Courts & Crime

Miami museum unveils exhibit on area's notorious crimes

MIAMI — Even before Miami became a city, the area attracted renegades and tourists, dreamers and millionaires -- as well as mobsters, would-be presidential assassins, kidnappers, serial killers and cocaine cowboys.

Al Capone moved to Miami Beach in 1928. Giuseppe Zangara tried to kill the newly elected Franklin D. Roosevelt at Bayfront Park in 1933. And in the '80s, Colombian drug lords played out their turf wars.

On Thursday, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida in downtown Miami is unveiling a six-month exhibit called Crime in Miami, an exploration of the impact of crime in the area for the past 100 years, and the efforts of law enforcement to curtail it.

"What the exhibit will try to do is capture Miami's crime history during the last century to today and see how it's impacted the people of this community in the past, and in the future,'' said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Scott J. Silverman, one of the founders of the 11th Judicial Circuit Historical Society.

Crime in Miami will span from Prohibition-era rum-runners and infamous gangsters, to infamous murder cases and the drug wars of the 1980s.

On display will be memorabilia, photographs and legal documents from the museum's collection along with fingerprint cards and other crime-detecting tools.

Among the crimes to be highlighted is the 1938 kidnapping-for-ransom of James "Skeegie'' Cash, the 5-year-old son of a grocery store owner in Princeton, in South Miami-Dade.

At a time when the nation was still reeling from the 1932 kidnapping of Charles A. Lindbergh Jr., Skeegie's snatching for a $10,000 ransom prompted headline-hungry FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to head to Miami and set up headquarters in Princeton.

Suspicion soon fell on Franklin Pierce McCall, 21.

McCall confessed to kidnapping the boy and said he accidentally suffocated Skeegie as he covered his mouth to keep him quiet. He said he buried the boy and went ahead with his ransom plan. Sadly, by the time Skeegie's dad paid the kidnapper, his son was dead.

Another high-profile criminal case featured in the exhibit is the still-unsolved 1954 killing of 6-year-old Judith Ann Roberts.

It began with an intruder breaking into the home of the little girl's grandparents in what is now Little Havana. Her kidnapper took her from a living room bed.

By sunrise, her body was found on a desolate road in Coconut Grove. She had been beaten, strangled and sexually abused.

The lead detective, Irving Whitman, who lives in Miami-Dade, is expected to attend Thursday's exhibit opening. ``I've never forgotten this case,'' said Whitman, who is 88 and still hopes the murder will be solved one day.