Miami's Criminal Past on Display

Sunshine State crime is the theme for a new exhibit at the Museum of Southern Florida

It is the dark side of the Sunshine State, or rather what has made Miami famous right after sand, sun, and fun.

From day one crime has been big business in Miami. From the bootleggers to the cocaine cowboys and beyond. Now crime is the centerpiece of a major museum exhibition, which opens tomorrow.

Local historian Paul George surveys the work going on in the exhibit hall of the Museum of Southern Florida. Referring to Museum visitors, George is quick to say, “they are going to see a panorama of crimes and crime related artifacts and it is fabulous.”

Ted Bundy is there, so is Candace Mossler, Meyer Lanskey, Al Capone, Andrew Cunanan,  “Monkey” Morales, and Giuseppe Zangara who almost took out Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

There are still photos and videos of the criminals, cops, G-men and the news reporters that never had to look too hard for a good story.

Museum Curator Jorge Zamanillo said that South Florida residents are fascinated by crime. TV shows like "Miami Vice," "Burn Notice," and "CSI: Miami" add to the lore. The motion picture “Scarface,” which cemented Miami’s glamour with the heavy crime undercurrent.

“In the old days, rum runners had a field day. Because of the vast Florida coastline you could bring liquor in almost anywhere and that translated into the 70’s and 80’s with marijuana and cocaine,” said Zamanillo.  It is colorful history  and nothing much has changed.

There was plenty of material for the museum staff to work with. They received amazing cooperation from state and federal agencies. There are hand cuffs, lie detector machines, guns, knives and, if you are ready for this, a dental impression of serial killer Ted Bundy’s teeth.

“He would bite his victims,” said Jorge Zamanillo, “they did a plaster cast of his bite marks with his teeth.” That bit of evidence helped send Ted Bundy to Death Row and eventual execution.

The exhibit, which runs through the end of August, features a number of interactive opportunities for museum visitors. There is a mock up crime scene where you can gather evidence and take it to a lab for analysis.

As an added bonus, the courtroom artwork of Shirley Henderson hangs in the lobby of the Museum. An accomplished artist, Henderson has used her ability to sketch courtroom scenes to provide pictures for newspaper and television reports.  Especially interesting is her portrayal of the General Manuel Noriega trail. 

Judge Scott Silverman, one of the founders of the 11th Judicial Circuit Historical Society and a force behind the exibit, told a Miami Herald reporter, “What the exhibit will try to do is capture Miami’s crime history during the last century to today and see how it’s impacted the people of this community, in the past, and in the future.”

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