The Crime Museum Uncovered

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Except for the odd footprint and the few remnants of Turkish cigarette butts, Agatha Christie rarely gave us a murder mystery that wasn’t driven by the basic human nature of people. She once said, “Every murderer is probably somebody’s old friend” which makes me think that criminals do, in fact, exist among us and could potentially be one of us. More than that, a sensationalised crime sparks the curiosity of the general public and soon we’re all hooked to our tellies or furiously scrolling down our screens looking for the latest update on the current case gripping the nation. Human nature, then, has a natural tendency to be fascinated by the macabre.

And for lovers of all things grim and grisly, the perfect getaway would definitely be the Museum of London’s The Crime Museum Uncovered exhibition. For the first time ever, secret files and original evidence from the Metropolitan Police‘s Crime Museum are on display for the general public and every major case from the 1870s  till the present day can be explored in detail.

Leena, Marco and I had pre booked our tickets and I am glad we did because it was packed! At 10am on Saturday morning, there was already a long line waiting to get into the exhibition when we arrived. Turns out crime lovers aren’t a minority; everyone loves a good mystery! After checking in, we were greeted by a snazzy Rover 827 (1996) after which we started our dissent into the 1800’s which saw the birth of the Metropolitan Police Act, the The Police Museum in 1875 and the Criminal Investigation Department (C.I.D.) in 1878.

Early Police Museum illustration ILN 1883

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

After placing the origins of the Met Police and the museum firmly in history, we moved on to the juicy murders, some of which are still quite famous today. The Jack the Ripper case was explored through the display of warning posters that were put up in Whitechapel when this killer was on the loose, courtroom sketches of suspects and an appeal for information on “Jack”:

Jack the Ripper appeal for information poster issued by Metropolitan Police, following the ‘Dear Boss’ letter sent to the Central News Agency, 1888. Reads: “Metropolitan Police…Facsimilie of Letter and Post Card received by Central News Agency…Any person recognising the handwriting is requested to communicate with the nearest Police Station.”

The deeper we got into the exhibition, the more detailed were the displays of crime; police profiles of criminals were papered under a glass table and more courtroom sketches covered the walls:

Handwritten criminal record card for Arthur James Woodbine, aged 12, 1896.

William Hartley courtroom illustration of Amelia Sachs and Annie Walters on trial for baby farming, 1903.

Evidence in the form of pocket blades, buttons, textiles and locks of hair were labelled under glass cases:

A curious pin-cushion embroidered with human hair (yes, you read that right) by Annie Parker, a woman who, in her tragically short life, was arrested over 400 times for alcohol-related offences (1879).

And an entire cabinet was dedicated to a row of nooses that were used in actual hangings like the ones below:

Capital Punishment: Execution ropes, 19th and 20th Century

It is an incredibly vast exhibition and you only discover the sheer scale of it once you’re standing in front of this glass case and you look to your left and realise that it is only now that the truly gruesome nature of humans is about to come to light. Crimes from 1905 to present day are explored in the next room and as you move along the timeline, it is clearly evident how crime, detection and punishment has changed throughout the course of the last century.

I won’t give too much away as this is something one really must experience on their own but I will share a few trailers:

Ronnie and Reggie Kray: Briefcase with syringe and posion intended for use against a witness at the Old Bailey (never used), 1968.

Leslie Stone shoe prints recovered by police from murder scene of Ruby Keen, 1937.

Murder bag: a forensics kit used by detectives attending crime scenes.

Medical implements and drugs used in administering illegal abortions, seized by Metropolitan Police, 20th century.

The exhibit also includes a look into robbery, espionage, drugs and terrorism. Most of these cases you will recognise instantly like The Great Train Robbery, Ruth Ellis, the 7/7 bombings of London and the Kray case but apart from the great public interest in these crimes both then and now, it is important to note how they affected the lives of the victims and their families and friends. The showcasing of these gruesome stories is both an education in the the human psyche and their actions as well as a tribute to all the lives lost and those that suffered these losses.

A meticulously curated exhibition, The Crime Museum Uncovered is an absolute must see! It is open to the public till April 10, 2016 after which the archives will be locked up once again. You can book tickets in advance (and I would strongly recommend as it is an unusually popular exhibition) on their website. The museum has extended opening hours to midnight on four evenings in April due to its popularity so try not to miss it and as usual, we would love to hear your thoughts on it on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or in the comments below.

And just in case it all gets too overwhelming, once you’re done at the museum, pop around the corner from Barbican station to Florin Court to catch a glimpse of Poirot’s Whitehaven Mansions (unfortunately he wasn’t home when we went but let us know if you spot him)!

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*All images for the Crime Museum Uncovered have been used by the express permission of The Museum of London and are credited to them.*

-SS-

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One thought on “The Crime Museum Uncovered

  1. Interesting. Goes well strangely with the history of criminal profiling that I had looked up. (See Alan sekulla’s “the body and the archive”)

    Like

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