simulation since I have been an eyewitness and was terrible.  It isn't the same when guns are being fired in your direction as when you are standing in the relative safety of a museum watching a video that you can stand and look at as long as you need.

They also have a forensic lab where they offer classes in things like autopsy and blood spatter.  I think Kawiana (who is my only companion on this trip and who I lost way back in the Middle Ages) is as disappointed as I am that there are no classes available during our entire stay in DC.  They also have a walking tour that covers the Presidential assassinations but it was only on the weekend.

The museum has a temporary exhibit on animal poaching and what the ramifications to the animals and the environment are.  They had items made from animals like ivory statues, snakeskin boots and a horrific looking alligator purse complete with the whole head.

The final section was a room devoted to counterfeiting, the "victimless" crime.  If you are buying knockoff handbags and clothes or pirating DVDs, shame on you.

I liked this museum a lot better than The Spy Museum from the day before.   I really wish the forensic lab had been an option, if I am ever back in DC I would definitely check into that.  As with all museums, this one had a gift shop and this time I didn't buy anything for David.  

But I almost bought this for me.  I might have told David it was "for him" as a joke.  
I don't think he would have laughed.

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