After working for eight years as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office, Chris Mancini retreated into private practice. That was in 1987. He still thrives on crime, though -- for fun. Along with historian Paul George, Mancini has conducted the Miami Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem Tour since 1995. What began as a project for the Historical Museum of Southern Florida has evolved into a monthly event for the duo. "Paul does the historical part. I do the crime stuff," Mancini explains.
A luxury bus carries up to 69 people on the excursion. For a few hours Mancini, George, and a guest speaker (many of whom were involved in a case) point out the sites of some of Miami's most notorious crimes and the homes of some of its most celebrated swindlers. Beginning downtown, the tour's first stop is the Dade County courthouse, former location of the county jail and of several public executions, and scene of a shootout in the late 1800s that killed two jailers. Passengers then hear tales about the Miami River Cops as the bus zooms south toward Coconut Grove.
"The Grove is great for crime," notes Mancini. "Now it's like Disneyland, but historically it's always been a place for eccentric and odd people to congregate and live in peace, and that tends to promote eccentric or odd behavior. They want to live in peace, but that doesn't necessarily mean they want their neighbors to be left peacefully alone!"
On Bayshore Drive passengers gawk at the condo where stealthy jewel thief Murph the Surf stashed the Star of India diamond he had purloined from New York City's Museum of Natural History; they also see the house where developer Stanley Cohen was murdered (on the orders of his wife), and learn about the rapist who stalked the streets in the Seventies dressed in Zorro garb -- mask, tights, and cape.
After a short jaunt to Key Biscayne and a hop to South Dade, the bus rolls back north. A required stop is always the Miami city cemetery where, according to Mancini, "there's a whole bunch of interesting crooks, politicians, and cops buried." Then off to decadent Miami Beach, where gangsters like Al Capone lived and died. And of course where Gianni Versace was slain on the steps of his Ocean Drive mansion.
While the tour may not show the city at its Chamber of Commerce best, passengers love it. "People visit places they've always wanted to see but never had the chance to," Mancini says. "They come away amazed, with a sense of our history and how the growth of Florida has always been economically tied to crime." Sorry about that, civic boosters.
-- Nina Korman
The Miami Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem Tour bus departs at noon Saturday, May 30, from the Miami-Dade Cultural Center, 101 W Flagler St. The cost is $25. Call 358-0727.