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Zaid Hamid
Zaid Hamid

7 American Crime and Punishment Museums

Zaid Hamid
Zaid Hamid

If you’re still planning a road trip this summer, you’ll want to add some of the lesser-known stops to your tourist plans. There are crime scenes, prisons, and museums all over where you can learn something new about the sordid history of crime in America. Here are just a few of them.

1. The Villisca Axe Murder House

Photograph by Flickr user Jo Naylor.

The Villisca Axe Murder House in Villisca, Iowa, was the scene of a still-unsolved murder in 1912. J.B. and Sarah Moore, their four children, and two young friends were all murdered in their beds. The only clue was a bloody axe found near the scene. There were several suspects, but not enough evidence to convict any of them. The home went through several owners before Darwin Linn purchased it in 1994. Linn restored the home to resemble its condition in 1912, albeit without the bloody murder scenes. The Villisca Axe Murder House is open for tours from April first through Halloween, and you can stay the night -if you dare- for $428.

2. The Wyoming Frontier Prison

Photograph from Wyoming Frontier Prison at Facebook.

The Wyoming Frontier Prison in Rawlins, Wyoming, was the state’s first penitentiary. Construction began in 1888, but the doors did not open until 1901. It had no electricity or running water for many years after it opened. Over 13,000 inmates passed through before the prison closed in 1981. In 1987, the horror movie Prison, starring a young Viggo Mortensen, was filmed there. A year later, the prison was turned into a museum. The Wyoming Frontier Prison is open daily during the summer and offers guided tours. There will be a special Haunted Night Tour this Friday, which requires reservations.

3. The Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum

Photograph by Cameron Maynard.

On May 23, 1934, notorious outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were gunned down by police on a rural road in Louisiana. Just a few miles away in Gibsland, Louisiana, the son of one of those police officers, “Boots” Hinton, runs a museum called The Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum. There, you can see photographs and exhibits from Bonnie and Clyde’s career in crime and of that day in 1934 when they died. Even better than the exhibits is a chance to talk to Hinton, who is glad to tell the story of Bonnie & Clyde and the police officers who tracked them. The museum is open 10AM-6PM Monday through Saturday, and noon-6PM on Sunday. If you can’t get to Gibsland, you can take a visual tour of the museum at Atlas Obscura.

4. The Museum of Colorado Prisons

Photograph from The Museum of Colorado Prisons at Facebook.

The Museum of Colorado Prisons in Canon City, Colorado, was once the Women's Correctional Facility that was built in 1935. Thirty-two of the original cells are filled with exhibits relating to that facility and others in the Colorado prison system. See a real gas chamber, the last officially-used hangman’s noose, confiscated weapons, prison art, and photographs of the region’s crime and punishment history, reaching back to the territorial days. Included is an exhibit on the state’s notorious cannibal, Alferd Packer. The museum is open 10AM-6PM daily until October, then Wednesday through Sunday only.

5. Ohio State Reformatory

Photograph by AmyTheOvenMitt.

The Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio, opened in 1896 to house young offenders. Over its 94-year history, the institution held 154,000 incarcerated men, many who died there, sometimes by murder, sometimes by suicide. The prison was closed in 1990, and later became the setting for the movie The Shawshank Redemption. The empty prison is open to the public for tours daily from April to September, so you can see for yourself how spooky the facility is, only populated by the spirits that roam the halls -both actors and real spirits. The prison also hosts “ghost walks” and “ghost hunts” a couple of times a week during the summer. There will be a special celebration of the 20th anniversary of the movie The Shawshank Redemption August 29-31, with events scheduled at various filming locations, including the prison.

6. The Crime Museum

Photograph by Zaid Hamid.

The Crime Museum in Washington, DC, is a walk through the history of crime in the United States. The privately-owned museum was founded by John Morgan and John Walsh. Walsh’s TV program America’s Most Wanted was filmed in the museum’s studio from its opening in 2008 until the show ended in 2013. The historical exhibits include an electric chair that was used in more than 125 executions as well as other historical artifacts. But the museum specializes in interactive experiences, such as crime scene investigations with trained forensic scientists, an FBI training simulation, autopsies, and other rotating programs. The Crime Museum also offers summer camps for children.

7. Eastern State Penitentiary

Photograph by Mike Graham from Portland, USA.

Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was America’s first true penitentiary, housing inmates for 142 years from 1829 to 1971. The facility was revolutionary in both its architecture and philosophy when it first opened. However, over the years it became known for its torturous practices and experimental punishments. It is said to be the most haunted prison in America. Closed in 1971, the buildings fell into ruin, with trees growing inside and a colony of feral cats inhabiting it. It was opened to the public for tours in 1994. To preserve the facility’s historic state, some parts of the prison are allowed to stay in their ruined condition, while other parts have been refurbished enough to reflect its former use and to ensure tourists' safety. Eastern State’s most notorious resident was Al Capone, whose cell, shown above, is a popular tourist attraction.

Eastern State is open to the public every day from 10AM-5PM, and there are special events, such as the annual Halloween haunted tours and the upcoming Bastille Day celebration on July 12th. The prison can also be rented for weddings. 

There are so many other museums dedicated to crimes and criminals that you can expect a second list soon. If you have any favorites, please leave them in the comments!

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Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network
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Meghan Markle Is Related to H.H. Holmes, America’s First Serial Killer, According to New Documentary
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network

Between staging paparazzi photos and writing open letters to Prince Harry advising him to call off his wedding, Meghan Markle’s family has been keeping the media pretty busy lately. But it turns out that her bloodline's talent for grabbing headlines dates back much further than the announcement that Markle and Prince Harry were getting hitched—and for much more sinister reasons. According to Meet the Markles, a new television documentary produced for England’s Channel Four, the former Suits star has a distant relation to H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer.

The claim comes from Holmes’s great-great-grandson, American lawyer Jeff Mudgett, who recently discovered that he and Markle are eighth cousins. If that connection is correct, then it would mean that Markle, too, is related to Holmes.

While finding out that you’re related—however distantly—to a man believed to have murdered 27 people isn’t something you’d probably want to share with Queen Elizabeth II when asking her to pass the Yorkshire pudding at Christmas dinner, what makes the story even more interesting is that Mudgett believes that his great-great-grandpa was also Jack the Ripper!

Mudgett came to this conclusion based on Holmes’s personal diaries, which he inherited. In 2017, American Ripper—an eight-part History Channel series—investigated Mudgett’s belief that Holmes and Jack were indeed one and the same.

When asked about his connection to Markle, and their shared connection to Holmes—and, possibly, Jack the Ripper—Mudgett replied:

“We did a study with the FBI and CIA and Scotland Yard regarding handwriting analysis. It turns out [H. H. Holmes] was Jack the Ripper. This means Meghan is related to Jack the Ripper. I don’t think the Queen knows. I am not proud he is my ancestor. Meghan won’t be either.”

Shortly thereafter he clarified his comments via his personal Facebook page:

In the 130 years since Jack the Ripper terrorized London’s Whitechapel neighborhood, hundreds of names have been put forth as possible suspects, but authorities have never been able to definitively conclude who committed the infamous murders. So if Alice's Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll could have done it, why not the distant relative of the royal family's newest member?

[h/t: ID CrimeFeed]

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A New D.B. Cooper Suspect Has Emerged
FBI
FBI

The identity of skyjacker D.B. Cooper—a well-mannered passenger on Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 who parachuted out of the skyjacked plane heading to Seattle in November 1971 with $200,000 in cash—has long intrigued both law enforcement and amateur sleuths. One theory posited that Cooper may have even been a woman in disguise.

In July 2017, the FBI officially closed the case. This week, they might take another look at their archival material. An 84-year-old pet sitter from DeLand, Florida named Carl Laurin has made a public proclamation that a deceased friend of his, Walter R. Reca, once admitted he was the country’s most notorious airborne thief.

The announcement is tied to the publication of Laurin’s book, D.B. Cooper & Me: A Criminal, a Spy, and a Best Friend. And while some may discount the admission as an attempt to sell books, the book's publisher—Principia Media—claims it vetted Laurin’s claims via a third-party investigator.

According to Laurin, he and Reca met while both were skydivers in the 1950s and kept in touch over the years. Reca was a military paratrooper and received an Honorable Discharge from the Air Force in 1965. Laurin suspected his friend immediately following the skyjacking since he had previously broken the law, including an attempted robbery at a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant as well as several banks. But Reca didn’t admit guilt until shortly before his death in 2014, when he handed over audiotapes of his confession and made Laurin promise not to reveal them until after he had passed away.

Principia Media publisher/CEO Vern Jones says he expects skeptics to challenge the book’s claims, but says that the evidence provided by Laurin was “overwhelming.” The FBI has yet to comment on any of the specifics of Laurin’s story, but an agency spokesperson told The Washington Post that “plausible theories” have yet to convey “necessary proof of culpability.” Nonetheless, someone at the Bureau probably has a weekend of reading ahead of them.

[h/t MSN]

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