If you’re here because of the True Crime article on the soap-maker of Correggio, welcome (and thanks for clicking over)! I like true crime too, and I’ve visited quite a few police and medical museums over the years, because I’m never happier than when looking at jars of organs, or famous crime-scene memorabilia! I’ve linked to a couple of those places in the next paragraph, but you may also enjoy my posts on the Cleveland Police Museum (they’ve got reconstructions of the heads of some of the victims of the notorious “Torso Murderer”), the Gordon Museum of Pathology, the Mansfield Reformatory (where The Shawshank Redemption was filmed), and the Siriraj Medical Museum in Thailand, which has actual pickled serial killers on display (sadly not pictured in the post). And now I’ll shut up and let you get on with the Criminology Museum post that you’ve presumably clicked over to see!
Regular readers likely won’t be surprised to hear that I hightailed it over to the Criminology Museum in Rome shortly after arriving there for a long weekend (yes, I know I’m weird, but it was my third trip to Rome, so I’d already seen most of the ruins and junk). Though I really did enjoy the City of London Police Museum, I’m still completely puzzled as to why British police museums seem to think the British public have such delicate sensibilities. Much like the wonderfully gory Danish Police Museum, the Italians were not afraid to put the nastier side of humanity on show. I couldn’t tell you exactly where the museum is, as I walked about a million miles that weekend and have no sense of direction anyway, but I will helpfully note that it is closed on Sundays and Mondays, and open from 9-1 on the other days (and I think reopens after a siesta break on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 2:30-6:30). Admission is 2 euro, which is a bargain by Roman standards, and because it is not in a touristy area, there are no beggars or street pedlars to contend with, which was probably the best part of all (and one of the few times we’d be free of them all weekend)!
Although the museum was primarily in Italian, the curators had a clear understanding of human nature, and thus had the foresight to put English captions on the torture devices and stories of serial killers (which is obviously what everyone comes to see). The section on torture and execution was right at the start of the museum, and contained a mix of the standard, well-documented punishments (pillory, stocks, etc), and the fanciful (an iron maiden, which has pretty much been proven to be a Georgian fabrication, though the museum display didn’t reflect this). My favourite part was the miniatures of methods of execution, which had been made by prisoners in the early 20th century. They managed to combine the adorableness of tiny things with the hideous gruesomeness of medieval punishments; at least, I was certainly impressed (I mean, I never expected to “awww” over a man being ripped apart by horses, but if you overlook the bloody man lying spread-eagle in the centre, it’s awfully cute).
Moving on through the hall of torture devices, we came to the room of executions, which held a few early guillotines and a gibbet with a skeleton still hanging in it (according the the caption, it was the remains of a deserter in the British Army, but I think most of the signage in the museum has to be taken with a grain of salt, if the iron maiden is anything to go by). As you might expect from a predominately Catholic country, there was a whole elaborate ritual surrounding executions in Italy, which involved a “comforter” who would provide religious solace to the condemned. Unfortunately, their outfit included a Klan style hood (you may have seen people wearing them in the religious procession in The Godfather II), which is scarcely comforting, though I suppose if I knew I was going to be executed later that day, I’d be well past the point of consoling anyway. The comforter would follow the prisoner’s cart to the place of execution whilst bearing a large crucifix, and then offer the prisoner a final drink from a special cup, whilst priests would try to solicit donations from the crowd (for the church, presumably, as the condemned man wasn’t going to get much benefit from them!).
Lord Byron and Charles Dickens both witnessed Italian executions in the 19th century, and were horrified by the gruesome and barbaric nature of the events (Dickens more so than Byron, as the latter seemed to have a certain appreciation for the pomp of the ceremony surrounding it). Although Italy abolished capital punishment in 1948, the artefacts here serve as a grim reminder of that period in Italian history (and incidentally, that picture at the start of the post is a death mask of a hanged man, which was obviously not a great way to go, though relative to some of the other methods available, not that horrific).
The floor above this was mostly about the Italian police, and was primarily only in Italian, though there were some cracking pictures (although I’m not exactly sure what they were portraying. Policemen doing their job despite dramatic events, I guess.). They included some examples of the uniforms prisoners would have worn, which were stylishly stripey, and surprisingly jaunty. I don’t know who the man shown below is, but his picture made me laugh.
There also appeared to be a display on the ways criminals could be identified, with an analysis of types of nose and ear shapes. There was also a random human ear inside glass, no idea who it belonged to or why it was there!
There was a pretty fantastic gallery at the end of the hall showing counterfeit objects confiscated by the police. A lot of them were mock Etruscan jugs, some of which may have been used for bootlegging (the signs were a little confusing), but the best part were the forged paintings. I’m not into modern art, so I don’t know if these paintings actually looked like the ones they were meant to be imitating, but even if they did, they were so ugly I can’t imagine why anyone would want to buy them in the first place! The most hilarious thing had to be a fake Michael Bolton CD; why would you even bother counterfeiting such a thing?
The second floor had pictures of Italy’s most notorious serial killers. The English signs resumed here, so I was a very happy camper. Most of the featured killers were women, and the most interesting had to be the Correggio Soap Maker. She’d evidently had quite a hard life; ten of her children had died in infancy, and she had four surviving children – the eldest was about to join the army at the outbreak of WWII. So she thought she should make a sacrifice to try to keep him safe. She invited three women she’d known in her hometown to come stay with her (at different times), and then systematically killed them all with an axe. One of them she dissolved in acid, and saved the blood to bake into a cake, which she fed to neighbours and family. The last one was boiled down, and she turned the fat into the “most acceptable creamy soap,” thus giving her the Soap Maker alias. She was eventually caught, and put in an insane asylum where she later died.
There were a few other stories of murder like that, though the Soap-Maker’s was the most graphic. The museum concluded with a tour through the 20th century history of fascists and anarchists, and featured a few more little items that had been created by modern prisoners, including the devil head and sexy handkerchief shown below.
The museum was on par with the Danish Police Museum in terms of grisliness – the Danish Museum may have had more shocking pictures, but the Roman Museum had at least some English, so you could actually read some of the fascinating accounts of crime and murder. I was very pleased with the large size of the museum for the price, and would recommend it to those visiting Rome who need a break from all the crowds around the main tourist sites! The only complaint I have is that I wish that everything could have had an English translation, but I was ultimately grateful that they had any at all. 4/5