Nestled in a parade of shops and cafes on the Hastings seafront sits a little museum with some dark stories to tell. Murderers disposing of bodies in acid baths, what kind of shoes football hooligans wore and the kind of symptoms produced by various poisons just scratch the surface of the grisly and despicable side of human nature explored by the True Crime Museum.
Also, if you’re into that kind of thing, there are some gruesome examples of the notorious Museum Mannequin on display too.
The caves that house the museum are atmospheric, the scene is already unsettling, and the hairs on the back of my neck were already raised before I came in contact with any of the artefacts on display. As I felt a cold draught and the moistness of the stone walls, I couldn’t help but think, “Is this really the best place for a museum?”
Yes, the museum-worker in me started to come out almost immediately. “How do they keep their collection in a good condition?” I wondered. It wasn’t long until I came upon something that helped explain how the museum tackles this issue. Inside a cabinet which housed a blouse belonging to a notorious baby-farmer, there was a notice which read:
“Some authenticating documents, auction receipts, letters of sale, and other valuable print items can get damp in the True Crime Museum’s caves. Check the website for updates on the provenance of all our exhibits.”
A sigh of relief, they were thinking about collection conservation after all!
Now the worry about how the collection is cared for is over, let’s start exploring what I learned at the True Crime Museum.
First things first, I didn’t learn how to get away with anything, meddling kids or no. Instead, each case, each exhibit acted as a mini case study. Here a section on the Krays (they seem to pop up everywhere crime is discussed) and there a section on a local murderer, somewhere else, a case on concealed weapons.
The Kray display, beyond rhyming quite nicely when described like that, was particularly interesting. Alongside various artefacts, the museum published (anonymised) visitors opinions on the twins. Standing next to words like “thugs” and bullies” were words like “legend” and respect for “gangsters of the old school.”
I still find it bizarre how easily people can romanticise criminals and cast them in a heroic light.
The Krays weren’t the only Big Name Criminals to be represented, the Great Train Robbers were explored too.
The more ‘everyday’ kind of crime and criminal, like the football hooligan were much more fascinating than grisly murder after grisly murder. However, for me, the museum was at its strongest when discussing more local issues, like a killer doctor who was active in Eastbourne in the 1950s, or when the building that now houses the museum made the front page of the newspaper.
A book on chemistry inscribed to the doctor, as well as his monogrammed doctor’s bag packed a more powerful punch than some recreations of skulls and a text panel telling me about a vicious double homicide in the USA.
The nails on the bottom of a heavy boot in the shape of West Ham United’s twin hammers left a lasting impression, as did the story of Transport Police having to stop and check the soles of people’s shoes.
I mentioned this to the chatty guy on the front desk on my way out, and we happily discussed all the sensitivities around displays like that – yes local stories are interesting, but you have to bear in mind the victims and their families. Naturally this brought us around to discussing the Crime Museum Uncovered exhibition at the Museum of London, and their tactic on dealing with this particular issue.
Oh, and by the way, the mannequins are *terrifying* and the demonstration on how Luminol works is enough to give you nightmares.
The True Crime Museum is located on Hastings seafront, and an adult ticket is £7.50