The South Florida Crime Museum contains blood encrusted knives, bullet fragments, dioramas, reproductions of real crime scenes, real crime scene photos and other pieces of once crucial evidence from some of the most exciting events in South Florida and U.S. history. We cover both the profound and the mundane — extradition warrants signed by President Herbert Hoover, execution warrants signed by the Governors of Florida, liquor warrants for a neighbor’s garage and jail sentences of two hours for playing “bolita” — the Cuban street lottery.
Lie detectors, alcohol measuring devices both real and phony along with new and old fingerprinting techniques – all of varying effectiveness. Come spin the South Florida Wheel of Misfortune! It features the mug shots of the unlucky both famous and infamous to accompany our Wall of Shame.
The history behind these true crime exhibits are explained via videos and photographs on our museum wall monitors or bus tours. The idea that a man of the cloth could be put to death without a trial by jury would outrage the public today, but that is one of the many true stories about South Florida in the 1930’s. This was, after all, the era of the Ku Klux Klan, the Great Depression and Prohibition, when you could literally get away with murder, when poll taxes could buy an election and when the crimes of adultery and homosexuality could land you on a prison chain gang.
Chaining white and black prisoners together was against the law along with whites teaching blacks or blacks teaching whites or both races occupying the same room at night. Insulting a teacher in front of her students or selling sugar substitutes or margarine could land you in the county jail. This was the era when questioning a woman’s chastity or questioning the solvency of a bank could do the same, when illegal steamboat racing was banned alongside horse trading gypsies and going bowling on a Sunday.
In the age of Prohibition, however, it was not illegal for a police officer to search your home without a warrant if they suspected liquor was being stored there. The museum starts with the first known act of bioterrorism – the murder of native American tribes by Spanish Conquistadors who presented them with yellow fever infected blankets as “gifts.” Take a walk through the era of the Cuban bombers, the Cocaine Cowboys right up to the Ponzi schemers like Bernie Madoff and Scott Rothstein of today.
When the saw grass blooms in South Florida so does racism, gambling, prostitution, public corruption and the photographs, videos and exhibits that fill our museum’s walls.