Few vehicles in modern history are as infamous as the 1993 Ford Bronco involved in the O.J. Simpson chase.
On June 17, 1994, major TV networks interrupted their regularly scheduled programming to show the white Bronco leading police on a low-speed chase on a California freeway. With his longtime friend (and owner of the vehicle) Al Cowlings at the wheel, Simpson reportedly was in the back seat with a gun to his head, shortly after the L.A. Police Department had charged Simpson with the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. The rest, as they say, is history.
For those who are fascinated by the role of the automobile in crime history, the Alcatraz East Crime Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, has six must-see vehicles on display.
“So many people love cars of all types, and when they are featured in an historical event, it makes them even more interesting to our visitors,” explained Rachael Penman, director of artifacts and exhibits at the Alcatraz East Crime Museum. “Guests immediately start sharing their own connections to the cars’ stories and it’s special to be able to make these artifacts available to the public.
The six crime- and law enforcement-related vehicles on display at the museum are:
- 1933 Essex Terraplane– Actually owned and not stolen by notorious bank robber John Dillinger, he purchased the car new in 1934. Dillinger escaped FBI agents in the car along with his girlfriend Evelyn Frechette, and a bullet from the shootout still can be seen from inside the car. He soon had to abandon the car after crashing in a field, and signed it over to his brother.
- 1934 Ford V8– The hole-ridden vintage Ford was featured as the death car in the classic 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde” starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The ambush scene set new standards for onscreen violence, and the bullet holes seen in the car were made by local police who shot up the car for filming.
- 1968 Volkswagen Beetle– The museum’s VW Beetle was owned by serial killer Ted Bundy. The vehicle was integral to both his murders and his ultimate conviction when it yielded important DNA evidence. The car is displayed without the front passenger seat in the same way Bundy used the car.
- 1993 Ford Bronco– Owned and driven by Cowlings, the white Bronco is the vehicle in which Simpson sat in the back seat during the low-speed chase that captivated millions of TV viewers.
- Sevier County Sheriff’s car – Purchased new in 2007, the Dodge Charger in front of the museum was used by three members of the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office during its nine-year career. It was retired in 2016, and found a new home on loan to the museum educating the public.
- Government surveillance van– Located outside the museum, the van was used the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a Georgia police department. A display inside the museum gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the cramped quarters occupied by law enforcement during a stakeout, with barely enough room to stand and little privacy to use the toilet. The van was in active criminal investigations, including drug crimes and burglary surveillance.
“Our Getaway Cars Gallery is a highly popular area of the museum, and for good reason, as most people own cars so they connect with their stories as objects,” added Penman. “Our crime cars each represent a cautionary tale, symbolizing a warning about the consequences of crime, while our law enforcement vehicles are positive reminders of all law enforcement does every day, both in public and behind-the-scenes, to keep us safe.”
The Alcatraz East Crime Museum offers a variety of permanent and temporary exhibits on all aspects of crime history, CSI and law enforcement. Current temporary exhibits include “The Second Amendment” until September 2019; “It Happened Here: Tennessee Crimes & Justice,” until May 2019; and permanent displays featuring items such as “Old Smokey,” Tennessee’s electric chair.