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

Where London - - Contents -

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

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