First crime museum to open

D.C. is a city known for its world-class museums, where one can learn about everything from natural history to modern art. Now, District patrons can also educate themselves about crime.

The Crime and Punishment Museum, which is slated to open in May and co-developed by John Walsh, host of the “America’s Most Wanted” television show, will be the first museum dedicated to the history of American crime.

“There’s no other museum that focuses on just crime and punishment,” said Janine Vaccarello, chief operating officer of the museum. “There’s nothing like this available for anyone to go check out and explore and to feel like they’ve touched history.”

Less than one block from the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro stop, this interactive museum will also be the new home to “America’s Most Wanted.”

Walsh, who is a partner in the museum, laid out three main criteria for the its development: it cannot glorify the criminal, it must show consequence of crime and it must honor fallen heroes of law enforcement.

The museum is made up of five main galleries – the Notorious History of American Crime, Punishment: The Consequence of Crime, Crime Fighting, C.S.I. Experience and America’s Most Wanted, including John Walsh’s personal story.

The museum provides detailed exhibits on the history of crime, ranging from the colonial period, pirates, the Wild West, the Depression, the Mafia and present-day.

Kiosks, which are stationed throughout the museum, are made up of touch-screens and allow visitors to access a myriad of information. Other interactive portions of the museum include vault decoding, a lie detector test, mug shot photos, computer hacking and a simulated FBI shooting range.

Visitors can also play carnival-like games as part of the interactive experience, like the shooting game in the Wild West gallery, at the cost of $2 for ten shots – the only other extraneous charge besides the optional audio tour.

In the crime scene investigation gallery, visitors enter into a murder scene of a messy bed, complete with bullet holes and splattered blood. Throughout the exhibit, each visitor tries to solve the case and will find out at the end of the display if their guess is right.

“I can tell you that I think most people will enjoy the crime scene investigation gallery because that area will be the most interactive,” Vaccarello said.

Vaccarello said the museum will cater to a burgeoning field. She said there has been a rise in interest in the areas of forensic science and criminal justice, which she said was reinforced by the copious internship applications that the museum has received from GW students.

Moses S. Schanfield, chair of GW’s forensic science department, sits on the Crime and Punishment Museum’s advisory board. He said the new museum will provide a unique forensic study opportunity for students.

“As one of our major concentrations is in forensic investigation, (the museum) is a good place for students to visit,” Schanfield wrote in an e-mail. “Several of our students are also going to be working at the museum and possibly will be doing internships there. Thus, the museum provides additional venues for our students to gather information about forensic science.”

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