A Ripper Letter (And More!) From Scotland Yard's Secret Crime Museum

Illustration for article titled A Ripper Letter (And More!) From Scotland Yards Secret Crime Museum

Founded in 1875, Scotland Yard’s Crime Museum (or “Black Museum”) is a trove of objects from notorious cases. It’s used like a reference library, open only to law enforcement and invited guests. But Oct. 9, the Museum of London opens “The Crime Museum Uncovered,” displaying evidence from unforgettable crimes.

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According to the museum’s website:

We’ll unlock real-life case files to take you on an uneasy journey through some of the UK’s most notorious crimes from Dr Crippen to the Krays, the Great Train Robbery to the Millennium Dome diamond heist.

Created with the support of the Metropolitan Police Service and the Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC), the exhibition will consider the changing nature of crime and advances in detection over the last 140 years, as well as the challenges faced in policing the capital, such as terrorism, drugs and rioting.

Giving voice to the real people – victims, perpetrators and police officers – behind these objects we’ll explore the impact of crime, personalising what is so often depersonalised. Confronting how, as a society, we respond when normality is shattered and lives are torn apart, we’ll also be forced to question our enduring fascination with this hidden collection and its stories.

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An article in the Guardian reporting on the exhibit notes that some of the Black Museum’s most high-profile holdings will not be on display, for reasons of sensitivity:

However some of the more notorious objects in the collection were rejected, including the stove and large cooking pots in which Dennis Nilsen boiled down body parts of young men at his London flat in the 1970s and 80s: he was eventually caught when a plumber was called to deal with blocked drains - it turned out the blockage was human flesh.

[Curator Jackie Keily] explained that the exhibition itself, and the objects chosen for display, were agreed following discussions with the Met curators, victims’ representatives and London Policing Ethics Panel, an independent body which advises mayor Boris Johnson.

Not only is Nilsen still alive, serving a life sentence, but it was never established how many men he actually killed. “There are still families with missing loved ones from around that period who must wonder if they fell victim to Nilsen,” Keily said. “We felt it would be wholly inappropriate to display this material.”

Pictured above are personal possessions of the Great Train Robbery gang recovered from their hideout at Leatherslade Farm, 1963. More images follow, for those of us who probably can’t make it to London between October 9 and April 10 to see the exhibit in person.

Illustration for article titled A Ripper Letter (And More!) From Scotland Yards Secret Crime Museum
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Jack the Ripper appeal for information poster issued by the Metropolitan Police, 1888

Illustration for article titled A Ripper Letter (And More!) From Scotland Yards Secret Crime Museum
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Another appeal for information issued by the Metropolitan Police in conjunction with the Jack the Ripper murders, this time displayed by Museum of London Conservator Jon Readman

Illustration for article titled A Ripper Letter (And More!) From Scotland Yards Secret Crime Museum
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“The Acid Bath Murderer:” Objects (including three incriminating gallstones that failed to dissolve) relating to the murder of Mrs. Olive Durand-Deacon by John Haigh, 1949

Illustration for article titled A Ripper Letter (And More!) From Scotland Yards Secret Crime Museum
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“Murder bag:” a forensics kit used by detectives attending crime scenes, c.1946

Illustration for article titled A Ripper Letter (And More!) From Scotland Yards Secret Crime Museum
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Ronnie and Reggie Kray: Briefcase with syringe and poison intended for use against a witness at the Old Bailey (never used), 1968

Illustration for article titled A Ripper Letter (And More!) From Scotland Yards Secret Crime Museum
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Talcum powder tin used to conceal microfilm by the Krogers, members of a Russian spy ring, 1961

Illustration for article titled A Ripper Letter (And More!) From Scotland Yards Secret Crime Museum
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“Execution ropes” used in 19th and 20th century capital punishment cases

Illustration for article titled A Ripper Letter (And More!) From Scotland Yards Secret Crime Museum
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“Alcohol-related offences:” Pin-cushion embroidered with human hair by repeat offender Annie Parker, 1879; according to the BBC, Parker was arrested for being drunk more than 400 times

Illustration for article titled A Ripper Letter (And More!) From Scotland Yards Secret Crime Museum
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Inside the Metropolitan Police’s hidden Crime Museum at New Scotland Yard, 2015

All images ©Museum of London. All objects courtesy of the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum, New Scotland Yard

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DISCUSSION

courthousesteps
Courthouse Steps

About 16 years ago I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the Black Museum after speaking at a seminar for British police at Scotland yard. The display area was very unassuming, just kind of a big room with some display cases, some framed stuff on walls, but a lot of stuff just sitting on tables —I remember one table just had a bunch of knives, machetes and axes that they had taken off of folks over the years, not the sort of thing you would leave out in a public museum, but since it was pretty much only accessible to police and invited guests, then it was probably okay. The noose collection depicted above was displayed very casually, just noting that the custom was to hang someone and then “retire” the noose as a souvenir. Adding to the creepy impact was that the death masks of some of the executed prisoners were displayed right near the nooses, so you could match up the noose with the prisoner it dispatched. I also remember the stove and cooking pots mentioned in the article as being used to boil down body parts, which produced the inevitable jokes about English cooking. Also, plenty of Jack the Ripper stuff, including some of the gorier crime scene photos. A really unique and quirky museum.