Thursday, August 1, 2019

HGB Ep. 304 - Of Jail Riots, Ghosts and the Penitentiary of New Mexico

Moment in Oddity - The Earling Possession

The Earling Possession took place in 1928 and is said to be one of the most well-documented possession cases of the 20th century. Most of you have either watched "The Exorcist" or seen some other movie or documentary about exorcism. This case would be about Anna Ecklund who would suffer demonic possession over and over in her life starting at the age of 14. According to reports, Anna's aunt had been a witch who cursed her food with spells and then later her father would heap curses on her and wish for her possession. Father Theophilus Riesinger, a native Bavarian and a Capuchin monk, would be the man to finally free her when she was 46. If this account is true, Anna displayed some of the most horrific and bizarre behavior. Father Theophilus took Anna to Earling, Iowa to the convent of the Franciscan Sisters on August 17, 1928. Upon arrival, Anna purred like a cat, demanded unblessed food, spoke in languages she didn't know, had to be held down by six strong nuns, vomited tobacco leaves and other spice-like debris and she vomited, urinated and defecated inhuman amounts of waste. The really unbelievable stuff included her lips growing to the size of her hands, she levitated many times, from a prone position she leapt from her bed onto the wall above the door, where she maintained a position of crouching, defying gravity and her body would bloat to twice its size. The claim was that Anna was possessed by many demons, described as "a swarm of mosquitoes." On December 23, 1928, Anna stood erect on her bed and then crumpled back down as the demons left her, each one calling out its name as it left. The exorcism was done in three rounds and took 23 days in total. I'm skeptical of these demon possession stories, but if the Earling Possession is real, it certainly was odd!

This Month in History - St. Columba account of Loch Ness Monster

In the month of August, on the 22nd, in 565, the Loch Ness Monster is spotted for the first time. Now I know many of you are thinking, what is Diane talking about? The story of the Loch Ness Monster didn't come to worldwide attention until 1933. That is true, but the first sighting supposedly was much earlier. The Loch Ness Monster or Nessie as it came to be known was named for the place she was said to inhabit in the Scottish Highlands. It was a dinosaur-like creature with a long neck that had one or more humps protruding from the water with these front flippers to help it get around. When scholars began investigating the tales about Nessie they discovered that the first account of a sighting dated back to 565 in the semi-legendary tale of St. Columba. He was an Irish monk who had sailed to Scotland to spread the gospel of Christ. As he traveled to the land of the Picts, he reached the river Ness and found some people burying a friend. They told the monk that the man had been attacked by “some water monster" that had "snatched at him as he was swimming, and bitten with a most savage bite.” After that, St. Columba ordered one of his acolytes to go fetch the boat, which meant swimming across the river. That was when the monster appeared. The story goes that the monster was “lying hidden in the bottom of the river and suddenly emerged, and, swimming to the man as he was crossing in the middle of the stream, rushed up with a great roar and open mouth”. Everyone was scared except St. Columba who raised his hands and made the sign of the cross and after invoking the Name of God, he commanded, "Think not to go further, nor touch thou the man. Quick! Go back!" And the monster did and a bunch of people were converted. Is the story reliable? We know that pictures of Nessie were hoaxes and many researchers think most sightings of Nessie are mis-identifications, but it sure is fun to think that the Loch Ness Monster that captured my imagination as a kid, just might be real.

Penitentiary of New Mexico
Suggested by listener: Aimee Sandoval

Jails and ghosts seem to go hand-in-hand. So much dark and negative energy in one place. Inside these walls have resided some evil or bad people and even some innocent people. Those accused or guilty of some evil doings. The Penitentiary of New Mexico has the dubious distinction of being the site of the worst prison riot in American history. Prisons are already notorious for being havens for paranormal experiences, but what ensued during that riot, left behind a residue just begging to feed negative spiritual energy. There are those who claim the land here is cursed. Join me as I explore the history and hauntings of the Penitentiary of New Mexico!

Imagine for a moment the energy connected to a jail complex. You have the fear, the anger and the sorrow from the criminal and I would imagine, even the victim. After years of sharing the history and hauntings of a variety of historic jails from around the world, I've learned that many of them had similarities that made them not only places of inhumanity, but keen spots for hauntings. Nearly all of them housed men, women and children in the same areas and overcrowding was the norm. There was no plumbing, so buckets or honey pots were used. Some crimes considered worthy of punishment would be ridiculous by today's standards, like stealing bread. And every one of these jails had "The Hole" - solitary confinement, a place of utter hell that could leave someone insane. Sickness, abuse and murder were rampant behind the bars. While we would all like to believe that the purpose of jail is to reform, at its core its meant to punish. And I'm fine with that, but within reason. Because when things happen outside of reason, hauntings are not far behind.

As I look back over the list of episodes I've done featuring jails, I count 16 of them. Most of them are considered the most haunted jails in the world. There's episode 34 on Kilmanhaim Gaol in Dublin, Ireland with the spirits of former prisoners and wardens with the warden spirits being the most terrifying. Alcatraz in San Francisco was the subject of episode 53 and is thought to be one of the most haunted jails in America with the spirit of The Butcher and something evil with glowing eyes in The Hole. The Old Charleston Jail has made two appearances, in episodes 55 and 262, and is the only jail on the list that I've visited so far, but I had no experiences myself although people claim the spirit of Lavinia Fisher is there. Episode 66 featured the infamous Ohio State Reformatory haunted by the warden's wife Helen, wayward boys and shadowy figures. Episode 68 featured the Maitland Gaol, a jail that housed Australia's worst criminals and is home to the spirit of Sawas who hanged himself inside the door of cell 4 and possibly a former guard. Episode 84 features the Carleton County Gaol in Ottawa, Canada and there are so many spirits here that it has been declared the ninth most haunted building on the planet. Episode 86 had us in Australia again for Pentridge Prison with a female spirit and the ghost of Mark Chopper Read. Episode 104 took us to a Civil War era prison known as Andersonville with the spirit of Father Whelan and the sounds of gunfire and foggy apparitions. Episode 112 on Fremantle in Australia featured the gaol there that has the spirit of the only woman executed there, Martha Rendell and the sounds of a scuffle at the gallows. Episode 113 featured Eastern State Penitentiary that is probably the most haunted jail in America located in Philly with hauntings in Cell Block 12 and Cell Block 6. Episode 116 features Moundsville State Prison or more famously known as  the West Virginia Penitentiary with its castle-like structure and ghost of a maintenance man, shadow figures and a prisoner named Robert. Episode 215 that includes the Derby Gaol in Derby, England has the spirit of a murderer, a female ghost, a human-like gray mist and child ghosts. Episode 220 with the Kentucky State Penitentiary and spirits of some of the 162 men executed at the jail. Episode 223 featuring the Old Idaho State Penitentiary and its haunted Cell House 5 and Solitary Confinement. Episode 284 has the Squirrel Cage Jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa with spirits of a little girl and cats and lots of sounds of jingling keys and loud sighing and the hauntings seem friendly which is good news for us since we'll be investigating it in September.

So there are definitely a variety of ghosts in these places, but there are many similarities including cold spots, disembodied voices and the slamming of cell doors on their own. Added to this list of haunted prisons is the penitentiary in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Parts of it are still open today as a maximum security prison, but the jail dates back to the late 1800s. Congress had authorized for New Mexico to build a prison here in 1853, but it would not be open until 1885. This would be the original Old Main and the design was based on the same plans used for Sing Sing and Joliet. This prison would put the prisoners to work making bricks and this would be its first industry. The next industry would be building highways and New Mexico would be the first western state to use prisoners to do this work starting in 1903.

It would seem this prison and riots would have a long and tense relationship. The first would take place on July 19, 1922. Prisoners were angry over the overcrowding, excessive force used by guards and the bad food. The inmates were all out of their cells and refused to go back to them when the guards ordered them to do so. The tower guards apparently weren't fooling around and they just opened fire, killing one prisoner and injuring five others. They were reprimanded for their obvious heavy-handed approach and a report claimed that guards had a failure to understand how to control a prison population and were inexperienced. Despite decades passing before the next riot, nothing would be learned. The second riot took place on June 15, 1953 and was fueled by inmates protesting excessive force used on them. They grabbed Deputy Warden Ralph Tahash and twelve guards and held them hostage. By the end of this riot, two inmates were dead and several others were injured.

It was decided after this riot that it was time to build a new facility and that was done in 1956 at a spot about 11 miles south of the original and they would dub it "the main unit." This was a bad place to build. The land is said to be cursed here, more than likely from something that happened in 1680. Spanish settlers had moved into the land that was already occupied by a Native American tribe. These settlers had made the tribe members into slaves and they revolted. The Native Americans stripped the settlers naked and beat them. During that revolt, 400 settlers were killed. So this prison was already haunted by something before it was even built.

Things were good here for awhile with reform being the focus. Under President Lyndon Johnson, Project Newgate was started, which developed programs for job training, community service and education. The population was kept below capacity as well. Things were good, until they weren't good and then, they got really bad. The programs were stopped in 1975 and lock downs were done for long periods. One really disturbing incident was the "Night of the Ax Handles," which sounds like a bad horror movie, but was actually punishment dealt out by guards. The inmates formed a work strike in 1976 and the Deputy Warden stopped it by using tear gas. The prisoners were run out of the dormitory, stripped naked and forced to make their way down a gauntlet of ax handle wielding guards who beat them.  

What fueled the flames of the worst prison riot in America I would say are based on two things. One, prisoners had some legitimate beefs about the quality of their conditions. They were not allowed recreational time, the sanitation was horrible and the food was nearly inedible. There was overcrowding with 1,156 inmates in a prison that had beds for less than 963. A visiting warden reported that this was the most disgusting prison he had ever visited. Inmates made several complaints, but everything fell on deaf ears. The second catalyst was a snitch system that was in place turning prisoner on prisoner. This was an angry volcano ready to erupt and when it did hundreds were injured and dozens were killed.

So here is our scene. This is Cell Block 4 and the date is February 2, 1980. This cell block is at the far northern end from the Control Center. This contains the E-2 dormitory, which was specifically designed for minor offenders. Due to construction, some of the most hardened and violent prisoners were moved to E-2. That's right, murderers and rapists are housed in a dormitory. Add to this, many new and fairly untrained guards. Prisoners in E-2 had made themselves some Prison Hooch and several were fairly intoxicated when the 1:30am count was conducted by two guards. At approximately 1:40am, two inmates overpowered a guard before he had closed the door in the southside Dormitory E-2. Another four officers were taken hostage. As long as the grill to the south wing was closed, this little blip on the radar would be over as the other guards would easily be able to handle the situation. But the grill was not closed. One of the inmates took one of the guard's uniforms and positioned himself by the grill. Officers Larry Mendoza and Antonio Vigil heard several men's voices as they ate breakfast in the officers' mess hall. They got up and saw the hallway beyond the grill filled with prisoners. These inmates would have access to the control center if that grill wasn't closed. They knew the situation was urgent. They ran to the control center and warned the officer inside about the growing situation and then they took refuge in the north wing of the prison. The inmates stormed the control center at 2:05am, smashing the bulletproof plate glass window with a brass fire extinguisher, and this gave them complete control of the prison.

Around 2:30am, several inmates broke into the infirmary and they started dealing the drugs that were there. So they are not only drunk on hooch, but now they are high too. And they all start talking among themselves about what they should do with the guards and how they were going to punish the snitches. The most brutal and dark place in man was opened this night. Whether it was supernaturally influenced or not, it would be pure evil. Execution squads formed and groups started carrying around  acetylene torches that had been left by construction workers. They used the torches to cut into Cell Block 4 where many snitches were kept in protective custody. This happened around 7am. The Attorney General's report about the riot stated, "Some impatient killers threw flammable liquids into locked cells and ignited them,." And when the groups got a hold of their victims they "stabbed, tortured, bludgeoned, burned, hanged, and hacked [them] apart." No amount of begging spared anyone the execution groups were set on punishing.

And no amount of begging from the inmates now trapped in Cell Block 4 got officers outside to attempt to save them, even though there was a back door to route them through. The reasoning was that as long as the guards weren't being killed, negotiations would continue. The guards weren't being killed, but they were being hurt. Twelve of them would be beat and raped. The snitches were beat, raped, dismembered, burned and one was decapitated with an axe. The axe marks can still be seen today. The official report stated that "the violence had spent itself" by 1:30pm on Sunday, February 3rd and the National Guard finally went in and retook the prison. They found 33 dead inmates and more than 100 others injured, including the 12 guards. Unbelievably, Old Main would remain open until 1998. Systemic reforms did follow although there are claims that abuse continued until it was closed. Hollywood has used the Old Main as a setting for film making. The Longest Yard and Zero Dark Thirty were both filmed here.

Shortly after the riot came reports of weird phenomena. Inmates claimed to hear disembodied screaming and guards started having problems with cell doors opening and closing on their own. The most consistent story about this prison are experiences with shadow beings. Former guards and tour guides claim to have seen multiple 3-dimensional dark figures. Negative emotions are often felt near the Gas Chamber and the main areas that experience haunting activity are the tool room and laundry room. Ghost Files featured this location in its second season and we'll discuss what they found in a little bit.

A radio show was hosting a Halloween special at Old Main and they invited a Paranormal investigation group to join them. There was no electricity hooked up as they entered the dark building. After they got inside, they heard the cell doors closing, one after the other. They caught it on their recorders as well. Thing is, the door system is controlled by electricity, so there was no power to close those cell doors. It can be controlled manually, but that is very difficult as the metal wheels are hard to turn and most are rusted. The group checked to see if the doors had actually shut or if they were just hearing residual sounds and the cell doors were indeed shut.

A producer on a film being shot at Old Main, picked up one of the actors from the airport and he said he wanted to take him by the old prison before shooting the next day so he could get a feel for the place. By the time they arrived, it was already dark, so they grabbed a couple of flashlights. Their first stop was Cell Block 4 and the producer pointed out the axe marks on the floor where an inmate had been decapitated. Then he showed the actor the outline of a human figure that had been burned into the floor when an inmate was tortured by a welding torch. Then he challenged the actor to sit in the old Gas Chamber and he actually agreed. As they made their way to the basement, they saw a light at the end of the corridor and they found out it was a lit candle. The candle was sitting on a chair in the room used for viewing executions. The actor chuckled and patted the producer on the back telling him that he had done a good job with this prank. Only the producer hadn't done this. The actor stepped into the Gas Chamber and sat down. When he looked up, he could see that the producer was peering into the chamber and he looked scared and was clearly staring at something behind the actor. He spun around and saw dark figures there. The producer waved for him to get out and then took off down the corridor. The actor was right behind him and both men ran until they got to the ground level.

An actress named Sandy had been at the prison working on a film in which she played a prisoner. On Ghost Files, she informed Steve that she had a truly chilling experience. The crew had already been feeling and seeing strange things like shadowy figures that would run by. The crew was filming a scene up in the cells when Sandy got locked into one of the cells. They got her out and as she was exiting, she heard a male voice behind her say, "Hey, how you doin'?" She said, "Fine, how are you?" The voice said, "Fine now." She thought it was a member of the crew, but when she turned around, nobody was there. She almost peed her pants. To make matters worse, something followed Sandy home and was tormenting her at home. She couldn't sleep and was getting an ulcer from the stress she was feeling.  This seemed to be connected to a hat she found in Cell Block E-2 and took home with her. After scary stuff started happening in her house, she burned the hat, but the activity continued. Amy helped her to resolve the issue.

Steve talked to a former corrections officer who worked here in the early 1990s named Anthony. The activity here was so well known that during training at the academy, it was addressed. Anthony had three inmates that he brought down to get linens from the laundry room. As they walked back, they heard a rattling noise and when Anthony looked he saw a shadow and he shined his flashlight at it the beam was invisible. He gets chills just thinking about the jail. There was also Leon, a former corrections officer who really was scared of the jail. He saw shadows like regular shadows, but there was nothing to cast them. Windows opened on their own as well.

Amy picked up on all the chaos and horror of the riot. I sometimes feel like Amy can see residual pictures like watching a movie rather than seeing actual spirits. But here, she was also encountering entities. She said that the whole prison felt haunted and that the land was cursed. The most disturbing thing that Amy saw was a shadow figure that was completely three dimensional. She said that it was not a human spirit, but something ancient. She used the term "devil" to describe it. The entity was thriving in the jail. She managed to trace its origins to a hole in the lowest area. It looked like a sewage pipe or something to me. She saw many spirits that seemed to be mentally ill down near the laundry area and Steve confirmed that many inmates were unmedicated for their mental illness.

The New Mexico Corrections Department started the “Old Main Tours” in 2012 and so you can tour the facility and hear the stories about the riot, but don't expect to hear anything about ghosts. They don't entertain that stuff at all, which made it difficult to get information on the hauntings. But based on the people who have come forward with their stories and the reading by Amy, I imagine if ghost hunts were offered here, there would be plenty of activity. Is the Penitentiary of New Mexico haunted? That is for you to decide!

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