There have been reports of ghosts in the prison one of the most frightening that occurs within the walls is commonly referred to as the "Shadow Man" with him comes the feeling of being very unsafe and threatened.
It was operational from 1829 to 1971.
Notorious criminals such as bank robber Willie Sutton and Al Capone were held here.
As with any prison, OSR accumulated its horror stories over the years. Two corrections officers lost their lives at OSR; one in 1926, shot to death by a former inmate who was trying to spring his buddy; the other in 1932, beaten to death with a three-foot iron rod in the Hole--slang for solitary confinement.
In July of 1948, two inmates released from the Reformatory for "good behavior" displayed some very bad behavior when they went on a killing spree. Robert Daniels and John West, dubbed the "Mad Dog Killers" by the papers, first murdered Columbus tavern owner Earl Ambrose, then stole a car and drove to Mansfield, where they kidnapped OSR farm superintendent John Niebel, his wife, and his twenty-year-old daughter. They murdered all three in a cornfield off Fleming Falls Road. The next day they killed a farmer from Tiffin, whose new bride managed to escape, then shot a truck driver. Two days later the two ex-cons were trapped at a roadblock near Van Wert. West died in a shoot-out with police but Daniels was captured. He bragged about the possibility of dying in the electric chair. The following January he got his wish at the State Pen in Columbus.
On November 6, 1950, the wife of the prison superintendent apparently knocked a loaded gun off a closet shelf and shot herself through the left lung. The next day she died in the Mansfield hospital. It's possible that the superintendent shot her in order to spare himself the messy legal work and political stigma of a divorce. In February 1959 the superintendent himself died from a heart attack in his office.
An inmate hung himself in his cell in 1955. One burned himself to death in his cell with turpentine and paint thinner stolen from the prison furniture shop. Two convicts were once left in a cramped single-occupancy solitary confinement cell overnight; in the morning only one walked out. The other was stuffed under the bunk. In 1957 a riot put 120 men into the 20 solitary cells for 30 day stints.
- Administration Wing: Visitors and employees have reported experiencing strong paranormal events in the administration wing where Warden Glattke and his wife Helen resided. The story is Helen, while reaching for a box in the closet, knocked a gun off the shelf to the floor, causing a bullet to discharge into her chest. She was rushed to the Mansfield General Hospital where she died as a result of her injuries. Rumors ran rampant that Warden Glattke was responsible for Helen's death, but there was never any proof to substantiate such rumors. Ten years later Glattke suffered a heart attack and died at the same hospital where Helen died.
Some believe that Helen and Warden Glattke haunt the administration rooms to this day. The strong smell of Helen's rose perfume reportedly floats in and out of her pink bathroom. Visitors report felling a gush of cold air pass through them as the wander through this wing. It is not uncommon to hear of a jammed camera shutter, which unexplainably worked again once the visitor left the area.
- The Infirmary: The infirmary where many prisoners died miserable deaths is known in paranormal circles to set off EMF detectors and claims of clusters of orbs have been captured in photographs. There have also been several reports from visitors that they have felt unexplained gushes of air pass by them.
- The Library: The Reformatory's library and a small inmate's graveyard are believed by some to be haunted. Visitors have reported seeing objects move in the graveyard and equipment failure is not uncommon in the library. Psychics visiting the library have reported seeing the spirit of a young woman, possibly Helen or a nurse who was killed by one of the prisoners.
- The Hole: The hole, located in the basement of the prison, was a place where prisoners who broke the rules were kept in one of the 20 cells. Inmates would be kept in the dark, dank, roach-infested cells, with one or more inmates, with little to eat and no place of comfort to sleep. Bread and water was the common meal with a lunch provided every three days. The stronger inmates would take the food from the weaker, leaving many to suffer hunger as well as other hardships.
Many prisoners died in the hole and some believe that their tortured spirits remain, prompting reports of negative paranormal energy in this area.
Visitors to this area sometimes leave after being overwhelmed with nausea. Others feel chills run through their bodies. The feeling of being watched permeates in the rooms and some have even reported seeing glowing eyes peering at them from dark corners.
Alcatraz Island, San Francisco:
Is an island located in the San Francisco Bay. It is often referred to as "The Rock", the small island was developed with facilities for a lighthouse, a military fortification, a military prison, and a Federal Bureau of prisons until 1963.
The prison was opened on January 1, 1934.
During the 29 years it was in use, the jail held such notable criminals as Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz), George "Machine Gun" Kelly, James "Whitey" Bulger, Bumpy Johnson, Rafael Cancel Miranda, member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party wh attacked the United States Capitol building in 1954., Mickey Cohen, Arthur R. "Doc" Barker and Alvin "Creepy" Karpis (who served more time at Alcatraz than any other inmate). It also provided housing for the Bureau of Prison staff and their families.
The majority of the prisoners at Alcatraz had been sent there after causing problems at other prisons.
Each of the cells in America’s "first escape-proof prison" measured 4 x 8 feet, had a single fold-up bunk, a toilet, a desk, a chair and a sink. An inmate’s day would begin at 6:30 in the morning, when he was awakened and then given 25 minutes to clean his cell and to stand and be counted. At 6:55, the individual tiers of cells would be opened and prisoners would march in a single file line to the mess hall. They were given 20 minutes to eat and then were marched out to line up for work assignments. The routine never varied and was completely methodical.
The main corridor of the prison was given the name "Broadway" by the inmates and the cells here were considered the least desirable. The ones on the bottom tier were always cold and damp and they were also the least private, since guards, inmates and staff members were always passing through this corridor. New prisoners were generally assigned to the second tier of B Block in a quarantine status for the first three months of their sentence.
The guards at Alcatraz were almost as hardened as the prisoners themselves. They numbered the inmates one to three, which was stunning considering that most prisons were at least one guard to every twelve inmates. Gun galleries had been placed at each end of the cell blocks and as many as 12 counts each day allowed the guards to keep very close tabs on the men on their watch. Because of the small number of total inmates at Alcatraz, the guards generally knew the inmates by name.
While the cells the prisoners lived in were barren at best, they must have seemed like luxury hotel rooms compared to the punishment cells. Here, the men were stripped of all but their basic right to food and even then, what they were served barely sustained the convict’s life, let alone his health.
One place of punishment was the single "Strip Cell", which was dubbed the "Oriental". This dark, steel-encased cell had no toilet and no sink. There was only a hole in the floor that could be flushed from the outside. Inmates were placed in the cell with no clothing and were given little food. The cell had a standard set of bars, with an expanded opening to pass food through, but a solid steel door enclosed the prisoner in total darkness. They were usually kept in this cell for 1-2 days. The cell was cold and completely bare, save for a straw sleeping mattress that the guards removed each morning. This cell was used a punishment for the most severe violations and was feared by the prison population.
The "Hole" was a similar type of cell. There were several of them and they were all located on the bottom tier of cells and were considered to be a severe punishment by the inmates. Mattresses were again taken away and prisoners were sustained by meals of bread and water, which was supplemented by a solid meal every third day. Steel doors also closed these cells off from the daylight, although a low wattage bulb was suspended from the ceiling. Inmates could spend up to 19 days here, completely silent and isolated from everyone. Time in the "hole" usually meant psychological and sometimes even physical torture.
Usually, convicts who were thrown into the "hole" for anything other than a minor infraction were beaten by the guards. The screams from the men being beaten in one of the four "holes" located on the bottom tier of D Block echoed throughout the block as though being amplified through a megaphone. When the inmates of D Block (which had been designated at a disciplinary unit by the warden) heard a fellow convict being worked over, they would start making noises that would be picked up in Blocks B and C and would then sound throughout the entire island.
Often when men emerged from the darkness and isolation of the "hole", they would be totally senseless and would end up in the prison’s hospital ward, devoid of their sanity. Others came out with pnuemonia and arthritis after spending days or weeks on the cold cement floor with no clothing. Some men never came out of the "hole" at all.
And there were even worse places to be sent than the "hole". Located in front of unused A Block was a staircase that led down to a large steel door. Behind the door were catacomb-like corridors and stone archways that led to the sealed off gun ports from the days when Alcatraz was a fort. Fireplaces located in several of the rooms were never used for warmth, but to heat up cannonballs so that they would start fires after reaching their targets. Two of the other rooms located in this dank, underground area were dungeons.
Prisoners who had the misfortune of being placed in the dungeons were not only locked in, but also chained to the walls. Their screams could not be heard in the main prison. The only toilet they had was a bucket, which was emptied once each week. For food, they received two cups of water and one slice of bread each day. Every third day, they would receive a regular meal. The men were stripped of their clothing and their dignity as guards chained them to the wall in a standing position from six in the morning until six at night. In the darkest hours, they were given a blanket to sleep on.
Thankfully, the dungeons were rarely used, but the dark cells of D Block, known as the "hole, were regularly filled.Al Capone was in the "hole" three times during his 4 1/2-year stay at Alcatraz. It was reported that he once said "it looks like Alcatraz has got me licked." The first years of Alcatraz were known as the "silent years" and during this period, the rules stated that no prisoners were allowed to speak to one another, sing, hum or whistle. Talking was forbidden in the cells, in the mess hall and even in the showers. The inmates were allowed to talk for three minutes during the morning and afternoon recreation yard periods and for two hours on weekends.
Capone, who remained arrogant for some time after his arrival, decided that the rule of silence should not apply to him. He ended up being sent to the "hole" for two, 10-day stretches for talking to other inmates. He also spent a full 19 days on the "hole" for trying to bribe a guard for information about the outside world. Prisoners were not allowed newspapers or magazines that would inform them of current events. Each time that Capone was sent to the "hole", he emerged a little worse for wear. Eventually, the Rock would break him completely.
Many of the prisoners who served time in Alcatraz ended up insane. Capone may have been one of them for time here was not easy on the ex-gangland boss. On one occasion, he got into a fight with another inmate in the recreation yard and was placed in isolation for eight days. Another time, while working in the prison basement, an inmate standing in line for a haircut exchanged words with Capone and then stabbed him with a pair of scissors. Capone was sent to the prison hospital but was released a few days later with a minor wound.
The attempts on his life, the no-talking rule, the beatings and the prison routine itself began to take their toll on Capone. After several fights in the yard, he was excused from his recreation periods and being adept with a banjo, joined a four-man prison band. The drummer in the group was "Machine-Gun" Kelly. Although gifts were not permitted for prisoners on the Rock, musical instruments were and Capone’s wife sent him a banjo shortly after he was incarcerated. After band practice, Capone always returned immediately to his cell, hoping to stay away from the other convicts.
Occasionally, guards reported that he would refuse to leave his cell to go to the mess hall and eat. They would often find him crouched down in the corner of his cell like an animal. On other occasions, he would mumble to himself or babble in baby talk or simply sit on his bed and strum little tunes on his banjo. Years later, another inmate recalled that Capone would sometimes stay in his cell and make his bunk over and over again.
After more than three years on the Rock, Capone was on the edge of total insanity. He spent the last year of his sentence in the hospital ward, undergoing treatment for an advanced case of syphilis. Most of the time he spent in the ward, he spent playing his banjo. His last day on Alcatraz was January 6, 1939. He was then transferred to the new Federal prison at Terminal Island near Los Angeles. When he was paroled, he became a recluse at his Palm Island, Florida estate. He died, broken and insane, in 1947.
And Al Capone was far from the only man to surrender his sanity to Alcatraz. In 1937 alone, 14 of the prisoners went rampantly insane and that does not include the men who slowly became "stir crazy" from the brutal conditions of the place. To Warden Johnston, mental illness was nothing more than an excuse to get out of work. As author Richard Winer once wrote, "it would be interesting to know what the warden thought of Rube Persful".
Persful was a former gangster and bank robber who was working in one of the shops, when he picked up a hatchet, placed his left hand on a block of wood and while laughing maniacally, began hacking off the fingers on his hand. Then, he placed his right hand on the block and pleaded with a guard to chop off those fingers as well. Persful was placed in the hospital, but was not declared insane.
An inmate named Joe Bowers slashed his own throat with a pair of broken eyeglasses. He was given first aid and then was thrown into the "hole". After his release, he ran away from his work area and scaled a chain-link fence, fully aware that the guards would shoot him. They opened fire and his body fell 75 feet down to the rocks below the fence.
Ed Wutke, a former sailor who had been sent to Alcatraz on murder charges, managed to fatally slice through his jugular vein with the blade from a pencil sharpener.
These were not the only attempts at suicide and mutilation either. It was believed that more men suffered mental breakdowns at Alcatraz, by percentage, than at any other Federal prisons.
In 1941, inmate Henry Young went on trail for the murder of a fellow prisoner and his accomplice in a failed escape attempt, Rufus McCain. Young’s attorney claimed that Alcatraz guards had frequently beaten his client and that he had endured long periods of extreme isolation. While Young was depicted as sympathetic, he was actually a difficult inmate who often provoked fights with other prisoners. He was considered a violent risk and he later murdered two guards during an escape attempt. After that, Young and his eventual victim, McCain, spent nearly 22 months in solitary confinement.
After the two men returned to the normal prison population, McCain was assigned to the tailoring shop and Young to the furniture shop, located directly upstairs. On December 3, 1940 Young waited until just after a prisoner count and then when a guard’s attention was diverted, he ran downstairs and stabbed McCain. The other man went into shock and he died five hours later. Young refused to say why he had killed the man.Escape Attempts
During its 29 years of operation, the penitentiary claimed no prisoner had successfully escaped. A total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, two men trying twice; 23 were caught, six were shot and killed during their escape, and three were lost at sea and never found. The most violent occurred on May 2, 1946 when a failed escape attempt by six prisoners led to the Battle of Alcatraz.
On June 11, 1962, Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin carried out one of the most intricate escapes ever devised. Behind the prisoners' cells in Cell Block B (where the escapees were interned) was an unguarded 3-foot (0.91 m) wide utility corridor. The prisoners chiseled away the moisture-damaged concrete from around an air vent leading to this corridor, using tools such as a metal spoon soldered with silver from a dime and an electric drill improvised from a stolen vacuum cleaner motor. The noise was disguised by accordions played during music hour, and the progress was concealed by false walls which, in the dark recesses of the cells, fooled the guards.
The escape route led up through a fan vent; the prisoners removed the fan and motor, replacing them with a steel grille and leaving a shaft large enough for a prisoner to climb through. Stealing a carborundum abrasive cord from the prison workshop, the prisoners removed the rivets from the grille and substituted dummy rivets made of soap. The escapees also constructed an inflatable raft from several stolen raincoats for the trip to the mainland. Leaving papier-mache dummies in their cells affixed with stolen human hair from the barbershop, they escaped. The prisoners are estimated to have entered San Francisco Bay at 10 p.m.
The official investigation by the FBI was aided by another prisoner, Allen West, who was part of the escapees' group but was left behind (West's false wall kept slipping so he held it into place with cement, which set; when the Anglin brothers (John and Clarence) accelerated the schedule, West desperately chipped away at the wall, but by the time he got out, his companions were gone). Articles belonging to the prisoners (including plywood paddles and parts of the raincoat raft) were discovered on nearby Angel Island. The official report on the escape says the prisoners drowned while trying to reach the mainland in the cold waters of the bay. But there were sightings of the men over the years, and friends and family of Morris and the Anglins claimed to have been receiving postcards written in the men's handwriting. Because the prison cost much more to operate than other prisons (nearly $10 per prisoner per day, as opposed to $3 per prisoner per day at Atlanta), and half a century of salt water saturation had severely eroded the buildings, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy ordered the prison closed on March 21, 1963.
Other night watchmen who have patrolled this cell house, after the last of the tourist boats have left for the day, say that they have heard the sounds of what appear to be men running coming the from the upper tiers. Thinking that an intruder is inside the prison, the watchmen have investigated the sounds, but always find nothing.
One Park Service employee stated that she had been working one rainy afternoon when the sparse number of tourists were not enough to keep all of the guides busy. She went for a walk in front of A Block and was just past the door that led down to the dungeons when she heard a loud scream from the bottom of the stairs. She ran away without looking to see if anyone was down there. When asked why she didn’t report the incident, she replied "I didn’t dare mention it because the day before, everyone was ridiculing another worker who reported hearing men’s voices coming from the hospital ward and when he checked the ward, it was empty."
Several of the guides and rangers have also expressed a strangeness about one of the "hole" cells, number 14D. "There’s a feeling of sudden intensity that comes from spending more than a few minutes around that cell," one of them said. Another guide also spoke up about that particular cell. "That cell, 14D, is always cold. It’s even colder than the other three dark cells. Sometimes it gets warm out here - so hot that you have to take your jacket off. The temperature inside the cell house can be in the 70’s, yet 14D is still cold... so cold that you need a jacket if you spend any time in it."
Oddly, the tour guides were not the only ones to have strange experiences in that particular cell. A number of former guards from the prisons also spoke of some pretty terrifying incidents that took place near the "holes" and in particular, Cell 14D.
During the guard’s stint in the middle 1940’s, an inmate was locked in the cell for some forgotten infraction. According to the officer, the inmate began screaming within seconds of being locked in. He claimed that some creature with "glowing eyes" was locked in with him. As tales of a ghostly presence wandering the nearby corridor were a continual source of practical jokes among the guards, no one took the convict’s cries of being "attacked" very seriously.
The man’s screaming continued on into the night until finally, there was silence. The following day, guards inspected the cell and they found the convict dead. A horrible expression had been frozen onto the man’s face and there were clear marks of hands around his throat! The autopsy revealed that the strangulation could not have been self-inflicted. Some believed that he might have been choked by one of the guards, who had been fed up with the man’s screaming, but no one ever admitted it.
A few of the officers blamed something else for the man’s death. They believed that the killer had been the spirit of a former inmate. To add to the mystery, on the day following the tragedy, several guards who were performing a head count noticed that there were too many men in the lineup. Then, at the end of the line, they saw the face of the convict who had recently been strangled in the "hole"! As they all looked on in stunned silence, the figure abruptly vanished.
If, as many believe, ghosts return to haunt the places where they suffered traumatic experiences when they were alive, then Alcatraz must be loaded with spirits.
According to sources, a number of guards who served between 1946 and 1963 experienced strange happenings on Alcatraz. From the grounds of the prison to the caverns beneath the buildings, there was often talk of people sobbing and moaning, inexplicable smells, cold spots and spectral apparitions. Even guests and families who lived on the island claimed to occasionally see the ghostly forms of prisoners and even phantom soldiers. Phantom gunshots were known to send seasoned guards cringing on the ground in the belief that the prisoners had escaped and had obtained weapons. There was never an explanation. A deserted laundry room would sometimes fill with the smell of smoke, even though nothing was burning. The guards would be sent running from the room, only to return later and find that the air was clear.
Even Warden Johnston, who did not believe in ghosts, once encountered the unmistakable sound of a person sobbing while he accompanied some guests on a tour of the prison. He swore that the sounds came from inside of the dungeon walls. The strange sounds were followed by an ice-cold wind that swirled through the entire group. He could offer no explanation for the weird events.
As the years have passed, ghost hunters, authors, crime buffs and curiosity-seekers have visited the island and many of them have left with feelings of strangeness. Perhaps those who experience the "ghostly side" of Alcatraz most often are the national park service employees who sometimes spend many hours here alone. For the most part, the rangers claim to not believe in the supernatural but occasionally, one of them will admit that weird things happen here that they cannot explain.
According to one park ranger, he was in one of the cell houses one morning, near the shower room, and heard the distinctive sound of banjo music coming from the room. He could not explain it --- but many who know some of the hidden history of Alcatraz can. In his last days at the prison, Al Capone often hid in the shower room with his banjo. Rather than risk going out into the prison yard, where he feared for his life thanks to his deteriorating mental state, Capone received permission to stay inside and practice with his instrument.
And perhaps he sits there still, this lonesome and broken spirit, still plucking at the strings of a spectral banjo that vanished decades ago. For on occasion, tour guides and rangers, who walk the corridors of the prison alone, still claim to hear and an occasional tune echoing through the abandoned building. Is it Al Capone?