Dominating the skyline of the small town of Moundsville like a great baronial castle, this massive and imposing prison must have filled those who entered it with dread.
Now corroded and crumbling it has lain empty for the past twenty years, the prisoners shipped out to other penitentiaries or released back into the community.
For those who now expect the empty halls and corridors to echo with the sound of silence, there is disappointment. Far from a peaceful ruin, this prison with its gory and disturbing history is now home to the Moundsville Penitentiary ghosts and they are not going to go quietly.
A Brief History
The little town of Moundsville is an intriguing place, named after the burial mounds found all over the town, it is clearly a place of spiritual importance. Built by the Edina tribe over 2000 years ago on mystical ley lines.
Fast forward to the nineteenth century and this small town in West Virginia was chosen to house either a new university or prison.
Bizarrely the townsfolk chose to build the penitentiary and placed it firmly in the bosom of their community, directly opposite one of the most prominent burial mounds in the town.
Opened in 1866, the Moundsville Penitentiary was destined to become one of the most notorious prisons in U.S. history.
For the next 130 years what followed was abhorrent to most people. Overcrowded and housing some of the most dangerous criminals in the country, Moundsville was often a horrific place for its inmates.
With a regime of torture and cruelty imposed by the management and a dog eat dog attitude amongst the prisoners themselves, life was hard.
Over 998 recorded homicides took place during its history. Add to this number the executions and those who died a natural death and it is small wonder that rumors of hauntings surround the prison.
By the 1990’s things had reached boiling point. Overcrowding, riots and an expose in a national publication, forced the closure of the penitentiary. The remaining prisoners were moved out leaving behind the once great building to slowly fall apart.
There is a belief among prison inmates that if you die in prison, your soul remains in prison. Those that visit the Moundsville Penitentiary can certainly testify to its eerie atmosphere and almost palpable ghostly presence.
Over the years as the evidence of paranormal experiences piles up a number of ghostly hotspots have been identified.
The Wagon Gate: The oldest part of the prison and the place where hangings took place as a form of execution until the electric chair took over. The trap door can still be seen in the ceiling of the building.
Rumor has it that the local townspeople would stand below when there was a hanging. As if it wasn’t a cruel enough punishment, at least two of the hangings went dramatically wrong.
The first, the hanging of Frank Hyer, put an end to public executions. Frank was a heavy man and somehow his weight was miscalculated. As he dropped through the trap door he was decapitated by the noose around his neck.
The hanging of Avril Paul Adkins also went drastically wrong when he fell from the rope and landed on the floor below. The unsympathetic prison staff merely picked up Adkins and re hung him.
One of the most interesting facts about this area is that it was cleaned by the female prisoners after an execution. One of these female prisoners is known to be the mother of Charles Manson.
Visitors to this area claim to have heard sobbing, felt themselves touched or seen strange mists and orbs. The rotating gate that admitted inmates to the prison is also said to turn on its own without anybody operating its mechanism.
The Boiler Room: The boiler room is one of the most haunted parts of the prison. Said to be haunted by a prisoner called R.D. Wall also known as the maintenance man, visitors to the hole have seen strange faces appear on the walls and a green mist swirling about the room.
Wall was rumored to be a snitch within the prison. He was given the job of caring for the boilers for his own protection as it kept him separate from the rest of the prisoners.
Unfortunately a group of inmates bribed some prison officers to gain access to Wall. Left alone with their victim they hacked him to death with knives they had manufactured themselves.
The Sugar Shack: The Sugar Shack is a recreation area within the prison. It is not known whether any homicides took place here but it is certainly a place where violent assaults and rapes occurred.
The area was used during times of bad weather and was left largely unsupervised by the prison staff. People who visit this area claim it is impossible to walk through without bumping into things. When the lights are turned on, the room is always empty.
The Infirmary: Prisoners near death were said to be shipped out to hospital to avoid dying in prison. Most prisoners in the penitentiary believed the myth that if you died in prison your soul remained there forever.
Obviously, there were times that prisoners couldn’t be moved quickly enough. Their souls are now thought to haunt his area. Witnesses claim to have heard crying and moaning in this area.
The Infirmary also has a psychiatric ward where lobotomies were performed on prisoners. As well as screaming the clear sound of a gunshot can sometimes be heard.
The North Hall: The North Hall or the Alamo as it was known, housed the maximum security prisoners. At least three ghosts are said to haunt this area.
The first Red Snyder, murdered and cut up his father before hiding him under the bed. While in prison the dangerous criminal became the leader of the Aryan Brotherhood.
Leaving his cell one day he was stabbed by a fellow inmate Rusty Lassiter. People who have visited his cell have felt a finger brush the back of their neck. Two former employees of the prison also swear that they have heard his voice when visiting the prison.
One lady claims that she heard his voice say “Good morning Mags” while the other says that when she informed the empty cell that Rusty Lassiter had been released from prison, she heard the clear reply “I know”.
The second ghost thought to haunt the area is Danny Lehman. A highly talented artist, Lehman’s work can be seen around the prison. A member of a motorcycle gang he was stabbed through the eye in a revenge attack.
Another ghost who frequents the North Hall is Harry Powers. Powers was the inspiration for the film and book Night of the Hunter. Executed in the fifties, his is the only unmarked grave in the prison cemetery, the reason is unknown.
The Hole: A tiny space leading to the Sugar Shack, prisoners who were locked in here often went mad. Screaming and crying has been heard emanating from this area.
The Shadow Man: The shadow man is perhaps the creepiest of all the Moundsville ghosts. Caught on camera and video he is clearly a powerfully built male figure.
Lacking substance or features but recognisable as a man he has been seen in different areas of the prison. Those who have caught a glimpse of him have first felt eyes boring into the back of their head before turning quickly to catch a glimpse.
Ancient burial grounds, ley lines, murder and suffering. It seems that everything came together to create a perfect storm when Moundsville built its first and last prison.
Some have even suggested that an Indian curse lies on the land. What is for sure is that over a thousand deaths occurred in this unhappy place.
Many of the inmates imprisoned believed that if they died in prison their souls would remain forever, it seems they’re right. Whatever the truth of the matter there is certainly something very sinister and unexplained happening.
For those that tour the now empty prison the answer is clear, the souls of many who lived and died in this awful place are still incarcerated. Murderers and rapists in life, in death they are the Moundsville Penitentiary ghosts.