Serial Killer’s Home Becomes Tourist Site

Between the beaches, national parks, vineyards and theme parks, California has plenty of tourist draw cards, but now an unlikely attraction has made the list — the home of a serial killer.

The boarding house run by Dorothea Puente, a Sacramento woman convicted of killing her elderly residents, became a tourist attraction when the city decided to add the building to its local tour of featured and historic homes.

Although the building has undergone some updates in the three decades since the gruesome murders, visitors are still able to see the room where the killer drained the body fluids from her elderly victims.While the home of a serial killer may seem like a strange attraction to visit during a vacation, macabre tourist sites are nothing new. Here are a couple other dark attractions that visitors flock to:

Choeung Ek. More than one million people were slaughtered during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, and Choeung Ek is one of the most well known Killing Fields. Nearly 9,000 bodies are buried in mass graves here, and visitors can see a giant glass memorial filled with 5,000 human skulls.

Auschwitz. This World War II concentration camp in Poland saw the deaths of more than 1 million prisoners at the hands of the Nazis. Each year, millions of visitors pass through the gates of the memorial and museum located at the site.

Fukushima Nuclear Reactor. It’s not quite an attraction yet, but a proposal is being considered to turn this Japanese disaster site into a tourist destination. Tourists would stay in hotels designed to protect them from high levels of radiation and would be able to take photos of the reactor while dressed in protective suits and respirators.

5 Prisons for Law-Abiding Citizens

In this lull between fun summer TV like “True Blood” and the fall premieres of network television shows, many people have been binge watching the Netflix comedy, “Orange is the New Black.” Set at a women’s prison in Rockland County, New York, the series has generated new interest in jail. (From the outside, at least.) Here are five notable prison museums around the world with flexible visiting hours for an easy escape.

Alcatraz, San Francisco, CA
Built as an “inescapable” prison on an island off San Francisco, Alcatraz has had quite a few famous inmates, including Al Capone. The federal prison was closed in 1963 and has been a museum for several decades. In addition to the prison museum, it also has the country’s oldest lighthouse and a permanent exhibition on the historic Native American occupation. Tickets are a steep $30 and up per adult, but they include transportation, since you can’t make it off “the Rock” alive.Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA
Another stop on Al Capone’s “jail tour,” this Center City Philadelphia jail has been the set for several films including “Twelve Monkeys” and the Transformers sequel, and many TV shows about ghosts and jails. The self-guided audio tour (narrated by Steve Buscemi!) details the history of the prison, active from 1829 to 1969. Regular tickets are $14, and look out for special events; the Halloween Haunted House is especially popular.

Gestapo Headquarters and Pawiak Prison, Warsaw, Poland
Telling another part of the Holocaust, these two related historical sites in Warsaw show what it was like to be interrogated and imprisoned in the gruesome Nazi occupation. Part of the Polish city’s excellent collection of museums, they are free to visit and well-maintained, though very somber.

Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa
The isolation of the small island near Cape Town made it a fitting site for a leper colony, a military training station and a place for political prisoners. Nelson Mandela was the most famous of former inmates for 18 years; he was one of dozens imprisoned during apartheid. Tickets are about $22, including ferry transportation to and from the mainland, a bus tour of the island and “interaction” with a former prisoner. President Obama visited the island and museum this summer, and was “deeply humbled” by the experience.

Tuel Sleng, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The secret prison of Pol Pot, dictator of Cambodia in the 1970s and leader of the Khmer Rouge, Tuel Sleng is now a museum cataloging the genocide perpetrated there. The museum contains the 6,000 detailed photographs and records of inmates left by prison staff, though as many as 30,000 were said to have been detained, tortured and murdered there. The museum is preserved as it was found in 1979, and is an important site, along with the “Killing Fields,” documenting and memorializing the victims of this dark regime.

Would you visit a prison?

The fall of the Khmer Rouge’s 30th anniversary

Yesterday, the country celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979). The festivities were concentrated within the walls of the country’s capital and the site of the start of Year Zero, Phnom Penh. Based on conflicting reports, around 60,000 people crowded into the city’s Olympic stadium to remember the 2 million Cambodians who lost their lives during this horrible five-year genocide.

Ask anyone who has visited Tuol Sleng (otherwise known as the “S-21” torture prison during the Khmer Rouge) in Phnom Penh what his reaction was to this museum, and I’m certain everyone will agree they were appalled by the grim reality that nearly one half of Cambodia’s population was eliminated in one of the worst genocides in the world’s history.
I paid my visit to the museum two years ago. Its history and its people (who are some of the friendliest you will ever encounter) are living testaments to the perserverence of the human spirit. I arrived in Khmer country not knowing who Pol Pot was; I left Cambodia forever changed. This country still holds one of the dearest places in my heart.

Very little has been done to punish the members of the Khmer Rouge, but five of Pol Pot’s senior officers will likely be tried this spring — if not by 2010. Cambodians, while eager to see these men pay for their hideous crimes, are just as eager to look beyond this 5-year blip in their past. These are a most resilient people, and this country is one of the most fascinating in the world.

[via Reuters and the Associated Press]

Angkor Wat video in honor of Dith Pran

There are several scenes in the movie “The Killing Fields” that make ones stomach clench. Dished out in the end, though, is a sense that goodness does prevail. The movie, mostly about a Cambodian journalist, Dith Pran’s escape from that country during the rule of the Khmer Rouge is heart-wrenching.

I read that Dith Pran died on Sunday from pancreatic cancer. He wasn’t old, only 65, but what a lifetime of change he witnessed. Pran had become a photojournalist for the New York Times after his escape. He was born near Angkor Wat, so in honor of him, here is a video posted by imorgan10 on YouTube that is simply lovely. I imagine that when Pran made his treacherous journey, he never expected his homeland would become such a tourist destination.