Luck ran out for Thomas
Luck ran out for Thomas "Fatty" Walsh at an illegal Florida casino.

Florida Crime Tours and Gallery

Field review by the editors.

Hollywood, Florida

Chris Mancini knows about Florida crime. Since 1980 he's rubbed elbows with hundreds of Sunshine State lawbreakers, mostly as a federal prosecutor, sometimes as a criminal defense attorney. His familiarity with Florida's soft legal underbelly convinced him that tourists and residents were poorly informed about the state's chronic lawlessness, and he began hosting bus tours to Florida crime locations -- partly as a business, mostly to raise public awareness.

Jim Morrison is the loser on this spin of the Wheel of Misfortune.
Jim Morrison is the loser on this spin of the Wheel of Misfortune.

In December 2019 he opened a gallery of crime exhibits in the Florida city of Hollywood -- and immediately ran out of room. "There's not enough space to cover all the crime," Chris said.

Crime in Florida is systemic, Chris explained: powerful lawbreakers are drawn to the state because it tolerates corruption, and their corruption in turn makes Florida attractive to lower-level lowlifes, from con artists to cocaine smugglers to crazed zombies who want to chew your face. "We have more cannibals than any other state in the nation," said Chris. "You want to eat somebody? Come to Florida."

Shackles and billy clubs from a Florida chain gang.
Shackles and billy clubs from a Florida chain gang.

A visit to the gallery begins with a spin of its Wheel of Misfortune, studded with mug shots of Florida celebrity thugs such as O.J. Simpson and Ted Bundy. Most visitors, Chris said, are surprised to learn that Larry King was not only charged with grand larceny in Florida, but that he ran away and hid until the statute of limitations ran out. "He never paid back the money he'd embezzled," said Chris. "The Wheel is a good way to let tourists know they're not in Kansas any more."

Visitors can pose for photos in this replica of Old Sparky, Florida's electric chair.
Visitors can pose for photos in this replica of Old Sparky, Florida's electric chair.

The exhibits in the Crime Gallery have home-made charm, because most of them were made by Chris or people he knows. One photo-op is a replica of Old Sparky, Florida's electric chair, accessorized with blinking Christmas lights, surrounded by jail cell walls papered with FBI wanted posters. The state, said Chris, wouldn't give him the real chair because it still might electrocute people if it runs out of lethal injection drugs. "Florida leads the nation in executions of people who are later proved innocent by DNA evidence," Chris said.

A wall display titled The Evolution of Killing in South Florida features firearms ranging from a flintlock rifle to a stolen CIA mini-bazooka that Orlando Bosch, who hated communists, fired into a Polish ammunition freighter in the Port of Miami. According to Chris, the waterfront only escaped being turned into a blast crater because Bosch's 57mm explosive round was a dud.

Nonviolent but still criminal, a 1950s Southern Bell Telephone Co. switchboard anchors "the case of the clinking brassieres" display, recalling the time that women in the company's coin counting room stole $100,000 in quarters in their bras.

The Miami Police Chicken Squad is a real thing.
The Miami Police Chicken Squad is a real thing.

The two most elaborate exhibits in the gallery are probably a life-size puppet of the bullet-riddled body of mobster Thomas "Fatty" Walsh, sprawled under under a blood-spattered craps table, recreating his assassination in a Coral Gables illegal casino; and a Key West hearse carrying Elena Milagro de Hoyos, "the corpse bride," whose graveyard interment was interrupted by an obsessed lover who stole her body and slept with it for seven years.

"There's never been a place for crime like Florida," said Chris. "A lot of it's so incredibly stupid that it's funny, but it's not funny to people who lose their life savings or their lives." We asked Chris if displays such as the corpse bride might scare away potential visitors. "That's not scary," he said. "That's just weird."

Chris is particularly incensed by the honorees in the Room of Shame. "We've got some doozies," he said, including an infamous Florida "butterfly ballot" voting booth from the 2000 U.S. presidential election; an Enigma cipher machine used by Nazi spies who helped sink hundreds of ships off the Florida coast in World War II; and a shadowbox display mocking the Miami Police Chicken Squad. "We have the only city in the United States with police officers that go out every day with nets and guns just to catch chickens," said Chris.

Chris Mancini welcomes visitors to the Crime Gallery.
Chris Mancini welcomes visitors to the Crime Gallery.

The gallery, although memorable, is merely an offshoot of Chris's real passion: the bus tour. After visiting the exhibits, those who would like a tour are driven to historic local crime locations while watching video segments about Florida lawlessness between stops. The tour, said Chris, is flexible when it comes to duration and destination. "I ask people, 'Where do you want to go? How much time do you have?'" he said. "There's so much crime they can go anywhere."

Chris admits that his dark view of Florida corruption comes from professional experience. The average tourist or resident may not perceive Florida as he does, but that's what motivates him. "Take a look at the big picture; wake up folks! That's what I hope people come away with," he said. "Florida is itself a criminal enterprise. This is not a big shock to the Justice Department. We've always known what's going on."

Florida Crime Tours and Gallery

Address:
115 S. 21st Ave., Hollywood, FL
Directions:
Downtown, on the east side of S. 21st Ave., just south of its intersection with FL-820/Hollywood Blvd, where it meets the FEC tracks.
Hours:
M-Th 11-6, F 11-7, Sa 10-5 (Call to verify)
Phone:
954-300-1063
Admission:
Gallery $12, or $35 for guided gallery tour and bus tour.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
Coppertone Girl Sign, Miami, FL - 12 mi.

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February 18, 2020

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