7 Crime and Punishment Museums Around the World

Jeremy Thompson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Jeremy Thompson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The only thing in the world as ubiquitous as crime is our fascination with it. From novels to TV shows to podcasts, we can’t seem to get enough of humanity’s worst side. And there’s no better way to dive into the underworld than through one of the many museums dedicated to it. Here are seven museums dedicated to the violent, morbid, and occasionally heroic on display at home and around the world.

1. VANCOUVER POLICE MUSEUM & ARCHIVES // VANCOUVER, B.C., CANADA

A view of the former morgue at the Vancouver Police Museum
Kenny Louie, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Located in a former coroner’s office and morgue, the Vancouver Police Museum & Archives offers an unblinking look at over 100 years of crime and its consequences in the Canadian city. Beyond the autopsy table and chalkboard for organ weights, the museum comprises several in-depth exhibits showcasing weapons, sketches, and actual forensic evidence from some of the area’s most infamous crimes, including the Babes in the Woods case and the Milkshake Murders. You can also go mobile with one of the museum’s Sins of the City walking tours, which explore the seedier sides of Vancouver's historic districts through the lens of corruption, prostitution, and bootlegging. All walking tours come with free admission to the museum.

2. THE MOB MUSEUM // LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, UNITED STATES

A general view of a Las Vegas-themed room at The Mob Museum
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

“All the dirt. All in one place.” Where else but Las Vegas would you find a museum with such a titillating tagline? The Mob Museum, housed in a former post office and courthouse, offers four floors of wise-guy-related history. From a basement distillery that produces moonshine in real time to a gallery of spy tech to a look at the current state of mafioso affairs, this museum takes visitors on a grand tour of the organized underworld. Special events like panel discussions and book signings are held fairly regularly, and guided tours are available for groups.

3. MEDIEVAL CRIME AND JUSTICE MUSEUM // ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER, GERMANY

The exterior of the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum in Rothenburg
MarcelBuehner, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

Located in a 600-year-old building in the Bavarian town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum is a monument to 1000 years of European jurisprudence—and some of it’s not so pretty. About 50,000 artifacts, including legal texts, illustrations, torture devices, and a few truly unsettling dioramas, guide visitors through the myriad ways in which the legal system infiltrated daily life. From witch trials to execution devices to public humiliation (look for the Schandflöte, or "shame flute," inflicted upon offensive musicians), there’s plenty to educate and disturb. Guided tours are available in German and English and require pre-booking.

4. CIA MUSEUM // MCLEAN, VIRGINIA, UNITED STATES

Unfortunately, the CIA Museum, located at CIA headquarters, is not open to the public, but if you happen to have a contact on the inside, or catch one of their fairly regular external exhibitions, or peruse their extensive online collection, you’ll be treated to several decades’ worth of espionage, history, and spycraft. Among the 200-plus items included in the online collection are false ears used in disguises, unmanned vehicles the size and shape of dragonflies, propaganda leaflets, hollow coins, and pigeon cameras. Less sexy but equally interesting exhibits include presidential communications and photos of CIA aircraft. Each item comes with a story and many are linked to related artifacts, for a more holistic spy experience.

5. JUSTICE AND POLICE MUSEUM // SYDNEY, NSW, AUSTRALIA

The most family-friendly museum on this list, the Justice and Police Museum in Sydney, Australia, offers visitors the chance to be part of mock trials or have their mugshots taken. Young crime-fighters (or villains in training) can also solve crimes or plan prison breaks, have their fingerprints taken, and crack a safe. In case that feels too wholesome, there are adults-only exhibits that examine murder, inner-city crime, and the seedier side of the land down under. Check the museum’s website if you plan to visit, as some exhibits and programs are weekends only.

6. MUSEUM OF RESCUED ART TREASURES // BREST, BELARUS

Opened at the end of the Soviet era, the Museum of Rescued Art Treasures, also known as the Museum of Confiscated Art, is a testament to human ingenuity—on both the light and dark sides. The building houses more than 300 pieces of art, including Russian iconography dating back to the 16th century, porcelain and jade items, and china. The eclectic collection comes courtesy of art smugglers who used the chaos during the fall of the USSR to move priceless pieces across borders. Brest became a prime transfer point, and smugglers got creative; one of the exhibits is a set of antique furniture that was found hidden in containers of powdered milk. As customs officials got better at sniffing out these hidden treasures, the museum sprang up as a way to restore, house, and display them. According to amateur genealogical research organization the Brest-Belarus Group, this is the only museum of its kind in what was once the USSR.

7. CRIME MUSEUM AT SCOTLAND YARD // LONDON, UK

Jack the Ripper appeal for information poster issued by Metropolitan Police, 1888
Jack the Ripper appeal for information poster issued by Metropolitan Police, 1888
Museum of London

Perhaps the most fascinating museum on our list, the Crime Museum at Scotland Yard is also the most maddening. Also known as the Black Museum, this vast archive of artifacts from some of London’s most infamous cases is closed to the public. Founded in the mid-1870s by one Inspector Neame of the Metropolitan Police force, the collection of prisoner property was originally intended to be used in the instruction of recruits, but it soon garnered the attention of other members of law enforcement and the public at large. While certain celebrities like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini were granted access, the general masses (and the media) were denied that privilege. In 1890, the Metropolitan Police moved to their new headquarters, New Scotland Yard, and the museum went for the ride. Over the years the collection has grown and now contains murder weapons, explosives, counterfeiting tools, death masks, and personal property or evidence from famous cases such as Jack the Ripper, Dr. Crippen, and the Kray twins, along with details about the impact these cases had on the British criminal justice system. For one brief, shining moment in the fall of 2015, the museum opened up several of its exhibits for public viewing, but has since shut its doors once more, leaving us outside, gently salivating.

Turn Your LEGO Bricks Into a Drone With the Flybrix Drone Kit

Flyxbrix/FatBrain
Flyxbrix/FatBrain

Now more than ever, it’s important to have a good hobby. Of course, a lot of people—maybe even you—have been obsessed with learning TikTok dances and baking sourdough bread for the last few months, but those hobbies can wear out their welcome pretty fast. So if you or someone you love is looking for something that’s a little more intellectually stimulating, you need to check out the Flybrix LEGO drone kit from Fat Brain Toys.

What is a Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit?

The Flybrix drone kit lets you build your own drones out of LEGO bricks and fly them around your house using your smartphone as a remote control (via Bluetooth). The kit itself comes with absolutely everything you need to start flying almost immediately, including a bag of 56-plus LEGO bricks, a LEGO figure pilot, eight quick-connect motors, eight propellers, a propeller wrench, a pre-programmed Flybrix flight board PCB, a USB data cord, a LiPo battery, and a USB LiPo battery charger. All you’ll have to do is download the Flybrix Configuration Software, the Bluetooth Flight Control App, and access online instructions and tutorials.

Experiment with your own designs.

The Flybrix LEGO drone kit is specifically designed to promote exploration and experimentation. All the components are tough and can totally withstand a few crash landings, so you can build and rebuild your own drones until you come up with the perfect design. Then you can do it all again. Try different motor arrangements, add your own LEGO bricks, experiment with different shapes—this kit is a wannabe engineer’s dream.

For the more advanced STEM learners out there, Flybrix lets you experiment with coding and block-based coding. It uses an arduino-based hackable circuit board, and the Flybrix app has advanced features that let you try your hand at software design.

Who is the Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit for?

Flybrix is a really fun way to introduce a number of core STEM concepts, which makes it ideal for kids—and technically, that’s who it was designed for. But because engineering and coding can get a little complicated, the recommended age for independent experimentation is 13 and up. However, kids younger than 13 can certainly work on Flybrix drones with the help of their parents. In fact, it actually makes a fantastic family hobby.

Ready to start building your own LEGO drones? Click here to order your Flybrix kit today for $198.

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When Al Capone Ran a Soup Kitchen During the Great Depression

Al Capone: Public Enemy #1, soup kitchen proprietor
Al Capone: Public Enemy #1, soup kitchen proprietor
The Paris Bureau of The New York Times, National Archives and Records Administration // Public Domain

Four years after gangster Al Capone took over Chicago’s leading crime syndicate, he had raked in over $40 million—around $550 million today. The money came from illegally selling booze during Prohibition; bottles were distributed to more than 10,000 speakeasies and brothels in a vast bootlegging network across the Midwest.

Capone’s alcohol distribution was unlawful, but to many Americans, the man’s work was heroic. He claimed he was just a businessman giving the people what they wanted—and what the people wanted more than anything in the 1920s was liquor.

But Capone’s role as an Italian-American Robin Hood didn’t stop there. As he orchestrated criminal activities behind the scenes, Capone simultaneously launched a program to provide milk to Chicago school children and donated huge sums to local charities.

It was the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, however, that spurred Capone to his greatest work of philanthropy. Almost overnight, the American economy collapsed into the Great Depression. Banks failed, businesses shuttered, and millions were suddenly unemployed and hungry. Hundreds of soup kitchens popped up around the country. One of them belonged to Al Capone.

No Questions Asked

Men line up at Al Capone's soup kitchen during the Great Depression
Men line up at Al Capone's soup kitchen during the Great Depression.
The Paris Bureau of The New York Times, National Archives and Records Administration // Public Domain

When Al Capone’s soup kitchen opened at 935 South State Street, in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood, in mid-November 1930, hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans were out of work. By the following year, 624,000 people—or 50 percent of the Chicago workforce—were out of a job.

Capone’s charity had no name, just a sign over the door that advertised “Free Soup, Coffee & Doughnuts for the Unemployed.” Inside, women in white aprons served an average of 2200 people a day with a smile and no questions asked. Breakfast was hot coffee and sweet rolls. Both lunch and dinner consisted of soup and bread. Every 24 hours, diners devoured 350 loaves of bread and 100 dozen rolls. They washed down their meals with 30 pounds of coffee sweetened with 50 pounds of sugar. The whole operation cost $300 per day.

The soup kitchen didn’t advertise its connection to Capone, but the mobster-benefactor’s name was connected to it in stories printed in local newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and The Rock Island Argus. Those who were down on their luck, though, apparently had few qualms about eating from the hand of Chicago’s worst crime boss. Often the line to get in to the kitchen was so long that it wound past the door of the city’s police headquarters, where Capone was considered Public Enemy #1, according to Harper’s Magazine. The line was particularly lengthy when Capone’s soup kitchen hosted a Thanksgiving meal of cranberry sauce and beef stew for 5000 hungry Chicagoans. (Why beef and not turkey? After 1000 turkeys were stolen from a nearby department store, Capone feared he’d be blamed for the theft and made a last-minute menu change.)

Capone's Ulterior Motives

Capone’s efforts to feed Chicago during the darkest days of the Great Depression weren’t entirely altruistic. It wasn’t even originally his idea, but that of his friend and political ally Daniel Serritella, who was elected to the Illinois state senate in 1930. Nor did Capone invest much of his own money into the operation. Instead, Deirdre Bair writes in Capone: His Life, Legacy and Legend, he bribed and extorted other businesses to stock the pantry. In just one example, during Seritella's 1932 trial for conspiring with grocers to cheat customers [PDF], the court discovered that a load of ducks that had been donated to Christmas baskets for the poor ended up in Capone’s soup kitchen instead.

Perhaps more than anything, Capone opened his soup kitchen to get the public back on his side after he was implicated in the 1929 Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. In that murder spree, Capone's associates were believed to have assassinated seven men, five of whom hailed from the rival North Side Gang, inside a Chicago parking garage—though no one was ever prosecuted. Harper’s writer Mary Borden distilled Capone's double-dealing when she described him as “an ambidextrous giant who kills with one hand and feeds with the other.”

Capone’s soup kitchen closed abruptly in April 1932. The proprietors claimed that the kitchen was no longer needed because the economy was picking up, even though the number of unemployed across the country had increased by 4 million between 1931 and 1932. The diners who had attended the kitchen daily were forced to move on to another one.

Two months later, Capone was indicted on 22 counts of income tax evasion; the charges that eventually landed him in San Francisco’s Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Though Capone vowed to reopen his soup kitchen during his trial, its doors stayed shut. By the time he was released from prison in 1939, a raging case of syphilis had rendered Capone mentally and physically incapable of managing his own life, let alone that of Chicago’s once-dominant crime syndicate and the soup kitchen that softened his gangster image.

Capone died in 1947, but his larger-than-life legacy lives on. His soup kitchen wasn’t so lucky. The building became a flophouse, and in 1955, Chicago authorities deemed it a fire hazard and shut it down permanently. Today, only a parking lot remains at the site of Chicago’s most notorious food pantry.