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15 macabre crime-inspired tours
Gangsters and murderers provide the backdrop for these organized tours
Fight the law, and the law will win (probably … unless you’re a celebrity sportsman). But gawp at others who tried to fight the law and you not only receive an education, you get on the fast track to a glorious sense of righteousness.
From murderous walking trails through Victorian London to mob tours in Chicago, here are 15 excursions through the world’s cities hot on the heels of their most famous criminals.
1. Jack the Ripper Tour, London, England
A series of gruesome, unsolved murders in London's East End in the late 1880s caught the public's imagination -- and still do today, as walking tours around Whitechapel continue to give visitors an insight into Victorian London while exploring the streets where the shadowy figure of Jack the Ripper butchered five prostitutes.
Tour guide Richard Jones is a renowned 'Ripperologist' and his walking tours are said to be second to none.
Jack The Ripper Walks, +44 20 8530 8443 www.jack-the-ripper-walks.com
2. Con Son Prison, Vietnam
Built by the French colonial authorities in Vietnam in the 1860s, the prisons on Con Son island held both male and femald political dissidents.
Today, horribly life-like mannequins show how hundreds of prisoners were shackled together in overcrowded cells. Others were held in the infamous Tiger Cages -- concrete pits in the ground, where guards could walk over metal grids and torture the prisoner from above.
The prisons continued to be used during the American war in Vietnam until 1975. A tour of the island's prisons is an eerie glimpse into the brutality that occurred there.
The Revolutionary Museum and Phu Hai Prison, Con Son Island, Vietnam
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3. Melbourne Crime Tour, Australia
Ever fancied getting inside the head of an inner-city mass murderer? It may be an unusual aspiration, but it's one that is fully satisfied by this four-hour tour of Melbourne's grimiest crime scenes.
Find out where seven people were gunned down in the Hoddle Street massacre of 1987, or get a glimpse of how the city's gangland warfare claimed 30 lives in recent years.
Melbourne Crime Tours, +61 3 8508 9008 (from outside Australia), or 1300 736 551 (within Australia) www.melbournecrimetours.com.au
4. The Real Black Dahlia Crime Bus Tour, Los Angeles, United States
This tour retraces the crime scenes and circumstances surrounding the murder of 22-year-old waitress Elizabeth Short, who was subsequently dubbed by the press as the Black Dahlia.
It's run by Esotouric, a quirky family business that describes the Black Dahlia murder as "The most compelling unsolved crime Los Angeles has ever known."
Short was tortured and murdered in January 1947. Her body was found cut in half at the waist and led to frenzied media coverage, books and films.
Esotouric, +1 323 223 2767 www.esotouric.com
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5. Crimes and Passions Walking Tour in Sydney, Australia
Sydney's historic Kings Cross district is Australia's reputed centre of organized crime as well as the city's red-light district.
But today's seedy façade of adult bookshops and strip clubs hides an even murkier past, including the mysterious murder of outspoken publisher Juanita Nielsen in 1975.
Kings Cross boasts other shady episodes in its history, including a trade in "sly grog" (illegal alcohol) in the early 20th century, while the old concert halls and casinos lend some bohemian glamour to the past life of crime.
Sydney Tours, +1 800 610 1096 www.sydneytours.org
6. Dark Deeds Crime Tours, Wales
Three unsolved crimes in south Wales are presented by true-crime historian Bob Hinton, who promises a tour to "the dark side of human nature."
Whether it's the mysterious murder of the landlord's wife at the Cross Hands Hotel, or the day a butler from Caio went on a killing spree with his master's shotgun, the details and circumstances of each murder are presented, discussed and brought to life on this tour around the towns and countryside of the principality.
But who's guilty? You decide.
Dark Deeds Crime Tours, +44 1554 891789 www.darkdeedswales.com
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7. Dostoyevsky Pub Crawl in St. Petersburg, Russia
One of the most chilling crimes ever to take place in Russian literature -- the impoverished student Raskolnikov's brutal axe-murder of the old pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna -- is the central scene of Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment."
This pub crawl follows the murder route from Raskolnikov's house to the crime scene, taking in some of the atmospheric 19th-century watering holes along the way while discussing the ethics behind the novel's "perfect" crime.
Peter's Walking Tours, +7 812 943 1229 www.peterswalk.com
8. Infamous Third Reich Sites Tour, Berlin, Germany
When it comes to crimes, these are on the largest scale possible -- but where were the atrocities of Nazi Germany orchestrated?
This tour leads you on the trail of the Third Reich -- from the Luftwaffe headquarters to the SS and Gestapo offices and finally arriving at the site of Hitler's bunker. It's now just a very normal car park, but you can still enjoy stamping up and down on the site of an evil dictator's demise.
Original Berlin Walks, +49 30 301 9194 www.berlinwalks.com
9. Blood, Guns and Valentines Crime Tour, Chicago, United States
Modern-day Chicago has a reputation for violent crime, but it's the prohibition era that usually springs to mind when you think of the city's most bloody murders.
This tour takes you from the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929, where Al Capone machine-gunned the rival gang of Bugs Moran, to the sites of other grisly events including the "sausage murder," in which sausage manufacturer Adolph Luetgert killed his wife and dissolved her body in a vat of acid in 1897.
Weird Chicago, +1 888 446 7859 www.weirdchicago.com
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10. Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The site of the torture and murder of more than 17,000 people, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (or S-21) in Phnom Penh is a haunting reminder of the hideous crimes committed by Pol Pot's regime.
The Khmer Rouge transformed the former school building into a human slaughterhouse where classrooms were used to house and beat Pol Pot's victims. Much of the building and grounds have not changed since 1979 and hundreds of photos are on display showing the faces of the people who passed through.
Tuol Sleng Musuem, www.tuolsleng.com
11. Mafia tours in Sicily, Italy
Organized crime in Italy, while attaining near-mythological status through films such as "The Godfather," is still an acute and very real social problem throughout modern Italy.
Sicily Tour works with some prominent anti-mafia campaigners such as Libera to offer bespoke itineraries around Palermo, Corleone and Siracusa, taking visitors to crime sites and film locations. Tours include an overnight stay on the estate of a Mafia boss, now a country bed-and-breakfast.
Sicily Tour, +39 0931 60977 www.sicily-tour.com
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12. The Las Vegas Mob Museums, United States
Las Vegas isn't famous for its museums, but now two have come along at once -- both dedicated to the city's criminal past.
The Mob Experience, which includes mob artifacts, photos and hologram gangsters, opened in March in the Tropicana casino but has been criticized for glamorising crime and violence.
The Mob Museum, or the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, is the brainchild of the city's mayor, Oscar Goodman. Due to open in December 2011, the Mob Museum promises to be an interactive and authentic view of organized crime in America, housed in a federal courthouse.
Will one museum get to be top dog in Vegas?
The Mob Experience, +1 702 589 9450 www.lvme.com
The Mob Museum, +1 702 229 6581 www.themobmuseum.org
13. San Pedro Prison tour, La Paz, Bolivia
The San Pedro prison in Bolivia's capital has become something of an unofficial and controversial tourist attraction.
Corrupt prison officials have in the past allowed tourists to go inside the jail to see how the inmates live in a free-market community, paying rent for their cells and basic goods, earning money through trade and often living with their families and children.
The cramped conditions and poverty make for uncomfortable viewing and some guides urge visitors not to go inside the prison at all. When "Marching Powder," a film about life in the prison, is released in 2012, interest is hardly likely to die down.
San Pedro Prison, Nicolás Acosta, San Pedro, La Paz, Bolivia
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14. Charles Manson Tour, Los Angeles, United States
Charles Manson and his cult followers committed seven grotesque and cruel murders in August 1969.
One of their victims was the heavily pregnant actress Sharon Tate, wife of film director Roman Polankski. The Helter Skelter tour (Manson's 'family' identified themselves with the famous Beatles song) visits the sites of the infamous murders and discusses the backgrounds of the victims and the group of killers.
Dearly Departed Tours, +1 800 979 3370, www.dearlydepartedtours.com
15. Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, Poland
The Auschwitz network of concentration camps in Poland is where 1.3 million people were killed between 1942 and 1945 (either in gas chambers or through the brutal conditions of the camp).
If ever there were a crime scene, this is probably one of the biggest. Happy viewing it certainly isn't, but it's nonetheless a must-see for visitors to nearby Krakow.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, +48 33 844 81 0, http://en.auschwitz.org.pl