Since 1875, items collected from the UK’s most grisly crime scenes have been kept in a secret room at London’s Scotland Yard, known as the Black Museum. Now, for the first time, some of those items are going on display to the public. Here are a few of the most sinister...
In 1969, it was the longest and most expensive trial the Old Bailey had ever seen. East End gangsters, Ronnie and Reggie Kray, were accused of murdering Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie, a gang member who owed them money, and an associate called George Cornell who’d called Ronnie a ‘fat poof’. The Krays hired the best lawyers money could buy and they tried to intimidate witnesses with a poison syringe inside this brown leather briefcase. All in vain. They were both found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum 30 years.
The plan was simple. Robert Marley would go into the jeweller’s shop that Saturday, 20 October 1856. He’d force the shopkeeper to hand over a load of swag, while on the street outside Robert’s gang would make sure no-one went into the shop. But the shopkeeper Mr Cope, refused – so Marley beat him to death. The gang fled and just Marley was arrested. He was tried for murder and two months on, hanged, in front of an audience. This death mask was made of his face and kept in the Black Museum ever since.
Acid bath killer’s gloves
John Haigh thought he could commit the perfect crime. Each of the victims had been killed for money then dropped into a vat of acid. How could he be convicted of murder if there was no body? But Haigh had been wrong. Investigators did find some human remains – gallstones – that hadn’t dissolved. Haigh was hanged for murder on 10 August 1949. The gloves he’d worn and gallstones of his victims are in the museum.
The year was 1905. Shop-owners Thomas and Ann Farrow found two masked men on the doorstep. Brothers Albert and Alfred Stratton beat Thomas and Ann to death and robbed the shop. Before making a getaway, they left behind their masks, made from women’s opaque stockings. And they also left behind their fingerprints, which identified them as the killers. It was the first time anyone in Britain had been convicted on fingerprint evidence. The brothers had committed their crimes together, and they died together, hanged side-by-side.
In 1815, there were 220 crimes punishable by death. You could be hanged for murder, vandalism, or even for spending time with gypsies. The last public hanging was in 1868. An Irish republican called Michael Barrett was executed for planting a bomb that killed seven people. The last ever hanging was a hundred years later. Gwynne Evans and John West were executed for robbing a man and killing him. In 1969, the death penalty was abolished. These ropes were used to hang criminals in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Forensic science plays a huge part in modern-day crime solving. DNA sequencing, carbon dating, high-speed ballistics photography… But once upon a time, investigators had to rely on old-fashioned kits like this to find their scientific evidence.
It seems even master criminals get indigestion. Among the possessions of train robber Ronnie Biggs on show at the museum is a packet of Andrew’s Liver Salts, along with a bottle of Old Spice. Biggs was part of the gang that carried out the Great Train Robbery in 1963, making off with £2.6 million – about £48 million today. The gang went into hiding, but police later recovered these items from their lair.
The Crime Museum Uncovered exhibition at the Museum of London will run until April 2016.