Mysteries at the Museum (2010) Episode Scripts

N/A - Millennium Heist

A brazen plot to steal a priceless diamond.
This was the biggest robbery in criminal history.
A grandmother receives a very special delivery.
BOTTONI: This is a story about cargo that was more precious than anyone could imagine.
And a man-eating shark stalks the Jersey Shore.
People were afraid to go into the ocean.
These are the mysteries at the museum.
London, England.
This city's history can be traced back to the first century A.
D.
when it was a thriving outpost of the Roman Empire.
Today, fragments of the city's ancient walls can be found in the center of the financial district.
And just a stone's throw away is an institution dedicated to this layered past -- The Museum of London.
The collection includes a gilded carriage from 1757, ceramic cups decorated with images of King Charles II and clothes worn at a royal garden party.
But there's one magnificent item here that outshines the rest.
This object is 2 1/2 inches tall.
It's pear-shaped, multidimensional.
It weighs about 40 grams.
It is perfect in every detail.
WILDMAN: As former Scotland Yard detective John Shatford knows firsthand, this dazzling artifact was at the center of an audacious crime that rocked an entire nation.
This object was pivotal in one of the biggest heists that Britain has ever seen.
WILDMAN: It's the year 2000.
London is in the throes of the millennium celebration.
And the centerpiece of the festivities is a brand-new arena on the banks of the River Thames.
It's called The Millennium Dome.
The massive event space is hosting an exhibition of precious stones, showcasing more than $500 million worth of gems from around the world.
And the highlight of the show is a 203-carat diamond dubbed The Millennium Star.
The Millennium Star is a perfect diamond without a flaw that is the most expensive diamond in the world.
WILDMAN: The gem show is the talk of London.
But one man is interested in the world's most valuable gem for an entirely different reason.
He's a 40-year-old thief named Ray Betson.
Ray Betson was a very shrewd and a very clever career criminal.
WILDMAN: For years, Betson and his gang have committed a string of brazen robberies.
Now, he wants to pull off the biggest heist of his life.
SHATFORD: Betson was plotting the biggest robbery in criminal history, stealing the Millennium Diamond.
WILDMAN: Betson cases the arena for two months, meticulously planning his crime.
He learns that the Millennium Star is under 24-hour video surveillance and protected by a phalanx of security guards.
And the precious gem is encased behind bulletproof glass.
For all intents and purposes, this was as secure as the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.
WILDMAN: Betson knows he and his men cannot steal the diamond without being seen.
So he decides to embrace the challenge and use it to his advantage.
He'll execute an old-fashioned smash-and-grab.
Betson and his gang will steal a bulldozer from a nearby warehouse and use it to barrel through the entrance gates, straight into the dome.
In the chaos, they'll smash the display case, grab the diamond and escape via a speedboat on the River Thames.
They had planned everything down to the detail.
They were absolutely confident they were going to get away with this.
WILDMAN: At 9:00 a.
m.
on Tuesday, November 7th, Betson and his accomplices put their audacious plot into motion.
In a flash, they drive the stolen bulldozer through the arena gates and crash it through the dome's glass exterior.
Once inside, they break through the diamond's display.
SHATFORD: It was working.
They were so close, they could reach out and grab the diamond.
WILDMAN: But then, the gang's plan blows up in their faces.
They were confronted by a very loud explosion.
A stun grenade went off in their midst.
WILDMAN: As the smoke clears, Betson and his men are surrounded by a group of what looks like dome staff armed with guns.
And then it dawns on Betson.
It's the police in disguise.
The dome staff was replaced by armed police officers dressed up as cleaners, hostesses and, indeed, tourists.
WILDMAN: Betson and his gang are arrested immediately.
So how did the police get the jump on them? As it turns out, Betson's repeated visits to the Millennium Dome aroused the suspicion of arena staff, who notified Scotland Yard that something was afoot.
The case was assigned to Detective John Shatford.
We knew that Betson and his gang were planning something.
And all of a sudden, it started to point towards this diamond.
WILDMAN: To catch Betson red-handed, Shatford and his men orchestrated a massive sting.
More than 100 officers laid in wait as the gang moved in on the diamond.
And unbeknownst to the robbers, the real stone was never in harm's way.
SHATFORD: We'd swapped the real Millennium Star for this absolute perfect glass replica.
WILDMAN: In February 2002, Betson and his accomplices are found guilty and sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Trying to steal the Millennium Diamond was almost insane.
And yet they nearly got away with it.
WILDMAN: Today, this glass replica of the Millennium Star Diamond used in the sting operation is on display at the Museum of London.
It's a shimmering reminder of a criminal caper that crashed and burned.
The Jersey Shore.
White sandy beaches, Victorian homes and cool sea breezes have made this coastal region a popular summer getaway for centuries.
And in the quiet seaside community of Beach Haven is an institution that honors the area's history -- the New Jersey Maritime Museum.
Among the items on display are a megaphone that belonged to a 19th-century sea captain, a World War I naval diving suit and a lifesaver from the S.
S.
Morro shipwreck of 1930.
But among these man-made objects is a chilling specimen from the animal kingdom.
FESSLER: It's made of a combination of both cartilaginous material and bone.
The artifact is lined both at the top and at the bottom with serrated, pointy, very functional teeth.
WILDMAN: This striking set of jaws belonged to a creature that terrorized an unsuspecting public.
Beach-goers were literally scared out of the water.
WILDMAN: Summer 1916 -- the Jersey Shore's tourist season is busier than ever.
A blistering heat wave has prompted thousands to visit this seaside escape.
The New Jersey Shore became an area for recreation and relief from the heat and the oppression of city life.
WILDMAN: But the peace of this summer getaway is about to be shattered.
In the early evening of July 1st, in the town of Beach Haven, a group of tourists notice a strange, dark mass moving just offshore.
People saw something in the distance on the surface.
WILDMAN: As it draws nearer, onlookers realize that it's the unmistakable shape of a shark.
Beach-goers watch in horror as the shark moves towards a young man swimming in shallow waters.
People on the shore were yelling to warn him.
WILDMAN: In a flash, the shark sinks its jaws into the man.
Beach-goers watch helplessly as it thrashes the swimmer from side to side before swimming away.
A lifeguard rushes to the man's aid and drags him to shore.
But it's too late.
FESSLER: Unfortunately, the injury was so severe, he could not survive from the blood loss.
WILDMAN: People up and down the Jersey Shore are stunned.
It's the first confirmed shark attack in the region's history.
There was a general feeling of shock.
No one had seen such a thing before.
Nobody really knew what to think.
WILDMAN: Authorities try to assuage the public by saying that the tragedy is just a freak occurrence.
But little do they know, the bloodshed has only just begun.
Five days later, another swimmer is pulled underwater by a shark and killed.
By the time two weeks pass, three more people have been attacked.
No one knows when the carnage will end.
FESSLER: All of a sudden, people were afraid to go into the ocean.
WILDMAN: The press latches on to a frightening theory.
They report that the attacks have all been perpetrated by a rogue shark that's developed a taste for human flesh.
They dub the killer beast the Man-eater.
As the hysteria mounts, thousands of people abandon their vacations and flee the Jersey Shore.
The local tourism industry faces ruin.
FESSLER: The stakes were very high for the business owners on the New Jersey Shore.
There was a real danger for the entire summer to be lost.
WILDMAN: Desperate to salvage the summer season, the mayor offers a $2,000 reward for anyone who can capture the bloodthirsty beast.
A massive shark hunt ensues.
Droves of fishermen set out to capture the Man-eater.
The general public basically declared war on the shark.
Anybody who could carry a gun, a pitchfork, a shovel, a hammer, a piece of dynamite was sent out to kill a shark.
WILDMAN: So can this man-eating shark be stopped? It's 1916.
The Jersey Shore.
Throngs of fishermen are hunting a man-eating shark that has attacked five swimmers, killing four of them.
So can the authorities hook this deadly catch? The hunt lasts for two days until a pair of fishermen catch and kill an 8-foot great white shark.
The animal is dissected, revealing the grisly evidence of its attacks.
Human bones and decomposing flesh spill out of its stomach.
Residents and tourists alike are horrified.
But the horror soon turns to relief.
No further attacks are reported anywhere near the Jersey Shore.
There was a sense of general relief that now everybody can go back to the beach again.
WILDMAN: But one question remains -- What caused this shark to develop a taste for people? Some scientists theorize that the shark had been wounded, causing it to become too weak to hunt its normal prey.
So it turned to slow-moving humans for food.
When a shark can't capture its normal prey item, the animal will resort to whatever it can catch at the time.
WILDMAN: The two weeks of terror that gripped the Jersey Shore are never forgotten.
Not only are they considered to be the worst spate of shark attacks in American history, but they forever cement the perception of sharks as potential man-eaters.
In a matter of 12 days, it just completely changed the public perception of the shark.
WILDMAN: The events go on to inspire Peter Benchley's best-selling, 1974 novel about a rogue, man-eating great white, "Jaws.
" FESSLER: It became the impetus for the subsequent blockbuster movie, which is still rated as the number-one horror movie of all time.
WILDMAN: Today, these shark jaws are on display at the New Jersey Maritime Museum.
They recall the terrifying summer when it wasn't safe to go into the water.
A Marine One helicopter, a farmhouse built in 1912 and a Presidential seal are all part of an institution that celebrates the nation's 37th president, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum.
And stored in the archives is a memento that recalls one of the strangest events in Nixon's administration.
It is about 5 1/2 inches tall.
It is nickel-plated with a wooden handle, engraved.
It is set in a beautiful box with seven silver bullets lined up at the bottom.
WILDMAN: This pistol played a starring role in an eccentric quest that brought a world-famous king face-to-face with the President.
SCHILLING: It's the story of entertainment and politics.
And it's actually better than fiction.
WILDMAN: 1970 -- Memphis, Tennessee.
With 15 number-one hits, a Grammy award and multiple film appearances, Elvis Presley is the undisputed King of rock 'n' roll.
SCHILLING: Elvis was loved by everybody.
He was at the top of his game.
WILDMAN: Elvis has got it all, sports cars, his own fleet of airplanes and his 23-room mansion, Graceland.
There's nothing the King can't buy.
But despite his lavish lifestyle, Elvis has one quirky hobby that some say brings him more joy than anything -- collecting police badges.
By 1970, Elvis had quite a collection of badges from all over the United States.
And that really meant a lot to him.
WILDMAN: During his many years on tour, Elvis met and befriended police officers in cities across the country.
And at each stop, he'd butter them up and ask for one of their badges.
Even the toughest lawmen couldn't turn down the King.
Elvis was not used to hearing the word "no.
" WILDMAN: But the King soon discovers that his famous powers of persuasion don't work on everyone.
In November, Elvis is having dinner with friends in Beverly Hills, California, when he is introduced to a federal agent.
And the King can't help but notice the man's badge.
SCHILLING: Elvis met an agent at large for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
And he showed Elvis that badge.
WILDMAN: Elvis is awestruck and wants to add the badge to his collection.
But he's told that, under no circumstances, can a federal agent give up his credentials.
Such a badge can only be issued by the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs in Washington, D.
C.
So less than a month later, Elvis takes a trip to the nation's capital.
Along for the ride is his good friend and manager, Jerry Schilling.
He said, "Jerry, I need you to come to Washington with me.
" WILDMAN: Elvis heads straight to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
There, he meets the agency's deputy director, John Finlator.
Elvis turns on the charm and tries to convince Finlator to give him a badge.
But the King is sorely disappointed.
Mr.
Finlator turned him down.
It was one of the very few times this man experienced the "no.
" WILDMAN: But the rejection only makes the star covet the shiny prize even more.
For Elvis, this became the ultimate badge.
He set his mind to get this badge, and that's what he's gonna do.
WILDMAN: And if he's going to get it, there's only one man who can make it happen.
SCHILLING: There was only one option left to Elvis, and that was to go to the very top.
It's 1970.
Washington, D.
C.
Elvis Presley, the King of rock 'n' roll, has a bizarre obsession.
He collects police badges.
But there's one that has so far eluded him, a shield from a federal agency.
The bureau chief at the Department of Dangerous Drugs has turned him down.
So now Elvis takes his plea to the very top.
If the bureau's deputy director won't give him the federal badge, Elvis will need to go to the man's ultimate boss, President Richard Nixon.
On the morning of December 20th, he pens a letter to President Nixon, asking for a private meeting and personally delivers it to the White House gates.
But even Elvis' close friend and manager doubts it will work.
I never thought we'd hear from the White House.
WILDMAN: Then, hours later, Jerry gets a call.
[ Telephone rings ] SCHILLING: They said, "The President has read Mr.
Presley's letter.
And he would like to meet him in 20 minutes.
" WILDMAN: The duo can't believe their luck.
He was certainly excited and very upbeat.
WILDMAN: Elvis Presley and Jerry Schilling rush to the White House.
As promised, they're introduced to the most powerful man in the world, President Richard Nixon.
The King immediately turns up his southern charm.
And he presents the president with a gift, this World War II Memorial Colt 45 now on display at the Nixon Presidential Museum.
Then, Elvis makes his move.
SCHILLING: He told the President that he wanted the federal narcotics badge.
WILDMAN: The President considers his bold request and finally gives his answer.
Nixon said, "Well, let's get him a badge.
" WILDMAN: The President asks an aid to call the Federal Bureau of Dangerous Drugs and tell the agency to produce an official badge for Elvis.
It was one of the few most excited times I had seen my friend.
He went nowhere that he didn't have that badge with him the rest of his life.
WILDMAN: The unlikely meeting of Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon is captured on camera by official White House photographers.
And the picture of these two American icons shaking hands becomes the most requested image in the National Archive's history.
Today, the Colt 45 gun Elvis gave the president is on display at the Nixon presidential library and museum.
It's a precious memento from a curious summit between a commander-in-chief and a king.
A fleet of model mail vans, a dress made entirely of postage stamps and a box from the 1920s that was used for delivering eggs are all on display at the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History in Weston, Massachusetts.
But among these perfectly preserved artifacts is an unassuming and weather-beaten item.
It's 3 1/2 feet tall.
It has hooks, metal belts and different types of locks and looks like it could withstand any condition.
WILDMAN: This mail bag is connected to a very special delivery that had to be handled with care.
BOTTONI: This is a story about cargo that was more precious than anyone could imagine.
WILDMAN: It's February 1914, in Grangeville, Idaho.
May Pierstorff is a charming, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl just shy of her sixth birthday.
And there's one present she wants more than anything in the world -- a trip to see her grandmother.
BOTTONI: May was young and sweet.
And all she really wanted was to visit her grandma.
WILDMAN: May begs her mother to take her.
But when Mrs.
Pierstorff hears her daughter's innocent plea, her heart sinks.
The Pierstorffs don't have a car.
And May's grandmother lives more than 70 miles away in Lewiston, Idaho.
So the only way to get May to see her grandma was by train.
WILDMAN: But that poses an even bigger problem.
For the Pierstorffs, the train fare equals a day's wages.
There was no way they could afford it.
It was just too expensive.
WILDMAN: If Mrs.
Pierstorff can't find a way to get her daughter to Lewiston, May will be heartbroken.
But one day, when she is talking to a relative who works for the railway, she learns something that might offer a solution.
A new postal regulation allows packages to be sent by train anywhere in the country at little expense to the customer.
And that's when Mrs.
Pierstorff has a wild idea.
She might be able to send her daughter, May, in the mail.
On February 19th, Mrs.
Pierstorff takes May to the post office.
But when she presents her unorthodox shipment to the postmaster, he is not at all pleased.
The postmaster was super confused and very concerned.
A child had never been mailed before under his watch.
WILDMAN: The postmaster tells Mrs.
Pierstorff that under no circumstances will he allow her to mail her daughter.
But the determined mother won't take no for an answer.
She points out that there's nothing in the post office rule book barring children from being shipped.
BOTTONI: It was extremely unorthodox, but there's nothing written forbidding it.
WILDMAN: The postmaster concedes the woman's point.
But then he instructs her to read the fine print.
According to regulations, all packages must weight less than 50 pounds.
With no other choice, Mrs.
Pierstorff instructs her daughter to step on a postal scale.
If May weighed even 1 pound over 50 pounds, she wouldn't be able to go.
So everything, the whole plan, hung on this exact moment.
It's 1914 in Grangeville, Idaho.
Devoted mother Sara Pierstorff has a problem.
She doesn't have enough money to buy her daughter, May's, train ticket to visit her grandmother 70 miles away.
So she comes up with a madcap scheme.
She'll send May in the mail.
So can she pull off this special delivery? Mrs.
Pierstorff places her daughter on the scale to see if she'll come under the 50-pound parcel limit.
And as the devoted mom and the stern postmaster watch together the needle starts to rise.
BOTTONI: May clocks in right under the weight limit, 48 pounds, just made it by 2 pounds.
WILDMAN: The postmaster has no choice but to accept Mrs.
Pierstorff's precious package.
Pretty triumphant moment that she can, in fact, be mailed.
WILDMAN: Mrs.
Pierstorff buys 53 cents worth of stamps and sticks them on May's coat.
The young girl is then loaded onto a train, accompanied by a mailman.
Just a few hours later, May's birthday wish comes true.
She got to see her grandma for only 53 cents.
WILDMAN: But the story of this peculiar parcel isn't over.
News of Mrs.
Pierstorff's scheme inspires a nationwide fad of sending children through the mail.
A bizarre trend started to form.
All these children were being sent by parcel.
WILDMAN: The craze lasts six years before it is finally outlawed by the postal service.
All that's left of the child-delivery trend is this rugged mail bag now in the collection of the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History.
It's a reminder of a brief moment in time when children were considered cargo.
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.
This small mining town is named in honor of a Native American football, baseball and track star who many consider to be the greatest athlete of the 20th century.
But one building here is a monument not to achievements in sport, but crime -- The Old Jail Museum.
Inside, visitors can explore original cell blocks from the 1800s or stand in the very spot where condemned prisoners were hanged.
But down in the dungeons, in an old jail cell, is the most spine-tingling display of them all.
McBRIDE: It's on the wall of the cell.
When people look at the object, they see a large smudge.
But when you look at it closely, you see a very large handprint.
WILDMAN: Legend has it that this dark stain is actually a message from beyond the grave.
It reminds me of a lot of sadness, a lot of tragedy, a lot of heartbreak.
WILDMAN: Carbon County, Pennsylvania, 1875.
This mining community is embroiled in conflict.
Its hardworking miners toil underground for meager salaries while greedy coal-company executives get filthy rich.
McBRIDE: The men couldn't pay their bills.
But the coal company was making a lot of money.
WILDMAN: The frustrated laborers soon begin to organize and demand higher pay.
Leading the workers is a 34-year-old tavern owner named Alexander Campbell.
Campbell was beginning to start the unions against management.
WILDMAN: Campbell's efforts appear to pay off.
After months of secret meetings, the mine owners take notice of the workers' complaints.
McBRIDE: The coal companies were afraid of the new unions that were coming.
WILDMAN: But then something unexpected happens.
One day, the police barge into Campbell's tavern and arrest him on charges of murder.
It's clear to everyone that Campbell is being framed as payback for his efforts to organize a union.
McBRIDE: There was no evidence to show that he had been guilty.
The coal companies wanted to rid themselves of anybody who was trying to stand in the way of their control of the miners.
WILDMAN: Campbell never stands a chance against the powerful mine owners.
At trial, he is convicted and sentenced to hang.
In the wake of the verdict, the miner's union is crushed.
But Campbell isn't finished yet.
He's about to do something that will ensure the injustice will never be forgotten.
It's 1875.
Carbon County, Pennsylvania.
Tavern owner Alexander Campbell is organizing a union to fight for the rights of local miners.
But just as the organization gains strength, Campbell is arrested on trumped-up murder charges and sentenced to hang.
But something is about to happen that will ensure this struggle is not forgotten.
On June 21, 1877, jailers arrive at Campbell's cell to take him to the gallows.
As he's dragged out, he rubs his hand in the dirt and emphatically slaps the cell's wall, leaving a handprint.
He then utters a chilling prophecy.
McBRIDE: He said, "My mark will stay.
It'll remain here to show that I am innocent of the crime for which I have been convicted.
" WILDMAN: Minutes later, Campbell is executed.
His cell is cleaned out.
And the handprint is wiped off the wall.
But hours later, a jailer notices something extraordinary.
The black handprint has inexplicably returned.
And from that moment on, each time the handprint is washed or even painted over, it comes right back.
And that's not all.
Over the years, prisoners who were remanded to Campbell's cell report having an eerie sensation.
So is this ghastly stain a paranormal reminder of injustice, or is there a more rational explanation? People have theorized a lot of different things about the handprint.
WILDMAN: Some suspect it could be insoluble grease left over from Campbell's hand.
Others theorize that it's the result of a tough strain of mold that took root beneath the wall's surface.
In 1975, an inquiry is launched to uncover the truth once and for all.
Investigators use an instrument called a gas chromatograph to determine if the wall contains any residual organic tissue.
And when the results come in, they are stunned.
There's no trace of anything on the wall but paint.
So with no natural explanation for the phenomenon, some continue to believe a supernatural one, that the handprint is Alexander Campbell's message from the beyond.
McBRIDE: Are there ghosts in the jail? Until one talks to me, I guess I really don't know.
But there is something here.
WILDMAN: Today, this macabre handprint remains on the wall at The Old Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.
It's a haunting reminder of a falsely accused man and a grave injustice that would not be forgotten.
San Francisco, California.
In the 1940s, the City by the Bay welcomed thousands of soldiers who were discharged by the military because they were gay.
It's been a haven for the gay community ever since.
So it's no surprise that it's home to the country's first institution to honor gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans -- The GLBT Historical Society.
On display are newsletters from one of the nation's first lesbian publications, a drag queen's crown from 1968 and a collection of matchbooks from the city's historic gay bars.
But among these symbols of pride is one item that strikes a more somber tone.
ROMESBURG: It's contained in a box that is 24 inches by 36 inches.
It's slight gray in color with a teal-blue pinstripe.
WILDMAN: This wool suit belongs to one of America's most iconic defenders of equality and justice.
And it recalls his fearless fight against bigotry, ignorance and hate.
ROMESBURG: This is the story about a person who risked everything to stand up for his community.
WILDMAN: It's the late 1970s in San Francisco.
The city's reputation as a bastion of tolerance makes it a mecca for America's gay community.
ROMESBURG: Gay people could go to bars openly.
Gay people could hold hands on the streets openly.
So it represented a new kind of freedom that many gay people had never experienced before.
WILDMAN: So it's no surprise that San Francisco is the first major city in the country to elect an openly gay person to a public office, 47-year-old city supervisor, Harvey Milk.
ROMESBURG: Harvey had a sense of humor.
Uh, he was disarming.
He was frank.
And he was relatable.
WILDMAN: Milk earns a reputation as a champion of tolerance and equality for people from all walks of life.
But Milk and his community have an enemy, a California state senator named John Briggs.
John Briggs was acerbic, ambitious and very conservative.
WILDMAN: Briggs considers San Francisco's acceptance of homosexuality as an example of a moral decay that he thinks is consuming the nation.
And he will stop at nothing to marginalize the gay community statewide.
In May of 1978, Briggs puts forth a ballot initiative to ban homosexuals and anyone who openly supports gay rights from working in California public schools.
It's called Proposition 6.
ROMESBURG: Proposition 6 expressly tells people, "Go back in the closet.
Shut the closet door.
And don't let anybody know publicly that you're gay or lesbian.
" WILDMAN: Prop 6 will become law if a majority of California citizens vote for it in an election to be held in November.
To Harvey Milk, the ballot initiative represents a threat not just to the LGBT community, but to people everywhere.
ROMESBURG: This isn't just about firing openly gay or lesbian teachers.
This initiative would profoundly abridge all people's civil rights.
WILDMAN: Milk resolves to stop Briggs and Proposition 6 at all costs.
Together with his supporters, he arranges a widespread, door-to-door campaign appealing to citizens to vote against the initiative.
But Milk soon finds they simply can't reach enough people.
Briggs, an established state senator with deep pockets, has the support of a majority of Californians.
ROMESBURG: In the last couple of months leading up to the vote, polls show 61% in favor of Proposition 6.
Almost everyone thought that it was going to pass.
WILDMAN: To have any chance of winning, Milk needs a way to reach millions of voters.
So with the ballot just weeks away, he comes up with a brazen plan.
He challenges John Briggs to a series of public debates.
ROMESBURG: Harvey Milk really thought that, once they understood the real issues involved, that people would reject Proposition 6.
This was his last chance.
WILDMAN: John Briggs accepts the challenge.
So will Harvey Milk's Hail Mary be enough to protect equal rights? It's 1978.
California.
The battle for civil rights is raging.
A conservative state senator named John Briggs is attempting to ban gay and lesbian people from working in public schools.
Standing up for equality and freedom is a San Francisco city supervisor named Harvey Milk.
Now, the two are about to go toe-to-toe in a public debate.
So who will win this epic face-off? On September 15, 1978, Harvey Milk and his opponent, John Briggs, face off in a televised debate.
John Briggs is the first to speak.
ROMESBURG: He uses a lot of fearmongering of gays and lesbians around fears that they will recruit and convert children to the evils of homosexuality.
WILDMAN: The raucous crowd showers Briggs with support.
But when Harvey Milk finally takes the microphone he deftly counters his opponent's argument.
ROMESBURG: Milk is hoping to appeal to people who otherwise would perhaps not be in support of gay people but understand that trampling on anyone's civil liberties is a problem.
WILDMAN: Slowly, Milk's rational appeal for equal rights strikes a chord.
At the end of the debate, the charming activist has completely won over the crowd.
On November 7, 1978, nearly 60% of Californians vote against Proposition 6.
Harvey Milk has won.
The stunning victory is celebrated by thousands of supporters in San Francisco.
This victory meant something not just locally, but nationally.
Gays and lesbians could mobilize with their supporters and say no to this backlash.
WILDMAN: Tragically, just three weeks after his biggest success, Harvey Milk is killed by a deranged gunman inside city hall.
Harvey Milk had come to stand for something much bigger.
His legacy is not just about gay people being elected to public office.
It's about the dignity and worth of living openly as yourself in the world.
WILDMAN: Today, the suit worn by Harvey Milk when he was assassinated is on display at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco.
It serves as a reminder of a fearless leader who risked it all for civil rights.
From a man-eating shark to a haunted handprint, a brazen thief to the King of rock 'n' roll I'm Don Wildman, and these are the mysteries at the museum.