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Mafia kingpin Joe Masseria holds the ace of spades, "the death card," in his hand following his murder on the orders of infamous gangster Charles "Lucky" Luciano in a Coney Island restaurant. 1931.Bettmann/Getty Images
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The bodies of two would-be thieves named Robert Green and Jacob Jagendorf after a failed robbery attempt that ended when they accidentally fell down the building's elevator shaft. New York. 1915.Frederi Duriez/Media Drum World
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Unspecified New York murder scene. 1916.Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images
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A New York police officer takes a peek at a dead body covered with newspapers. 1943.Weegee (Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images
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Murdered gangster David Beadle, also known as "David the Beetle," in front of The Spot Bar and Grill in Manhattan. 1939.Bettmann/Getty Images
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A police officer crouches under the rear end of a taxi jacked up on a crate and garbage can as the dead body of a man who was hit by the cab lies underneath. 1943.Weegee (Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images
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Forensic detectives take the fingerprints of murdered store owner Joseph Gallichio, as he lies on the roof beside his cage of racing pigeons. New York. 1941.Weegee (Arthur Fellig)/International Center for Photography/Getty Images
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The body of a man named Antonio Pemear, who was found murdered in his bed in Brooklyn. 1915.Frederic Duriez/Media Drum World
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Scene of a murder-suicide in New York's Central Park. 1952.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Two police officers with a dead body in a New York apartment stairwell. 1957.Al Aaronson/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
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The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, in which seven members of the North Side Gang were trapped in a garage, lined up against the wall, and shot to death by members of Al Capone's rival gang during a power struggle for control of Chicago. 1929.Bettmann/Getty Images
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The body of Earl "Hymie" Weiss, leader of Chicago's North Side Gang. He was killed when Al Capone's men opened fire with a submachine gun on him and his associates while they were visiting a courthouse where an ally of his was on trial. 1926.Chicago History Museum/Getty Images
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The murder scene of Arthur "Dutch Schultz" Flegenheimer, a powerful New York gangster in the 1920s and '30s who was ultimately killed in Newark, N.J. by an assassin hired by the Mafia Commission itself. The Commission had denied Schultz's request to murder the prosecutor that was targeting him. When he disobeyed and attempted the murder anyway, the Commission had him killed. 1935.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Close-up of a corpse's battered and bloodied face. Angres, France. 1912.Frederic Duriez/Media Drum World
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The dead body of Homer Van Meter, an associate of John Dillinger and a notorious bank robber, who was killed after fleeing police in St. Paul, Minn. 1934.Bettmann/Getty Images
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A young woman dead in her bed. Circa 1930.Frederic Duriez/Media Drum World
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The dead body of Al Capone associate Charles "Cherry Nose" Gioe, who was shot through the head by mafia hitmen hired by a Chicago mob boss whose plans Gioe had unknowingly interfered with. 1954.Bettmann/Getty Images
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A dead boy with his intestines visible. Date unspecified.Frederic Duriez/Media Drum World
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The body of Brooklyn mobster Frankie Yale. He was killed by unidentified rival gangsters following a car chase through the streets of New York. 1928.Bettmann/Getty Images
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The body of mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, who was killed by an unknown assailant who shot him through a window with an M1 Carbine while he was staying at an associate's house in Beverly Hills. 1947.Bettmann/Getty Images
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The burnt body of gangster Irving Feinstein, who was set on fire by Murder Inc. killers Harry Strauss and Martin Goldstein and left exposed in a lot in New York City. 1938.Burton B. Turkus/Lloyd Sealy Library Special Collections/John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY)
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The dead body of Joseph Rosen, a candy shop owner who was killed by Murder Inc. leader Louis "Lepke" Buchalter in his own store in Brooklyn. 1936.Burton B. Turkus Papers/Lloyd Sealy Library Special Collections/John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY)
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The naked corpse of American aspiring actress and murder victim Elizabeth Short, known as the "Black Dahlia," lying in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. 1947.Archive Photos/Stringer/Getty Images
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The dead body of Andrew Borden, father of Lizzie Borden, in his house in Fall River, Mass. 1892.The Burns Archive
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Newspaper photographer Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee, examines a body stuffed into a trunk and deposited on a patch of waste ground in New York. Circa 1945.Weegee(Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images
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Weegee photographs a human head at the scene of a murder. Circa 1945.Weegee(Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images
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A French crime scene. Circa 1930.adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images
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A dead man at the foot of a staircase in a French crime scene. 1912.adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images
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A photo of a bloodied couple lying dead in bed in New York. 1915.Frederic Duriez/Media Drum World
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An unidentified murder victim. Circa early 20th century.Frederic Duriez/Media Drum World
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An unidentified dead man in New York City. Circa early 20th century.Frederic Duriez/Media Drum World
31 Vintage Crime Scenes Brought To Life In Stunningly Gruesome Color
Though we may not often think it, crime scene photography plays an important role in documenting history. These portraits are bloody, gruesome, even stomach-churning, but they also open a seldom-seen window into what life was like at the time.
Throughout a large portion of the 20th century in New York City, for example, organized crime ruled the streets of many of the city's neighborhoods. And while the grisly stories of mob murders help reveal what those crime-ridden streets were like, the photos of those crime scenes truly bring the past to life.
Perhaps no crime scene photographer captured these horrors as well as Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee. A Ukrainian immigrant who came to the United States at 10 and quit school at 14 to become a freelance photographer, Weegee soon made a name for himself as the go-to crime scene photographer in New York.
He seemed to have a sixth sense about when and where a crime was going to take place and always seemed to be the first on the scene. Of course, it turned out that Weegee didn't actually possess any superhuman abilities, just a police scanner. Nevertheless, his photographs of New York City murders, suicides, fires, and so much more remain legendary to this day.
Through it all, Weegee's twisted sense of humor also helped cement his iconic status. In 1936, he arrived at a crime scene to photograph a dead man whose body had been stuffed into a trunk. For obvious reasons, the photo was too graphic to be printed in a newspaper, so Weegee decided to employ a bit of dark humor for his shot: He snapped a shot of himself looking into the trunk, which took the focus of the photo off of the mutilated body and placed it on himself and made the audience feel as if they were behind the lens themselves.
Whether Weegee was involved or not, plenty of history's most evocative crime scene photos come with macabre little stories just like these. And some of these photos come with macabre stories of a much larger scale.
Take, for example, the infamous photos of an entire row of bodies lined up along a wall and riddled with bullets in a Chicago garage on Feb. 14, 1929. These photos are not only gruesomely striking in their own right, they are also a glimpse at the aftermath of perhaps the most notorious gangland slaying in American history. Known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, the hit saw gunmen employed by Al Capone round up and slaughter seven members of the rival North Side Gang.
Then there's the photo of Joseph Rosen, gunned down in his candy store on Sept. 13, 1936 in Brooklyn. The photo itself is bloody — as is the bloody story associated with it. After police were able to link the brutal slaying to gangster Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, Rosen's murder set off a chain of events that would cause the downfall of the most fearsome and lethal ring of hitmen in New York's history: Lepke's Murder Inc.
But whether such stories lurk behind these photos, vintage crime scene images remain a powerful window into the past. And especially when they're brought to life in stunning color, they can transport us back to another time and show us what the city streets were once like in all their grisly glory.
See for yourself in the gallery of colorized vintage crime scene photos — whether New York or elsewhere, whether gangland or other — above.