MADRID — The pistol used by Basque terrorists in their first armed attack is in a display case at Spain's Museum of Crime, right next to a device for stealing light bulbs.
There are mug shots of transvestites, skin from fingertips floating in jars, close-up photographs of tattooed men and cadavers.
"It's not a pretty sight, not the kind of place you'd want to take your kids," admits Antonio Vigueira, 68, a former police inspector who runs the exhibit at Madrid's police headquarters.
While visitors may shudder at some items, they may scratch their heads at others--a stuffed black crow, a Rotary International badge, a Masonic sash.
No one knows why the Rotary badge is displayed. Someone must have thought it had something to do with the Masonic order, a fraternal group feared and suppressed by the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. Many Masons were jailed or sent to work camps, and until the 1950s, schoolchildren were taught that Masons drank children's blood from human skulls.
Vigueira used police records to catalogue much of the collection, but he admits being stymied in trying to classify some of the objects that predate the museum's creation in 1925. "What that stuffed crow and owl are doing here I don't really know," he said.
The museum has the 1925 arrest warrant for anarchist Buenaventura Durruti--alias "The Gorilla." Police accused Durruti of a string of violent crimes in the 1920s, including the murder of the archbishop of Zaragoza, an attempt on King Alfonso XIII, the killing of a Madrid lace maker and the theft of a safe at the Bank of Spain.
However, he went on to become an anarchist hero in the 1930s. When he was killed in combat at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, 200,000 people turned out for his funeral in Barcelona.
The exhibits are not always sinister. Vigueira is fond of a long iron rod with a papier-mache collar at the top.
"Anyone can shoot a gun, but look at the ingenuity that went into this," he said with admiration.
"You pull the wires on this side and it unscrews a light bulb without breaking it. The fellow who made it did a lively business reselling light bulbs snitched from city streets . . . until he got caught."