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10 Fascinating Tours for True Crime Buffs

Historical bad guys can fascinate even the most law-abiding among us, and if you’re the least bit intrigued by assassins, mafia bosses, or other malefactors, these 10 tours are worth checking out. 

1. MELBOURNE HISTORICAL CRIME TOURS // MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

During the early 20th century, Fitzroy—Melbourne, Australia’s oldest suburb—was a hotbed of criminal activity. Several factors lured organized crime into the area, including cheap rent, the thinning of local police forces after World War I, and more brothels than the authorities could handle. The year 1919 saw a bloody, inter-gang turf war known as the Fitzroy Vendetta, an escalating series of violent clashes that followed a lucrative jewel heist in the city proper. Next time you’re Down Under, take a walk with Melbourne Historical Crime Tours. Hosted by private historian and true crime author Michael Shelford, these informative walks will bring you up to speed on the legendary bosses and bloody showdowns that cast a dark shadow over Fitzroy from the 1890s to the 1920s.

2. THE KANSAS CITY GANGSTER BUS TOUR // KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

Out-of-towners might not associate K.C. with gangster landmarks, but the metro area’s got plenty of them. For starters, there’s Union Station, where four officers and a prisoner by the name of Frank Nash were famously gunned down by mobsters on June 17, 1933. Today, it's the departure spot of the Kansas City Gangster Bus Tour. Tag along and you’ll be taken past such historic sites as the Rieger Hotel, where Al Capone frequently stayed (inside, there’s a plaque that commemorates a urinal he often used). Commentary along the way is provided by a lively reenactor in period-friendly garb—namely, a pinstriped suit and fedora.

3. ALCATRAZ CRUISES // SAN FRANCISCO

Alcatraz Cruises/Facebook

Nicknamed “The Rock,” Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary is located on an eponymous island in San Francisco Bay. The facility opened its doors in August 1934 and would house several of the country’s most dangerous felons before being shut down nearly 30 years later. Today, the general public can only access the island by purchasing ferry tickets from Alcatraz Cruises, a private company that is overseen by the National Park Service. During daytime visits, guests may take a self-guided audio tour, one that includes clips from interviews with actual guards and inmates, who paint a vivid picture of the prison’s operating days.

4. NYC GANGSTER TOURS // NEW YORK CITY

NYC Gangster Tours/Facebook

This Manhattan-based group offers three main guided walking tours: The Rise and Fall of the American Mafia Tour will bring you up to speed on the five most historically powerful organized crime families in the New York City area, a.k.a. the “Five Families.” Meanwhile, the Little Italy & Chinatown Gangsters Walking Tour will introduce you to the old haunts of Gotham’s first mafia bosses. There's also the Jewish Gangsters of the Lower East Side tour. On that one, explains company manager Gideon Levy, you’ll pass by “The Jewish Daily Forward Newspaper building, what was once Rather’s deli, [and] the Bargain Street District”—all of which would’ve been familiar sights to men like Meyer Lansky, who helped found the National Crime Syndicate.

5. THE JACK THE RIPPER TOUR // LONDON

Jack the Ripper's identity is one of the world’s greatest unsolved mysteries. Between August and November of 1888, five women were murdered and mutilated in London’s East End. Due to the nature of their wounds, it’s generally believed that all five victims were slain by the same attacker, an unknown assassin who has been nicknamed “Jack the Ripper.” (Various other murders are sometimes attributed to him as well, though some suspect that at least a few of these were done by a copycat killer.) If the opening of London’s controversial Jack the Ripper Museum in 2015 is any indication, it's clear that the world is still utterly fascinated by this Victorian mystery man. Back in 1982, crime enthusiast Richard Jones decided to show off his expertise on the subject by putting out an ad for a walking tour of some authentic Ripper crime scenes in Time Out magazine. To his surprise, no less than 18 people showed up. More than three decades later, Jones is still leading people along his now-famous tour route. To help meet demand, he’s also recruited four alternate guides—all of whom are considered bona fide authorities on Ripper studies.

6. JOHN WILKES BOOTH’S ESCAPE ROUTE TOUR // CLINTON, MARYLAND

The so-called “American Brutus” didn’t just decide to shoot Abraham Lincoln on a whim. After mortally wounding the president at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth fled via an escape route that he’d carefully mapped out in advance. First, he and an accomplice made a beeline for the tavern of Mary Surratt in southern Maryland, around 13 miles away. The two then journeyed down to a doctor’s Charles County home. Unaware of his role in the assassination plot, this resident physician mended the leg Booth had broken on his way out of Ford’s. Following that, the wanted men rode further south, stopping briefly at the Confederate sympathizer Samuel Cox’s house in Bel Alton, Maryland. From there, Booth and his cohort eventually made their way to Garret’s Farm in Virginia. It was here, while hiding inside a bar, that they were confronted by federal agents, who shot Booth and captured his associate on April 26. If you’d like to follow in their footsteps, the good people at Washingtonian have mapped out a road trip that will take you past six major rest stops on Booth’s last trek. Alternatively, Maryland’s Surratt House Museum offers a 12-hour bus tour that covers the same ground.

7. THE REAL BLACK DAHLIA TOUR // LOS ANGELES

Esotouric's Secret Los Angeles/Facebook

For 70 years, the unexplained—and savage—murder of actress Elizabeth Short has captivated criminologists, moviegoers, and mystery-readers alike. On January 15, 1947, the aspiring actress's naked body was found lying in an empty lot in Los Angeles. It had been cut in half. Her corpse was also drained of all blood and she’d been given a hideous Glasgow smile—two deep cuts stretching from the corners of her mouth to her ears. These mutilations were made with the kind of precision normally reserved for top surgeons. “It was pretty gruesome,” said LAPD detective Brian Carr, “I just can’t imagine someone doing that to another human being.”

Short, whose love of dark clothing earned her the nickname “Black Dahlia,” has posthumously become a legend in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Her murderer was never identified, but nonetheless, several novels and motion pictures have been based on the incident. Anyone who’s intrigued by this cold case is encouraged to take the Real Black Dahlia Bus Tour. Put on by the City of Angels’ Esotouric tour company, the tour makes stops at the last place where Short was seen alive and the exact spot where her body was discovered. As you’ve probably surmised, said tour is not for the faint of heart.

8. THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY TOUR // CHICAGO

Weird Chicago Tours

Named after historian Erik Larson’s bestselling book about the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, this tour focuses on the life and times of Henry H. Holmes, a Gilded Age serial killer who is said to have killed at least 10 people—and possibly several times more—in his specially-designed “murder castle.” A repurposed pharmacy, the building was marketed as a hotel, one where Holmes would poison, burn, or torture his “guests.” On the “Devil in the White City” tour—hosted by Weird Chicago, an organization that also provides separate ghost, gangster, and speakeasy tours—guests will get to see the grounds on which Holmes’s diabolical castle once stood, along with several locations that were used in that World’s Fair.

9. SICILY’S ANTI-MAFIA TOUR // SICILY

Addiopizzo Travel

Thanks in no small part to the Godfather films, Sicily has a thriving crime tour industry. But not everyone is happy about this trend. In an effort to draw attention away from the island’s historic crime bosses and instead celebrate the legacy of those who’ve fought them, Addipizzo Travel offers a comprehensive “anti-mafia tour.” Lasting five days and four nights, the tour showcases nonviolent protest sites, a gallery that features the paintings of well-known artists who stood up to organized crime, and similar places of interest.

10. THE CREAM CITY CANNIBAL TOUR // MILWAUKEE

“This tour is so gruesome,” the official website claims, “it was banned on Groupon—twice.” One can easily understand why. The foray in question covers the former Milwaukee stomping grounds of cannibal and sex offender Jeffrey Dahmer. In 1978, the late criminal murdered his first of what would become 17 victims. When he was finally arrested in 1991, the remains of 11 people were discovered in Dahmer’s residence. And by his own admission, he intended to eat a human heart he’d been saving. In 2012, Hangman Tours, which specializes in offbeat, historically accurate guided walks, kicked off this tour, which takes guests down the very streets Dahmer used to prowl. Controversy inevitably ensued, with one civic leader denouncing the attraction as “sensationalism at its finest.” Hangman spokeswoman Amanda Morden countered by saying “Whether we like it or not, it’s part of our city’s history. It’s part of our nation’s history.” Despite some early outrage, the tour has persisted.

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Amergin, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
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The Bizarre Death of Bridget Cleary, the Irish "Fairy Wife"
The town of Tipperary, Ireland
The town of Tipperary, Ireland
Amergin, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The policemen had been combing the green yards and fields of Ballyvadlea, Ireland, for a week when they finally found Bridget Cleary. The 26-year-old's body had been wedged beneath several inches of clay and a jumble of thorn bushes, but her corpse showed wounds caused by something much worse than branches: Her spine and lower limbs were so badly burned that parts of her skeleton were exposed. She was naked, except for a stocking and one gold earring, and her head was encased in a sack.

The judge would later describe the events leading up to Bridget's death as demonstrating "a degree of darkness in the mind, not just of one person, but of several—a moral darkness, even religious darkness." It was the end of the 19th century, not exactly the Middle Ages, but those involved in the end of Bridget's life had become convinced that she wasn't really herself—and that a supernatural creature had taken her place.

GONE WITH THE FAIRIES

Bridget was the wife of a cooper named Michael Cleary, and the pair were regarded around town as a relatively happy couple. They shared their cottage, in a remote townland near Tipperary, with Bridget's father, Patrick Boland, and had no children. Michael was nine years Bridget's senior and earned a decent salary; she brought in some extra income by working as a seamstress and egg-seller. By all accounts, they were more prosperous than their neighbors, likely thanks to her resourcefulness. As a literate, independent, and fashionably dressed working woman, she was part of an emerging class in a rural society that had long been based in agriculture and the oral tradition.

It was also a society steeped in legends of the supernatural. Fairy belief, in particular, was pervasive in Irish rural societies at the time, and had long coexisted with Christian doctrine. Children grew up hearing legends of the Little People from their earliest days, and learned how to appease them by leaving untasted food on the table, for example, or saying "bless them" whenever the fairies were mentioned. The fairies were blamed for everything that went wrong—lost items, spoiled milk, bad crops. As one County Sligo man interviewed at the start of the 20th century told an anthropologist, "Nothing is more certain than that there are fairies."

Bridget herself was known to be fascinated by the beings, and to take trips to the most fairy-ridden spots around town. She may have visited such a spot on Monday, March 4, 1895, when she went to deliver eggs to her father's cousin, Jack Dunne, near Kylenagranagh Hill. The area was home to a ringfort, an early medieval circular fortified settlement believed, in Irish folklore, to be a "fairy fort," and thus to be avoided at all costs. Yet Bridget often visited the fort, and she likely spent time there that Monday after delivering the eggs.

It was a cold morning, the mountains still covered in the snow that had fallen the previous day, and after the two- or three-mile walk Bridget couldn't seem to warm up once she got back home. She spent the following day in bed, shivering and complaining of "a raging pain in her head."

That Saturday, her father walked four miles in the heavy rain to ask the doctor to call on her. But the doctor wasn't able to visit until the following Wednesday, and by then her husband had also gone to summon him twice. They should have been reassured by the doctor's diagnoses—"nervous excitement and slight bronchitis"—but it wasn't this ailment that worried Michael. He was convinced that the bed-ridden woman in their cottage was "too fine," in his own words, to be his wife, and that she was "two inches taller" than the woman he had known. At some point, Michael had developed the belief that Bridget had been replaced by a fairy changeling as she passed near the fairy fort on Kylenagranagh Hill.

"ARE YOU BRIDGET BOLAND?"

It is likely that this idea was planted in Michael's head by his confidante, Jack Dunne. According to Irish historian Angela Bourke, who has researched the case extensively, the 55-year-old Dunne was a charismatic man rumored to have the power of divination. He was known in the area as a seanchaí, a sort of storyteller well-versed in fairy mythology.

On Wednesday afternoon, after the doctor's visit, a priest visited. He wasn't overly concerned about the illness, but decided to administer the last rites in case it worsened. The ceremony emphasized the fact that Michael could lose his wife, which distressed him even more. He talked to Dunne, who urged him to act immediately, or the "real" Bridget would be lost forever. "It is not your wife is there [sic]," the older man reminded him. "This is the eighth day, and you had a right to have gone to Ganey"—the local "fairy doctor"—"on the fifth day."

The cooper duly visited Ganey following morning. He came back with a mixture of herbs that needed to be boiled in "new milk," the nutrient-rich first milk produced by a cow after calving.

That night, Michael forced the bitter concoction down Bridget’s throat while Dunne and three male cousins pinned her down in bed. Relatives outside the house heard someone—likely Michael—shouting, "Take it, you witch, or I'll kill you!" The men threw urine at her and shook her, yelling, "Away with you; come home Bridget Boland, in the name of God!" Other relatives and neighbors came and went, witnessing her ordeal and hearing her screams, but were too scared to intervene. Michael asked his wife to answer her name three times: "Are you Bridget Boland, wife of Michael Cleary, in the name of God?" The men then brought her to the fireplace and held her over the grate—ordeals by fire were known to drive out the fairies—while they repeated the questioning.

By midnight Thursday night, the ritual seemed to be completed. Bridget was "wild and deranged," according to her cousin Johanna, but her husband seemed satisfied, and her relatives thought there had been some sort of catharsis. The following morning, at Michael's request, the priest said mass in Bridget's bedroom in order to banish the "evil spirits" that were left in the house.

"IT IS NOT BRIDGET I AM BURNING."

An image of fairies from fairies from "The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley"
Fairies from "The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley"
British Library, Europeana // Public Domain

On Friday, March 15, for the first time in 11 days, Bridget got out of bed and dressed in her usual, fashionable clothes "to give her courage when she would go among the people," as Johanna later told the magistrates. Several family members had joined them in their cottage for tea later in the day when an argument erupted. Bridget had asked for some milk, which had rekindled Michael’s suspicions; fairies are known in folklore to yearn for fresh milk.

Bridget was probably exhausted, and she didn't want to be questioned any more. "Your mother used to go with the fairies and that is why you think I am going with them," she told her husband. Michael was furious. He demanded that she eat three pieces of bread and jam—perhaps to reinforce his control over her—asking her to say her name again. She answered twice and ate two of the three pieces, but when she hesitated for a moment with the third, her husband flung her on the ground and threatened her: "If you won't take it, down you will go."

Michael jabbed his knee into her chest, forcing the bread and jam down Bridget's throat. He began tearing off her clothes, leaving only her chemise, then grabbed a hot stick from the fire and held it close to her mouth. He struck her head against the floor, then set her chemise alight. Within a few minutes, he had also poured paraffin lamp oil over her, encouraging the flames.

As her body was burning, Michael said in front of shocked relatives: "She's not my wife. She's an old deceiver sent in place of my wife." Relatives yelled at Michael to put out the flames, but Bridget "blazed up all in a minute," according to their later testimony. They huddled in fear in a nearby bedroom, the flames soon barricading their way.

Once the flames had died down, Michael wrapped her body in a sheet and shoved it in an old bag. Then he left the house, locking Bridget's relatives inside with the corpse. They waited for about an hour, praying. When Michael returned, he was wielding a knife and threatened to kill Bridget's cousin Patrick Kennedy if he didn't help him bury Bridget's body. "Come on out here now," he shouted. "I have the hole nearly made." The two men carried the body to a boggy area about a quarter-mile uphill from the cottage, and buried it in a shallow hole. Back in the cottage, Michael made the rest of the family swear they wouldn't tell the authorities.

ON A WHITE HORSE

The following morning, an agitated Michael arrived at Drangan church with Dunne. Dunne wanted Michael to speak to a priest, but when the priest saw him kneeling in front of the altar—weeping, tearing his hair, and asking to go to confession—he thought he wasn't fit to receive the sacrament. He spoke to Dunne instead, who hadn't been at the cottage at the time of Bridget's death, but told the priest that Michael had claimed to have burned his wife the previous night. "I've been asking them all morning to take her up and give her a Christian burial," Dunne added. Bewildered, thinking them both insane, the church minister reported their conversation to a police sergeant.

For the next few days, the police searched for Bridget and questioned her friends and relatives. Even though Michael spoke about emigrating or committing suicide to escape the law, he still hoped his "real wife" would come back: For three consecutive nights starting the day after visiting the priest, he waited at the ringfort on Kylenagranagh Hill, where he believed she would appear, galloping on a white horse. He said he would only have to cut the ropes that bound her to the animal so she would be his forever.

On Wednesday, March 20, the Royal Irish Constables issued arrest warrants for eight people from Bridget's circle, as well as Denis Ganey, the "fairy doctor." Two days later, police found Bridget's body. The prisoners were brought before the magistrates on March 25, ushered in by the angry screams of a crowd who had learned of the case through extensive press coverage. On July 5, 1895, after a two-day trial, Michael was found guilty of manslaughter and imprisoned, along with Jack Dunne, Patrick Boland, and four of Bridget’s cousins, including Patrick Kennedy. The judge ruled out a verdict of murder, explaining they all had acted out of genuine belief.

Michael was released in 1910, after which he boarded ship for Montreal. Dunne served a three-year prison sentence before returning to the area, where he kept working as a laborer. "God knows I would never do it but for Jack Dunne," Michael had reportedly said not long after burning Bridget. "It was he who told me my wife was a fairy."

ILLNESS—OR INFIDELITY?

During her illness, Bridget was visited by her aunt, Mary Kennedy, and told her, "He [Michael]'s making a fairy of me now. He thought to burn me about three months ago." Her words suggest this wasn't the first crisis of its kind.

Although we can only speculate about the couple's disagreements, there were rumors in Ballyvadlea that Bridget had a lover. Contemporary newspapers reported Michael saying his wife "used to be meeting an egg-man on the low road" [sic], but the rumors pointed to young caretaker William Simpson, who had visited the Clearys' cottage with his wife the night before Bridget’s death. In his court testimony, Simpson explained he had arrived as the four men were restraining Bridget, and he had asked them to leave her alone.

Although Michael and the other people involved in the killing were never formally psychiatrically assessed, a 2006 article from the Irish Journal of Medical Science suggested that Michael may have been suffering from a psychotic state known as Capgras syndrome, which involves the belief that a person has been replaced by an impostor. The authors suggest Michael "may have developed a brief psychotic episode" as he struggled to deal with his wife's illness, sleep deprivation, and the recent death of his father—news of which had reached him in the middle of his attempted "cure" on Thursday night. In Capgras syndrome, the socio-cultural context of the sufferer determines the nature of the impostor, which can be another person or even a supernatural being, such as an alien or a fairy changeling.

In her discussion of the supernatural beliefs related to the case, Bourke notes that the message of fairy legends is that "the unexpected may be guarded against by careful observance of society's rules." Bridget Cleary was ambitious, independent, and childless; a modern woman. She didn't conform to the patriarchal norm, which may have made her appear, to some in her life, as closer to the fairy realm than to their own.

Even today in Tipperary, her story hasn't been entirely forgotten. The local children have a nursery rhyme that runs: "Are you a witch or are you a fairy, / Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?"

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Queen Anne of Brittany's Heart Stolen From French Museum
Guillaume Souvant, AFP/Getty Images
Guillaume Souvant, AFP/Getty Images

Bringing new meaning to the idea of stealing someone's heart, thieves in France made off with a 16th-century gold relic containing the once-beating organ of Anne of Brittany, the only woman to ever have been twice crowned the queen of France.

Over the weekend, burglars smashed a window of the Thomas-Dobrée museum in Nantes and lifted the six-inch case from its display, The Telegraph reports.

Anne was crowned queen when she was just 12 years old after marrying Charles VIII of France in 1491. After his death in 1498, she married Louis XII and once again ascended the throne, where she stayed until her death at age 36. Although her body was buried at the Basilica of Saint Denis, she requested that her heart be kept alongside her parents’ tomb in Brittany.

“The thieves attacked our common heritage and stole an item of inestimable value," Philippe Grosvalet, president of the Loire-Atlantique department, which owns the museum, told The Telegraph. "Much more than a symbol, the case containing the heart of Anne of Brittany belongs to our history.”

The gold relic was saved from being melted down after the French Revolution, and it has been kept safe at the Thomas-Dobrée museum for more than 130 years. The case contains an inscription in old French, which translates to: “In this small vessel of pure, fine gold rests the greatest heart of any woman in the world.”

This practice of burying the heart apart from the rest of the body was not entirely uncommon among European aristocrats in the Middle Ages. The hearts of both Richard I and Anne Boleyn were kept in lead boxes, and the hearts of 22 former popes are stored in marble urns at Rome's Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi church.

It's also far from the only instance of relic theft. In a slightly more bizarre case, fragments of the brain of John Bosco, a 19th century Roman Catholic priest, were contained in a reliquary at his basilica in Castelnuovo, central Italy, until they were snatched by a thief in 2017. The reliquary was ultimately recovered by police from the suspect’s kitchen cupboard.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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