7 Crime and Punishment Museums Around the World

Jeremy Thompson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Jeremy Thompson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The only thing in the world as ubiquitous as crime is our fascination with it. From novels to TV shows to podcasts, we can’t seem to get enough of humanity’s worst side. And there’s no better way to dive into the underworld than through one of the many museums dedicated to it. Here are seven museums dedicated to the violent, morbid, and occasionally heroic on display at home and around the world.

1. VANCOUVER POLICE MUSEUM & ARCHIVES // VANCOUVER, B.C., CANADA

A view of the former morgue at the Vancouver Police Museum
Kenny Louie, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Located in a former coroner’s office and morgue, the Vancouver Police Museum & Archives offers an unblinking look at over 100 years of crime and its consequences in the Canadian city. Beyond the autopsy table and chalkboard for organ weights, the museum comprises several in-depth exhibits showcasing weapons, sketches, and actual forensic evidence from some of the area’s most infamous crimes, including the Babes in the Woods case and the Milkshake Murders. You can also go mobile with one of the museum’s Sins of the City walking tours, which explore the seedier sides of Vancouver's historic districts through the lens of corruption, prostitution, and bootlegging. All walking tours come with free admission to the museum.

2. THE MOB MUSEUM // LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, UNITED STATES

A general view of a Las Vegas-themed room at The Mob Museum
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

“All the dirt. All in one place.” Where else but Las Vegas would you find a museum with such a titillating tagline? The Mob Museum, housed in a former post office and courthouse, offers four floors of wise-guy-related history. From a basement distillery that produces moonshine in real time to a gallery of spy tech to a look at the current state of mafioso affairs, this museum takes visitors on a grand tour of the organized underworld. Special events like panel discussions and book signings are held fairly regularly, and guided tours are available for groups.

3. MEDIEVAL CRIME AND JUSTICE MUSEUM // ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER, GERMANY

The exterior of the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum in Rothenburg
MarcelBuehner, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

Located in a 600-year-old building in the Bavarian town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum is a monument to 1000 years of European jurisprudence—and some of it’s not so pretty. About 50,000 artifacts, including legal texts, illustrations, torture devices, and a few truly unsettling dioramas, guide visitors through the myriad ways in which the legal system infiltrated daily life. From witch trials to execution devices to public humiliation (look for the Schandflöte, or "shame flute," inflicted upon offensive musicians), there’s plenty to educate and disturb. Guided tours are available in German and English and require pre-booking.

4. CIA MUSEUM // MCLEAN, VIRGINIA, UNITED STATES

Unfortunately, the CIA Museum, located at CIA headquarters, is not open to the public, but if you happen to have a contact on the inside, or catch one of their fairly regular external exhibitions, or peruse their extensive online collection, you’ll be treated to several decades’ worth of espionage, history, and spycraft. Among the 200-plus items included in the online collection are false ears used in disguises, unmanned vehicles the size and shape of dragonflies, propaganda leaflets, hollow coins, and pigeon cameras. Less sexy but equally interesting exhibits include presidential communications and photos of CIA aircraft. Each item comes with a story and many are linked to related artifacts, for a more holistic spy experience.

5. JUSTICE AND POLICE MUSEUM // SYDNEY, NSW, AUSTRALIA

The most family-friendly museum on this list, the Justice and Police Museum in Sydney, Australia, offers visitors the chance to be part of mock trials or have their mugshots taken. Young crime-fighters (or villains in training) can also solve crimes or plan prison breaks, have their fingerprints taken, and crack a safe. In case that feels too wholesome, there are adults-only exhibits that examine murder, inner-city crime, and the seedier side of the land down under. Check the museum’s website if you plan to visit, as some exhibits and programs are weekends only.

6. MUSEUM OF RESCUED ART TREASURES // BREST, BELARUS

Opened at the end of the Soviet era, the Museum of Rescued Art Treasures, also known as the Museum of Confiscated Art, is a testament to human ingenuity—on both the light and dark sides. The building houses more than 300 pieces of art, including Russian iconography dating back to the 16th century, porcelain and jade items, and china. The eclectic collection comes courtesy of art smugglers who used the chaos during the fall of the USSR to move priceless pieces across borders. Brest became a prime transfer point, and smugglers got creative; one of the exhibits is a set of antique furniture that was found hidden in containers of powdered milk. As customs officials got better at sniffing out these hidden treasures, the museum sprang up as a way to restore, house, and display them. According to amateur genealogical research organization the Brest-Belarus Group, this is the only museum of its kind in what was once the USSR.

7. CRIME MUSEUM AT SCOTLAND YARD // LONDON, UK

Jack the Ripper appeal for information poster issued by Metropolitan Police, 1888
Jack the Ripper appeal for information poster issued by Metropolitan Police, 1888
Museum of London

Perhaps the most fascinating museum on our list, the Crime Museum at Scotland Yard is also the most maddening. Also known as the Black Museum, this vast archive of artifacts from some of London’s most infamous cases is closed to the public. Founded in the mid-1870s by one Inspector Neame of the Metropolitan Police force, the collection of prisoner property was originally intended to be used in the instruction of recruits, but it soon garnered the attention of other members of law enforcement and the public at large. While certain celebrities like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini were granted access, the general masses (and the media) were denied that privilege. In 1890, the Metropolitan Police moved to their new headquarters, New Scotland Yard, and the museum went for the ride. Over the years the collection has grown and now contains murder weapons, explosives, counterfeiting tools, death masks, and personal property or evidence from famous cases such as Jack the Ripper, Dr. Crippen, and the Kray twins, along with details about the impact these cases had on the British criminal justice system. For one brief, shining moment in the fall of 2015, the museum opened up several of its exhibits for public viewing, but has since shut its doors once more, leaving us outside, gently salivating.

Up in the Air: When 'Balloon Boy' Took Flight

John Moore, Getty Images
John Moore, Getty Images

It was like a Weekly World News cover come to life. On October 15, 2009, most of the major network and cable broadcasters interrupted their daytime programming to cover what appeared to be a silver flying saucer streaking through the air. Out of context, it was as though the world was getting its first sight of a genuine UFO.

Reading the scroll at the bottom, or listening to the somewhat frantic newscasters, provided an explanation: It was not alien craft but a homemade balloon that had inadvertently taken off from the backyard of a family home in Fort Collins, Colorado. That, of course, was not inherently newsworthy. What made this story must-see television was the fact that authorities believed a 6-year-old boy was somehow trapped inside.

As the helium-filled balloon careened through the air and toward Denver International Airport, millions of people watched and wondered if its passenger could survive the perilous trip. When the craft finally touched down after floating for some 60 miles, responders surrounded it, expecting the worst. The boy was nowhere to be seen. Had he already fallen out?

The brief saga that became known as the Balloon Boy incident was one of the biggest indictments of the burgeoning worlds of reality television and breathless 24/7 news coverage. It seemed to check off every box that observers associated with societal decline. There was the morbidity of a child speeding through the air without control; the unwavering gaze of news networks who cut away from reports on world affairs and even ignored their commercial breaks to obtain footage of an aircraft that measure around 20 feet wide and 5 feet high and resembled a bag of Jiffy Pop.

 

The boy in question was Falcon Heene, one of Richard and Mayumi Heene's three children. The couple had met in California and bonded over their mutual desire to get into the entertainment business. Richard dreamed of becoming a comedian; Mayumi played guitar. The couple married in 1997 and eventually relocated to Colorado; they got their first taste of Hollywood in 2008, when they made their first of two appearances on the reality series Wife Swap.

But Richard Heene wanted more. The avid tinkerer envisioned a show that followed his family around, while at the same time working on his new inventions—one of which was sitting in his backyard. It was essentially a Mylar balloon staked to the ground, which he would later describe as a very early prototype for a low-altitude commuter vehicle.

 sheriff's deputies seach a field for Falcon Heene before learning he had been found October 15, 2009 southeast of Ft. Collins, Colorado
Sheriff's deputies search a Colorado field for Falcon Heene before learning he had been found safe at home.
John Moore, Getty Images

It was this balloon, Bradford Heene told police in 2009, that his brother Falcon had climbed into just before it had taken flight. Earlier, Richard said, Falcon had been playing near the contraption and was scolded for potentially creating a dangerous situation. Now, Falcon was gone, the balloon was in the air, and Falcon's parents feared the worst. Mayumi called the authorities.

“My other son said that Falcon was at the bottom of the flying saucer,” Mayumi told the 911 dispatcher. “I can’t find him anywhere!”

As news cameras watched and the National Guard and U.S. Forest Service followed, the balloon reached an altitude of 7000 feet. Police made a painstaking search of the Heene household, looking for any sign of Falcon. After three passes, they determined it was possible he was inside the balloon.

Approximately one hour later, the balloon seemed to deflate. Authorities cleared the air space near Denver International Airport and greeted the craft as it landed, tethering it to the ground so no air current could hoist it back up and out of reach.

No one was inside the small cabin under the balloon, which left three possibilities: Falcon was hiding somewhere, he had run away ... or he had fallen out.

 

Not long after the craft had landed, a police officer at the Heene house decided to investigate an attic space above the garage. It had gone ignored because it didn’t seem possible Falcon could have reached the entrance on his own.

Yet there he was, hiding.

Elated, authorities explained to the media that they thought Falcon had untethered the balloon by accident and then hid because he knew his father would be upset with him.

Jim Alderden, the sheriff of Colorado's Larimer County, assured reporters that the Heenes had not done anything suspect. They demonstrated all the concern for their missing child that one would expect. Alderden stuck to that even after the Heenes were interviewed on CNN and Falcon appeared to slip up. When asked by Wolf Blitzer if he had heard his parents calling for him, the boy admitted that he had but was ignoring them “for a show.”

Though the Heenes seemed to scramble to cover up for their son's gaffe, Blitzer didn’t appear to register the comment at first. He came back around to it, though, insisting on clarification. Richard would later state that Falcon was referring to the news cameras who wanted to see where he had been hiding. That was the "show" he meant.

Alderden reiterated that he didn’t think the boy could remain still and quiet for five hours in an attic if he had been instructed to. But he admitted the CNN interview raised questions. After initially clearing the family of any wrongdoing, Alderden said he would sit down and speak to them again.

Within the week, Alderden was holding a press conference with an entirely different mood. He solemnly explained that the Heenes had perpetuated a hoax and speculated that they could be charged with up to three felonies, including conspiracy and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Outlets had already tracked down an associate of Richard’s who detailed his reality series idea, with one episode devoted to the balloon.

 

Richard and Mayumi voluntarily turned themselves into authorities. They each pled guilty: Richard for attempting to influence a public servant and Mayumi for making a false report. In addition to paying $36,016 in restitution, Richard wound up with a 90-day jail sentence, 60 days of which was served on supervised work release. Mayumi got 20 days. Though they pled guilty, Richard maintained that he and his family had not perpetuated any kind of a hoax. In a 2010 video posted to YouTube, Richard said he only pled guilty because authorities were threatening to deport his wife.

Mayumi, meanwhile, reportedly told police it had all been an act (though critics of the prosecution argued that Mayumi's imperfect English made that confession open to interpretation). Mayumi later stated she had no firm understanding of the word "hoax."

Richard Heene and his wife, Mayumi Heene (R) are flanked by members of the media after they both plead guilty to charges related to the alleged hoax of the couple claiming that their son, Falcon Heene was last month onboard a helium balloon, at the Larime
Richard and Mayumi Heene surrounded by the media after they both plead guilty to charges related to the "Balloon Boy Hoax" on November 13, 2009.
Matt McClain, Getty Images

In addition to the fine and jail sentences, the judge also mandated that the family not seek to profit from the incident for a period of four years, which meant any potential for Richard to grab a reality show opportunity would be put on hold until long after the public had lost interest in the "Balloon Boy."

The Heenes moved to Florida in 2010, and soon after their three boys formed a heavy metal band—reputed to be the world’s youngest—dubbed the Heene Boyz. They’ve self-released several albums, and in 2014 even released a song called "Balloon Boy No Hoax."

Richard also peddles some of his inventions, including a wall-mounted back scratcher that allows users to alleviate itching by rubbing up against it. It’s called the Bear Scratch.

In October 2019, Robert Sanchez, a writer for 5280 magazine in Denver, profiled the Heenes and produced a smoking gun of sorts. Sanchez, who was allowed access to the Heene case file by Mayumi's defense attorney, discovered copies of Mayumi's notes about the events leading up to the flight. In one entry, she disclosed Richard had asked her about the possibility of letting the craft go off while Falcon remained in the basement, stirring up attention for the news networks. Later, when the saucer flew away, Richard was confused when Falcon wasn't downstairs. (He chose instead to hide in the attic.) That made the Heenes believe he might really be inside.

When confronted with the document, Mayumi told Sanchez she had made that story up in an attempt to "save" herself and her children, presumably from being separated in the ensuing legal struggle. In the Balloon Boy story, the saucer may have come crashing back to Earth, but the truth remains up in the air.

Ohio Bill Aims to Make Animal Cruelty a Felony

RalchevDesign/iStock via Getty Images
RalchevDesign/iStock via Getty Images

In Ohio, animal cruelty may soon be punishable by a minimum of nine months in prison.

As ABC 6 reports, a new bill introduced in the Ohio Senate would increase penalties for individuals found guilty of inflicting “unnecessary or unjustifiable” harm to a companion animal (the bill defines a “companion animal” as any animal kept inside a home and any dog or cat, regardless of where it’s kept).

The bill comes three years after Ohio lawmakers passed a law making animal cruelty a fifth-degree felony for first-time offenders. Prior to 2016, a first offense of animal cruelty was classified as a first-degree misdemeanor, a charge punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1000 fine.

This new bill would make animal cruelty a third-degree felony, meaning jail time and a fine of up to $10,000. It’s a critical change, according to Cleveland.com; reporter Andrew J. Tobias, who says fifth-degree felony convictions in Ohio rarely result in any jail time.

“There are just some atrocious acts of violence against pets, companion animals, that are literally receiving slaps on the wrist,” Senator Jay Hottinger, one of the bill’s sponsors, told Cleveland.com.

In January, two Florida congressmen introduced the PACT (Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture) bill to classify animal cruelty as a felony under federal law. All 50 states have a “felony animal cruelty law on the books,” according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, but each state is responsible for defining animal cruelty. The proposed PACT law would identify and ban specific behaviors in all states.

[h/t ABC 6]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER