Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

November 3, 2013

Crime tour sells macabre history

DETROIT (AP) — A black-caped woman with a lantern guides more than two dozen people through downtown Detroit as night falls, spinning ghoulish, grisly tales from the gritty city’s history.

The visitors, including a woman from Denver and a couple from Bay City, some 90 miles north, take the theatrical attire and tales of murder, mayhem and mystery in stride on a recent evening.

While none of the participants seemed perturbed, some Detroit residents say the tour is in poor taste. It’s been criticized as an attempt to capitalize on the crime that still plagues the Motor City, also derisively dubbed “Murder City.” Locals also say that the last thing they want is more bad publicity for a city that recently became the nation’s largest to file for bankruptcy and already draws tourists who gawk at its widespread blight.

The “Notorious 313 True Crime & Ghost Tour” routinely sells out, drawing hordes that hoof it through the city’s slowly rebounding business district. With the excursion, Detroit joins a crime-tour club: London is “on the trail” of Jack the Ripper, New Orleans shows off its haunts, and Milwaukee has Jeffrey Dahmer tours — though the last has been protested by parents of murder victims who say operators profit from a serial killer’s murderous acts.

“Not to be weird or anything, but crime makes history, and people care about history,” says Nick Avila, who came from Bay City with Susan Stankiewicz to take the tour.

Tour operator and guide Karin Risko, who plans to hold the final walk of the season Wednesday, aims to minimize exploitation of the macabre by avoiding stories ripped from recent headlines. Her tales range from the 1700s to the mid-1990s.

The first stop is down the street on what Risko calls a “creepy corner.” Enthusiasts claim there’s a high level of paranormal activity, including ghost sightings.

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