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Monday, 12 November 2018 22:51

On the Lighter Side: ‘Crime Cars’ Featured at Alcatraz East Museum

Written by Larry Edsall, The Journal
Prison-turned-crime museum features six cars with police or criminal history Prison-turned-crime museum features six cars with police or criminal history Alcatraz East Crime Museum photos


An unusual museum has an unusual display of vehicles available for viewing the next time you’re in Pigeon Forge, TN, which has become a road-trip destination of many people since it’s become a Branson-style touring attraction and the home to Dollywood and other entertainment venues.


Pigeon Forge, located between Knoxville and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, is home to the Alcatraz East Crime Museum, housed in the former and fortress-style Tennessee State Prison.


The museum’s exhibits include six “crime cars.”


“So many people love cars of all types, and when they are featured in a historical event, it makes them even more interesting to our visitors,” said Rachael Penman, the museum’s director of artifacts and exhibits. “Guests immediately start sharing their own connections to the cars’ stories, and it’s special to be able to make these artifacts available to the public.”


Four of the vehicles are located within the museum, but two of them are outdoors and can be viewed without even paying admission fees.


The six vehicles are:


• The 1933 Essex Terraplane was owned — not stolen — by John Dillinger, who bought the car new in 1934 and used it to escape with his girlfriend, Evelyn Frechette, from FBI agents. A bullet from a shootout with those agents remains in the car’s interior.


However, the museum notes, “he soon had to abandon the car after crashing in a field, and signed it over to his brother.”


The 1934 Ford V8 used in the 1967 movie "Bonnie and Clyde," starring Warren Beatty and Fay Dunaway. The car is hole-ridden, shot up for the movie production company by local police where the movie was being filmed.

“The ambush scene set new standards for onscreen violence,” the museum notes.


• The 1968 Volkswagen Beetle owned by serial killer Ted Bundy.


“The vehicle was integral to both his murders and his ultimate conviction when it yielded important DNA evidence,” the museum notes. “The car is displayed without the front passenger seat in the same way Bundy used the car.”


• The 1963 Ford Bronco owned by Al Cowlings and the focus of the famed slow-speed car chase with O.J. Simpson in the white SUV.


• A Sevier County Sheriff’s car — a Dodge Charger — purchased in 2007 and used by three members of the sheriff’s office during its nine-year career. The car was retired from service in 2016.


• A government surveillance van used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a Georgia police department.


A display inside the museum gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the cramped quarters law enforcement spends time in during a stakeout, with barely enough room to stand and little privacy to use the toilet. The van was in active criminal investigations, including drug crimes and burglary surveillance.”


“Our Getaway Cars Gallery is a highly popular area of the museum, and for good reason, as most people own cars so they connect with their stories as objects,” Penman said. “Our crime cars each represent a cautionary tale, symbolizing a warning about the consequences of crime, while our law-enforcement vehicles are positive reminders of all law enforcement does every day, both in public and behind-the-scenes, to keep us safe.”


Current temporary exhibits at the museum include “The Second Amendment” and “It Happened Here: Tennessee Crimes & Justice.”


“Old Smokey,” Tennessee’s electric chair, also is on permanent display at the museum, which claims to be “the most arresting crime museum in the United States.”


For more information, visit the museum website.


We thank The Journal for reprint permission.

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