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What Is the National Museum of Crime and Punishment?

By Angie Pollock
Updated May 17, 2024
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The National Museum of Crime and Punishment is an American museum located on 7th Street Northwest in the Penn Quarter area of Washington, D.C. As the name implies, the museum’s primary purpose is providing information on the different aspects of crime and the punishments given for those crimes throughout varying timelines in history. Featured within the museum are several floors of exhibits, interactive displays, and a small television studio. While most of the national museums in Washington, D.C. do not charge for admittance, the National Museum of Crime and Punishment is a for-profit museum co-owned by John Morgan and John Walsh.

Covering three floors and approximately 25,000 square feet (2,323 square meters), the National Museum of Crime and Punishment houses a variety of displays that belonged to some of the most infamous criminals in history. Some of the exhibits and artifacts displayed at the museum include a replica of Al Capone’s jail cell, the .44 caliber Schofield gun owned by Wyatt Earp, and a letter written by convicted killer Charles Manson. The museum also showcases temporary exhibits such as the 1934 Ford Fordor “death car” used in filming the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde and the Volkswagen Bug owned by serial killer Ted Bundy. Bank robber John Dillinger’s 1933 Essex Terraplane, complete with bullet holes, is also on display at the museum.

Among the exhibits at the museum include a police-driving simulator, crime labs, and a police line-up that allows visitors to have their picture taken in a simulated line-up. The crime labs, which change periodically, provide visitors with an in-depth look at the job of forensic investigators. Examining forensic documents, blood and DNA, and body decomposition are just a few of the interactive programs available to visitors. The museum provides recreated crime scenes and a CSI lab that represents those experienced and used by professional crime scene investigators.

While touring the National Museum of Crime and Punishment, visitors can view the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) Most Wanted list or partake in FBI firearms training. Popular areas of the museum for children include McGruff the Crime Dog and the child fingerprinting station. Upon leaving the museum, visitors are welcomed into the museum’s gift shop where a variety of crime-related merchandise can be purchased.

The museum is notably known for its bottom-floor movie studio where filming of America’s Most Wanted takes place. Hosted by the museum’s co-owner John Walsh, America’s Most Wanted first aired in 1988 and began filming at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment after it opened in 2008. Benches are provided outside of the studio for visitors to watch filming, or they can tour the inside of the studio during non-filming hours.

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