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© Museum of London
© Museum of London

9 Things We Learned at London's Crime Museum Uncovered Exhibit

© Museum of London
© Museum of London

For almost 150 years, London’s Metropolitan Police have maintained a private collection of criminal memorabilia. Its origins can be traced to the mid-1870s, after a law required that prisoners’ property be kept for them until their release. Most of this property was never claimed, and objects from the Prisoner’s Property Store became a teaching collection, open only to officers and their invited guests. Inspector Percy Neame later named it the Murderer’s Museum of Scotland Yard, and a few years later the press dubbed it the Black Museum.

Despite the name changes, one thing has remained consistent: It’s been closed to the public. This year, for the first time, original evidence and artifacts are on display in a special exhibit at the Museum of London, The Crime Museum Uncovered, which runs until April 10, 2016. 

1. YOU CAN SEE WHAT THE MUSEUM LOOKED LIKE 100 YEARS AGO.

Inside the Metropolitan Police’s hidden Crime Museum at Scotland Yard, c.1900, © Museum of London  

Two of the rooms within the exhibit are recreations of what the Crime Museum looked like in the early 1880s and 1900s. The rooms, which are ringed by shelves of death masks, were modeled on illustrations made of the museum at that time.

2. PRISONERS FOUND WAYS TO AMUSE THEMSELVES.

Pin-cushion embroidered with human hair by repeat offender Annie Parker, 1879 © Museum of London

Annie Parker was arrested more than 400 times for drunkenness. While in prison, she worked on stitching a sampler cushion as a gift for the chaplain of the Clerkenwell House of Detention, embroidered with her own hair. She gave it to him in 1879. The corners of the cushion read, stitched in hair, “Prudence,” “Justice,” “Fortitude,” and, ironically, “Temperance.” 

3. IDENTIFYING PRISONERS USED TO BE A LOT OF WORK.

Handwritten criminal record card for Arthur James Woodbine, aged 12, 1896 © Museum of London

Before fingerprinting became widely used by the Metropolitan Police after 1901, “anthropometric” observations were taken of each prisoner for identification purposes. These included complexion, head length and breadth, finger length, and foot length. Large metal calipers were used to record some of these measurements.

4. A VICTIM'S GALLSTONES HELPED CATCH THE ACID-BATH MURDERER.

Objects relating to the murder of Mrs Olive Durand-Deacon by John Haigh, 1949 © Museum of London

In 1949, John Haigh met with well-to-do widow Olive Durand-Deacon to discuss her business plan for manufacturing artificial fingernails. Haigh had already murdered five people by then, and disposed of their bodies in a way he thought fool-proof—dissolving them in sulphuric acid. After giving her the same treatment, Haigh smugly thought he’d gotten away with murder, as there was no body. He confessed to turning her into sludge, and also claimed he was insane and drank his victims’ blood. Already known as the “Acid Bath Murderer,” Haigh came to be called the “Vampire Killer” in the press. After being convicted by a thorough forensic investigation based on the few items that were discovered remaining in the sludge—such as Durand-Deacon’s gallstones—Haigh was hanged at Wandsworth Prison. 

5. A SERIAL KILLER HELPED ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY IN THE UK.

In March 1953, the bodies of three women were discovered at 10 Rillington Place. By the time the manhunt for and investigation into previous tenant John Christie was done, the body count had climbed to eight. Weirdly, three years earlier, two bodies had been found in the same flat, and another man was hanged for those crimes—and Christie had been the main witness for his prosecution. At Christie’s trial, he claimed responsibility for one of those earlier murders. The uncertainty this raised about the earlier conviction and the possibility for error in a death-penalty sentence played a significant part in the abolishment of capital punishment in Great Britain. 

6. BEWARE OF EXES BEARING GIFTS.

In 1945, a man gave a pair of binoculars with hidden, spring-loaded spikes meant to penetrate the eyes to his ex-fiancée, who had left him. This gruesome weapon later inspired a scene in the 1959 movie Horrors of the Black Museum, one of the goriest films of the 1950s.

7. … AND UMBRELLAS, JUST IN GENERAL.

Writer and journalist Georgi Markov, a defector from Bulgaria, was standing on London’s Waterloo Bridge in 1978 when he felt a sharp pain in his leg. A man near him apologized, while picking up his umbrella, and left in a taxi. After Markov died four days later, a tiny pellet filled with a substance that might have been ricin was found embedded in his leg. The case remains open to this day.

8. CRIMINALS AREN'T ALWAYS AS SMART AS THEY THINK THEY ARE.

A mid-20th-century burglar thought he was being awfully clever when he constructed fake-footprint makers out of shoes smaller than his own on the ends of wooden blocks. He stamped the ground with them, leaving tracks that would not match his own. However, he left his own footprints alongside them, and so was caught.

9. THE MUSEUM HAS HAD SOME CELEBRITY VISITORS.

Visitor book containing names and dates of individuals who visited the Crime Museum, 1877-1904 © Museum of London

The crime museum’s visitor’s book, while mostly full of the names of police officers, lists other notable signatures. Some that stand out: Gilbert and Sullivan, 1882; Sir A. Conan Doyle, 1892; Harry Houdini, 1900; King George V, 1926; and Laurel and Hardy, 1947.

Murder bag: a forensics kit used by detectives attending crime scenes, c.1946 © Museum of London

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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 over 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 in 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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