When I heard the Crime & Punishment Museum was closing, I had to check it out before the doors were shuttered. As a true crime fan, it was almost a required trip. Read on to find out more about this gem formerly located in Washington, DC.
We arrived early for our 2:00 p.m. self-guided audio tour. A sign hung above the entrance, and law-themed songs were heard from an outside speaker. Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” greeted us upon our arrival.
There was a separate entrance for the gift shop known as Cop Shop. We decided to buy some swag and return it to our car before our scheduled tour. Inside was a large assortment of goodies. Who doesn’t need a chalk outline tee shirt and a scarf resembling police tape? They were just two of several items I brought home. There were reusable shopping bags, books, mugs, postcards, pins, and pencils. I was disappointed in the apparel selection. Most items read “FBI” or “NCIS,” where I would have preferred the Crime Museum logo. It didn’t stop me from dropping a decent amount of coin on merch when it would be my first and only visit since they were closing.
After dropping off our bags, we entered the museum. In the lobby is serial killer Ted Bundy’s 1968 Volkswagen Beetle. This thing ain’t The Love Bug. I admit this is the object I most wanted to see. It has a nefarious history, playing an integral part in Bundy’s crimes. He would lure victims to it under the guise of needing assistance, often wearing a sling or cast. Many young females aided the attractive man to his Beetle, and found themselves taking their last ride.
This car is missing the passenger seat. Bundy would remove it because it was easier to hide his victims during transport. I stood at the passenger door, my thoughts turning to Carol DaRonch, the girl who escaped this vehicle alive. I had just read about her struggle in a book, and it was chilling to think about her and the others who weren’t as fortunate. The Beetle seems frozen in time with a sticker indicating that the car was due for inspection in April 1976. It never made it because it was impounded by police in 1975. This was my favorite piece, and the first thing seen in the museum. We spent approximately 45 minutes hanging out with it and taking photos.
There are three floors of crime and punishment to explore. We spent over four hours touring the building. My favorite room was devoted to serial killers. There was a knife belonging to The Boston Strangler, a baseball signed by Charles Manson, and assorted pieces relating to John Wayne Gacy, including his wallet and clown costumes. There were also handcuffs used to transport Jeffrey Dahmer from his housing unit to the visitation room.
There were several interactive activities available to guests. In one room a camera takes your mug shot while you have a fingerprint card made of your index finger. I was charged with kidnapping.
The mock police lineup was fun. Guests stand with other suspects and follow the instructions from the loudspeaker. The “criminals” are told to turn all directions, step forward, and repeat either “give me all your money” or “I’m gonna hurt you.” There’s a bright light overhead and you cannot see through the glass, but anyone on the other side of the glass can see the lineup. I got a kick out of it, but it wasn’t anything I would like to experience outside the confines of the museum.
There is also a place to wear special goggles to see if you can pass a field sobriety test. You can also try to outrun a police car in a simulator in another section.
I also enjoyed the capital punishment area. On display was a massive guillotine. Also available for viewing was Tennessee’s electric chair, known as Old Smokey. It’s a sobering thought that over 100 condemned met their demise strapped to that very chair. There was a mockup of a gas chamber, and the actual control panel used to administer the drug cocktail for Delaware’s lethal injections. Seeing these pieces is a good way of keeping on the right side of the law.
There were areas dedicated to law enforcement. On display were a variety of articles and weapons used by police. K-9s were also included in the exhibit.
If you’re into history, there’s plenty of that to be found. There was information on early punishment and torture, as well as the history of law enforcement in America from the 1800s to the present.
For the curious, there was a prison cell to investigate. Along the walls were information on some of America’s most well-known prisons including San Quentin, Leavenworth, and Riker’s Island. There was a display of weapons crafted in prisons and other contraband confiscated by officials, as well as examples of common inmate tattoos and their meanings.
There was a floor dedicated to forensics. I was interested in the items used to conduct investigations at crime scenes. I never knew there were actual “body farms” where forensic students could study the decomposition of human cadavers.
I couldn’t bring myself to take photos in the last exhibit, but I was pleased the subject of poaching was covered. It was heartbreaking to see the skin and head of a magnificent tiger in a display case, but that is the sad reality of the illegal fur trade. There were other items made from animals that were killed illegally.
Somehow I managed to miss seeing the studio where America’s Most Wanted was filmed. Had I skimmed the complimentary souvenir book before our tour, I would have known to look for it.
Sadly, the Crime & Punishment Museum is now closed. I loved it and wish I could go back. Perhaps it will reopen in the future. If it does, be sure to visit. It would be a crime to miss such a fascinating museum.