Black Museum exhibit in Regina shows off creepy side of Canada's true crime history

A treasure trove of true crime is on display at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Heritage Centre in Regina.

The Black Museum is a feature exhibit with stories from the RCMP Crime Collection. 

Curator Jodi Ann Eskritt said the exhibit was inspired by a New Scotland Yard exhibit of the same name.

Murder weapons, crime memorabilia and death masks from famous criminal cases in history can be found throughout the macabre exhibit.

Many were confiscated from prisoners or donated by the court system or an RCMP detachment.

"One or two pieces are not necessarily related to crimes per se, they're just, sort of, creepy," said Eskritt.

One of those creepy items is Oliver, the ventriloquist dummy made in the 1910s by an RCMP member who was a magician and ventriloquist that put on shows for children.

Unfortunately, Oliver hasn't aged well, according to Eskritt. He has been designated the host of the exhibit.

"Now I can't verify that it's true or not, but some of our visitors in the past have said that it feels like his eyes follow you as you move around the exhibit, so that adds to the whole sort of atmosphere," Eskritt said.

Horror stories of history

One of the more famous artifacts is the death masks for the Benito Bandits. 

In 1935, the three criminals made national news after they killed two officers and stole a police car. A manhunt spanned seven to eight days across the Prairies before they were eventually cornered outside Banff National Park. They all died in a shootout with RCMP.

"It really was one of those moments in our history where people were quite literally for the first time locking their doors at night for fear of where these guys might be," said Eskritt.

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Death masks were originally made by families to remember their loved one, but police used them to study criminal character.

Eskritt says the bandits' death masks are particularly life-like and the best in the collection.

"They look like they could wake up at any moment," said Eskritt.

Another famous case is that of the Mad Trapper of Rat River, also known as Albert Johnson. Johnson shot at officers who approached him regarding accusations of having stolen from traps.

The manhunt to find Albert Johnson captured the attention of authors and movie producers, with shows and books written about the mystery.

Albert Johnson was an alias. No one knows who he was or why he decided to steal from traps. No one knows why he shot at the RCMP when they went to ask him about his thefts.

The manhunt for the unidentified man went on for 40 days.

"It was also the first time in the history of the RCMP that we used an airplane in support of a matter of a manhunt," said Eskritt.

Johnson died after a shootout with the RCMP.

Samanda Brace/CBC News

In 2007, his body was exhumed and a full forensic and DNA study was done, but there were no matches.

They also recreated his skull and donated it to the museum, where it is now on display with a bullet.

"The bullet that is displayed with it, actually fell out as they were bringing the corpse out of the grave. So very creepy," said Eskritt.

The Black Museum exhibit will run until October 31.

Samanda Brace/CBC News