Frocks from films
Set up to train police and forensic officers, the Crime Museum and its cases have stayed shut to the public. But now it is opening its doors to reveal the grim secrets behind Britain’s most notorious crimes, writes Sam Rogg
The Great Train Robbery. Jack the Ripper. The Millennium Dome diamond heist. Dr Crippen. The Portland Soviet Spy Ring. They could all be names for the latest Hollywood blockbuster to grace our screens. But there is nothing fictional about these titles – these are the names given to some of the UK’s most historic and notorious crimes. What happens to the materials gathered in these cases once they’re closed has been something of a mystery, until now. As the Museum of London’s latest exhibition reveals, there is a hidden Crime Museum in the capital and, for the first time ever, the public are being invited inside.
Set up in 1875 with the sole purpose of training police officers, the Crime Museum has been tracing the changing nature of crime and the advances in detection ever since. In The Crime Museum Uncovered (from 9 Oct), visitors can get up close to never-before-seen-objects from this London police collection, including a published memoir containing handwritten notes by Donald Swanson, who was the senior investigating officer on the Jack the Ripper case in the late 1880s.
Among the fascinating displays are microdots – tiny discs of text – containing secret messages and a microdot reader found in Mrs Kroger’s handbag when she was arrested for her involvement in the Portland Soviet Spy Ring in 1961. There’s the violin, tools, false arm and folding ladder used by 19th-century murderer and cat burglar Charles Peace, who serenaded houses by day and robbed them by night. There’s even a briefcase containing a syringe and poison that belonged to two of London’s most notorious gangsters, the Kray twins, who, while they were involved in robberies, arson attacks and assaults, mixed with celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland in their day.
See the infamous masks used by the Stratton brothers in 1905 – the first men to be convicted in the UK for murder based on fingerprint evidence – and discover what early counterfeiting and forgery implements looked like. You can also see tools used by the ’acid bath murderer’ John Haigh.
Although chilling at times, The Crime Museum Uncovered is compelling, giving a voice to the real people behind the objects, from the victims and criminals to the police officers who cracked the cases. Take the opportunity to see it now before it is all locked away again.
Clockwise from far left:
Charles Peace’s violin; masks used by the Stratton brothers; Champagne belonging to the Great Train Robbers; forgery and counterfeiting implements
Inset: Crime Museum