Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Scene of the Crime: LAPD's Most Famous Exhibit

by Cathy Scott

Los Angeles Police Department authorities recently put on a show--the LAPD's Homicide Exhibit at the California Homicide Investigators Association conference in Las Vegas. And the community came out in droves to view the two-day "Famous Crime Scenes Exhibit."

It offered a unique behind-the-scenes look at the evidence police gather at crime scenes. Police cases ran the gamut from robberies, murders, serial killings, bank hold-ups, high-speed pursuits and hostage situations.

LAPD Homicide Detective Dennis Kilcoyne explained the reasoning behind making an exhibit and taking it on the road.

"Homicide investigators very rarely invite people under the crime scene tape and into the murder scene; this may be as close as some will ever get," he said, to seeing the scene as a detective would.

And so it was for the thousands who stood in line for up to an hour and a half to get in. The evidence of L.A.’s gritty past was more than sobering.

A respectful silence fell over the room as viewers quietly filed in, one by one, during the tour. They looked at evidence, photos, videos, get-away cars, weapons, documents, and autopsy photos. Included was evidence from the Black Dahlia case and Hollywood mob-era contract hits, all on loan from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office and LAPD’s evidence vaults.

It showed evidence from the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, who in 1994 was killed after she was repeatedly and brutally stabbed, along with Ron Goldman, in the courtyard of her Brentwood townhouse courtyard. It was almost chilling to see the bloody leather gloves, displayed behind glass, that were made infamous when suspect O.J. Simpson tried on the gloves in court and struggled to get them over his hands.

There were a bullet-riddled police car and similarly ventilated
suspect get-away auto from the notorious North Hollywood bank robbery and shootout.

But perhaps most grisly were evidence and photos from the ritualistic killing at a Benedict Canyon mansion where Charles Manson’s followers murdered five people, included pregnant including pregnant actress Sharon Tate, in the summer of 1969.

Still, it was the Robert F. Kennedy assassination display that seemed to stop people in their tracks. On display was the revolver used to cut down Kennedy in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel on a June night in 1968.

I toured the site of the killing not long before the historic Ambassador Hotel was razed in 2005 so a public school could be built in its place.

Linda Deutsch, longtime special court correspondent for The Associated Press, led the media tour to some of Los Angeles's more notorious crime scenes. We were taken inside the hotel to the upstairs ballroom where the presidential candidate gave a short speech. We walked the path Kennedy took from the ballroom to the kitchen’s pantry area, where he was gunned down at point-blank range.

The Kennedy evidence exhibit led to controversy. Robert Kennedy’s son protested when he learned it included the torn and bloody shirt, tie and jacket his father was wearing when he was assassinated. Maxwell Taylor Kennedy expressed outrage that his father’s clothing was transported across state lines, from California to Nevada, to be publicly exhibited in Las Vegas.

Maxwell Kennedy said he was particularly bothered that his family was denied possession of those items when they requested them. The younger Kennedy's protests made national news that night, after the first day the public was allowed to see it. The next morning, people waited in a line that wrapped around the interior of the Palms casino, where the exhibit was set up in a conference room.

"My request was refused by the district attorney's office," Maxwell Taylor Kennedy told the media. "The District Attorney promised, though, to keep the personal items with care and out of public view."

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck issued a public statement and an apology: "The last thing we want to do is to traumatize a victim's family, and I am very sensitive to that. But at the same time, we want to preserve the history of the city of Los Angeles and improve the quality and understanding about our homicide investigations."

The LAPD pulled the shirt, tie and jacket from the exhibit after the first day.

Based on the response from a member of the Kennedy clan, it is doubtful the displays will go on tour again anytime soon, making the exhibit in Las Vegas a one-time-only viewing.

Photos by Cathy Scott

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