Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Great Magician’s Escape

In 1906, the District of Columbia played host to “Handcuff King,” Harry Houdini. The great magician and his wife were visiting Washington, DC for Houdini’s performances at the Chase Theater when Metropolitan Police Chief Major Richard Sylvester invited the escape artist to test the Metropolitan Police’s metal. Sylvester, a leader in American policing, was eager to show off his newest station house built in 1901. The Tenth Precinct’s Lieutenant explained that the station house boasted, “…cells of the most modern and approved pattern. The doors of these cells are steel-barred and have the most intricate combination locks.”

Houdini arrived on January 1, 1906 to the Tenth Precinct to examine the jail cell and locks before the escape. Once he was ready, Houdini was searched, stripped, and placed in cell 3 while his clothes were placed in cell 6. Then, the police officers changed the game. Houdini remembered, “I heard [the police lieutenant] whisper to one of his men to bring him the locks for another cell.” With his pride and reputation on the line, Houdini went on with the trick knowing the stakes had been substantially raised. Houdini later said, “I took a long chance there.”

Officers and Members of No. 10 Precinct
Despite the added difficulty, Houdini completed the amazing escape from the special “invincible” Secret Service handcuffs, two padlocks, and two cell door locks, presenting himself to Police Chief Major Sylvester fully dressed in a mere twenty-six minutes. Chief Major Sylvester later wrote in a letter of testimony, “Mr. Houdini impressed his audience as a gentleman and an artist who does not profess to do the impossible.” Houdini repeated his escape at the Fifth Precinct and the District Jailhouse before departing the Nation’s Capital.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Witness to History: Boston Marathon Bombing

National Law Enforcement Museum’s Panel discussion examined the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing investigation and its impact on the community.

It was only two and a half years ago on April 15, 2013, that two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon shook the nation and changed the lives of so many. On Wednesday, October 7, 2015 the National Law Enforcement Museum brought together Richard DesLauriers, former Boston FBI Special Agent in Charge and head of the bombing investigation, Sergeant John MacLellan of the Watertown (MA) Police Department who was present during the shootout on the streets of Watertown, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz, the lead prosecutor of bombing suspect Dzokhar Tsarnaev, and moderator Frank Bond, to discuss the events of that fateful day, the processes of finding and prosecuting the perpetrators, and the effects of these events on the community.

It was a crisp morning, and another world-renowned Boston Marathon was underway. No one could suspect what would happen at the finish line that afternoon. There was one blast, and then a second. According to Ms. Ortiz, “News of the explosions just spread like wildfire.”

A joint task force was able to come together quickly thanks to existing relationships among the Boston FBI Field Office, Boston PD, Massachusetts State Police, Watertown PD, and many others. Mr. DesLauriers credited all of the different departments involved in the investigation with its ultimate success. According to DesLauriers, the amount of photographic and video evidence that came in was “overwhelming,” but by focusing on videos of the finish line at Boylston Street, they were able to spot the Tsarnaev brothers. At that point, law enforcement had their primary suspects.

Witness to History: Boston Marathon Bombing

One stumbling block during the investigation was misreporting by the media. At one point, innocent individuals were reported as being under arrest. Rebutting this information cost both Mr. DesLauriers’s and Ms. Ortiz’s precious time. Ms. Ortiz made it clear, “As far as reliance [and] credible evidence, I rely on law enforcement.”

Another tragedy connected to the Boston bombing was the murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier, whose name is engraved on the National Law Enforcement Memorial. Mr. DesLauriers explained that he didn’t initially connect this to the marathon bombings, but after getting a call early on April 19 about a firefight on the streets of Watertown, MA, they were eventually able to connect all the dots. Sgt. MacLellan recalled chaos at the scene of the firefight in Watertown shortly after midnight. The Tsarnaev brothers were shooting at police and throwing bombs. According to Sgt. MacLellan, “This was something you couldn’t train for in our department. It was more like a war zone than a street fight.”

For the rest of the day, area residents were asked to stay in their homes as law enforcement executed a door-to-door search in Watertown. Mr. DesLauriers recalled the 911 call that ended everything the evening of April 19. “A call came in from David Henneberry who, after noticing a weather wrap was loose on his boat, looked inside and saw Dzokhar Tsarnaev alive and sleeping.”

In the end, each panelist was clearly moved by the way Boston and Watertown residents came together and the strength and resilience of the victims and their families. The relationships that were formed as a result of such tragedy was something no one will soon forget.