LOS ANGELES, CA (AP).- A dispute over an exhibition of gruesome evidence from famous crimes escalated Thursday, showing that time does not heal the scars to murder victims' families even after four decades.
The son of assassinated Sen. Robert F. Kennedy wrote he was horrified that his father's clothing from the night he was assassinated in 1968 was being displayed in Las Vegas. He called it "a macabre publicity stunt."
After a complaint from the Kennedy family, Los Angeles police removed the items from a display at a homicide investigators' conference. The exhibit titled, "Behind the Scenes: the LAPD Homicide Experience," was opened to the public Wednesday and Thursday after those attending the conference viewed it privately.
As spectators lined up by the thousands to view the famous evidence, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and District Attorney Steve Cooley issued a joint open letter Thursday saying they never meant to compound the grief of murder victims' families. Beck and Cooley said they sought to depict the horror of homicide in hopes of deterring violence.
"Homicide is by nature horrific, but the entertainment media often portrays it as sterile and benign," they said. "When people see the reality of murder, it becomes an unthinkable act."
They said the displays were teaching tools for investigators and were "very carefully designed so visitors would gain a better appreciation for the tragedy of murder and the difficult jobs law enforcement detectives have in solving often very complicate cases."
They added it's now clear that some crime victims' families were offended.
"It was never our intent to cause grief to victims of crime or their families," they said. "Our organizations strive to bring justice to homicide victims not to cause sorrow for their families."
Cooley recently announced he's running for California attorney general. Beck was named police chief in November to replace William Bratton, who resigned.
Outside the Palms Hotel and Casino, the exhibit was advertised on a huge marquee that normally lists headline acts. Spectators formed a line snaking around the casino waiting to get in.
Cooley said it had more visitors in two days than the Los Angeles Police Historical Museum has had in a year. Police detective Dennis Kilcoyne, who oversaw the exhibit, estimated at least 6,000 visitors saw it.
Among them were Roger Flach and his wife Violet, both 64 of Las Vegas, who said they remembered when Kennedy was shot and had followed the O.J. Simpson murder trial. They said they came because of the history involved and the exhibit touched them emotionally.
"I had to cry when I saw Bobby Kennedy," said Violet Flach, who had been a suppporter of Kennedy's presidential run. "That really hit me."
Photos and a video of the Kennedy assassination were on display. The couple said they thought it was a straightforwad and factual exhibit that might dispel myths about the various cases.
David Morrow, a Las Vegas resident in his 50s, said he headed to the exhibit after hearing about it on the news.
He said he found nothing distasteful about it, adding that he thought "it would be more gory."
Asked if he thought it might be hurtful to victims' families, he said: "How would it be hurtful? It's history. It already happened."
Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, who was 4 when his father was slain at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel, wrote an op-ed piece for Thursday's Los Angeles Times. He said he spoke personally with Beck and that "the chief maintained to me that hanging my dad's bloody shirt from a mannequin in a casino was part of an effort to train detectives. Perhaps he believes that, but to me it seems like a cheap bid for attention.
"It is almost like a traffic cop inviting motorists to slow down and take a good look as they go past a tragedy," Kennedy wrote.
He added, "It is almost incomprehensible to imagine what circumstances would have led to a decision to transport these items across state lines to be gawked at by gamblers and tourists."
Kennedy previously opposed an effort to preserve the site of the assassination at the Ambassador Hotel as a memorial.
Relatives of Manson family murder victims Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring also expressed dismay at the exhibit, which included such artifacts as a rope that was tied around Tate's neck and murder weapons used in the killings of seven people. Sharon's sister, Debra Tate, said the families should have been notified in advance about the exhibit so they could prepare themselves emotionally.
Sebring's nephew Anthony DiMaria viewed the exhibit Wednesday at the Palms hotel and casino. He spoke to Kilcoyne there and asked to have a picture of his uncle removed from the display, but he said he did not plan to press the issue with the department. DiMaria said he thinks famous crimes become glamorized and he was dismayed at the sight of the crowd lined up to see the exhibit.
Other cases highlighted in the exhibit included Marilyn Monroe's death, the Black Dahlia murder, the O.J. Simpson case, the 1997 North Hollywood bank shootout and the 1974 Symbionese Liberation Army shootout.
Associated Press Writer Oskar Garcia in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.