TENNESSEE – It Happened Here! Alcatraz East Crime Museum Exhibit Highlights Tennessee

Tennessee’s fascinating crime history will be on exhibit for a year

PIGEON FORGE, Tennessee (May 1, 2018) – From its earliest days, Tennessee has had a rich history of crime and justice, with stories known across the country. From local stories of moonshiners and vigilantes, to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that rocked the nation, those interested in learning more about the state’s notorious crime history can do so at the new temporary exhibit, “It Happened Here,” opening May 17, 2018. 

“Alcatraz East is already known for highlighting the work of local leaders in forensic science, and as the home of the state’s electric chair Old Smokey, but we wanted to delve deeper into other Tennessee stories that related to our collection. These Tennessee crime stories many visitors will recognize as being of national importance, while we’ve also included some lesser known local stories” states Rachael Penman, director of artifacts and exhibits at Alcatraz East Crime Museum. 

“It Happened Here” will open in May and will remain open through April 2019. The exhibit takes place during the 50th anniversary year of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Memphis, and the exhibit will include items related to the assassin, James Earl Ray. These items include a courtroom sketch by his future wife, who he met while she was covering his escape from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. The famous former penitentiary is also featured in the exhibit, including a cell key. The most significant piece related to Ray is a hotel registration card signed under the alias Eric Galt, a name he used while on the run after his escape from Missouri State Prison in 1967.

The Tennessee crime-focused exhibit will also feature legendary lawman Sheriff Buford Pusser.  He was the youngest sheriff in the state’s history, and became famous for his crusade against moonshiners and the local mafias. His wife was killed in an assassination attempt and he was killed in a car crash in 1974. The Walking Tall movies are based on his life. 

Of particular interest in the exhibit, is the little-known story of area native Kenneth Jones, who was incarcerated at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary from 1940-1946. He was convicted of robbing a jewelry store and spent time in Greeneville and Dandridge jails before ending up at Alcatraz, partly due to his numerous escape attempts. Jones is one of only two inmates to ever be paroled directly from Alcatraz, after which he returned to Knoxville, where he lived out his life. The exhibit will feature a set of extremely rare handcuffs from Alcatraz.