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Dillinger Death Mask
Dillinger Original Death Mask and Hair.

The Crime Museum (Closed)

Field review by the editors.

Washington, DC

The purpose of The Crime Museum (formerly The National Museum Of Crime And Punishment) is to glorify crime-fighters, not criminals. Still, looking at J. Edgar Hoover's badge (a featured display) isn't nearly as interesting as looking at an exact replica of Al Capone's jail cell, or Bonnie and Clyde's bullet-riddled movie death car, or John Dillinger's bullet-proof car, which has a place of honor in the Museum lobby.

"That car was found by accident in a wrecking yard," said Ken Holmes, owner of the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum, and an authority on gangsterabilia. "When they took off the car's door panels, they found bullets that had been fired into it.'

The museum also has Dillinger's death mask on display. As for more recent criminals, the museum offers an exhibit of a serial killer's typewriter, although there's some confusion as to whether it belonged to John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer. There is, however, no doubt that the two clown suits on display belonged Gacy, in his alter-ego as "Pogo the Clown."

Dillinger car.
Dillinger's bullet-proof car.

What's stressed here is the "Punishment" aspect, as in crime-does-not-pay. Visitors can stick their heads through colonial stocks for a photo op and marvel at a replica gas chamber and guillotine. They can also see Tennessee's real electric chair. "It was real difficult to find one," said Janine Vaccarello, COO of the museum, who was genuinely surprised that an electric chair is difficult to purchase. The guillotine was supposed to be real as well, imported from Italy, "but we couldn't get it through customs."

The Museum has many interactive exhibits designed to delight a video-centric clientele. Simulators of an FBI firing range and of a high-speed police pursuit chase appeal to the young, while criminal wanna-be moms and dads can try to crack a safe, fool a lie detector, or participate in a police lineup. A "CSI experience" lets you witness a murder and then visit the morgue, where you can examine a simulated body on a medical examiner's table. "You can touch and feel everything," Janine said. "The wounds match the crime."

The basement of the three-story museum houses a TV studio, where an episode of America's Most Wanted will be taped at least once a month. According to Janine, show host John Walsh agreed to participate only because he believes the museum to have dignity and integrity.

In 2013 the attraction shortened its name to from The National Museum Of Crime And Punishment to The Crime Museum. Apparently the merits of brevity won out over inclusiveness and posturing, and it was felt that people would be more attracted to a Crime Museum than a Punishment Museum.

Update: John Dillinger's car has been replaced in the museum by serial killer Ted Bundy's Volkswagen Beetle. Its dorky appearance was sometimes used by Bundy to lure his victims close enough so that he could whack them with a crowbar (not included in the display).

Also see: Bonnie, Clyde, and Other Death Cars

The Crime Museum

Downtown, just north of the Mall. From New York Ave. or Constitution Ave. turn onto 7th St. NW. The Museum is at #575, between E and F Sts.
Closed Sep. 30, 2015. (Call to verify)

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