Moment in Oddity - Rapunzel Syndrome
We imagine that most of you have never heard of the rare illness known as Rapunzel Syndrome. No, this is not a disease that makes you burst into song as a man climbs up your hair to rescue you from your tower prison. This also is not a sickness that causes your hair to grow and grow and grow...you get the picture. This is an illness that causes a person to excessively chew on their hair over years, which wouldn't be so bad if not for the fact that they then swallow a bunch of that hair and it tends to build-up inside the body. In August of 2020, a seventeen-year-old named Sweety Kumari underwent surgery in India. The doctors had found a mass in the teenager's stomach and thought it was a tumor. Imagine their shock when they found a 15 pound ball of hair in her stomach! The doctor said he had never seen that kind of accumulation of hair in the body in his forty years of practicing medicine. Many people chew on their hair when they are nervous, but ingesting the hair into a ball that one couldn't cough up if they tried, certainly is odd!
This Month in History - Jesse Owens Born
In the month of September, on the 12th in 1913, Jesse Owens was born in Oakville, Alabama. He was the youngest of ten children born to a sharecropper. His birth name was James, but he would be knon as Jesse from an early age for an interesting reason. His family moved from the south to Ohio and when Jesse told his teacher what his name was he said J.C. and she thought he said Jesse. He developed a passion for running when he was young. Owens first came to national attention when he equaled the world record in the 100 yard dash. He did this while still in high school. Owens took part in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. He won four medals in track and field there, defeating Nazi athletes which really angered Adolf Hitler. His world record in the long jump stood for 25 years. While Owens was clearly a gifted athlete, Hitler's Nazi minister Albert Speer wrote that Hitler "was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs by the marvelous colored American runner, Jesse Owens. People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive, Hitler said with a shrug; their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games." Owens said his success came from letting his feet "spend as little time on the ground as possible. From the air, fast down, and from the ground, fast up." Unfortunately, he took up smoking and lung cancer would take him at the age of 66 in 1980.
Boggo Road Gaol (Suggested by: Danika Ehlers and Natalie)
(Kelly, are you a crim or a screw?)
The history of Boggo Road Gaol is both interesting and troubling. This history goes all the way back to the late 1800s when Brisbane was finally moving from a penal colony to a free community. Many violent offenders came to their ends at the gaol. Punishment was dealt out in the black hole. Conditions became so poor that reforms were necessary. Today, the gaol is a museum offering tours and there are stories of ghosts on the grounds. Join us as we share the history and hauntings of the Boggo Road Gaol!
Brisbane was originally inhabited by the aboriginal tribes, Turrbal, Quandamooka and Yugara. In 1825, the Moreton Penal Colony was established for Sydney to have somewhere to send its British convicts. By 1839, the colony was free and many settlers came to partake of the fishing, farming and timber. The town, which was named for the Governor of New South Wales Sir Thomas Brisbane, grew and in 1859 it became the colonial capital. Queensland separated from New South Wales and Brisbane became the official capitol of the state in 1901. In 1924, Brisbane became an official city. The first jail here was established in Redcliffe, but was eventually moved to the center of Brisbane next to a bend in the river that provided a good natural barrier. There would be another gaol built after this and that is the one we are featuring.
Boggo Road Gaol had not been known by that name officially. In 1883, it was Hay Chim Gaol South Brisbane, then it was Brisbane Prison and in the early 1970s it was changed to the Brisbane Prison Complex and then finally the Brisbane Correctional Center at the end of its time after reforms were put in place. So how did it come to be known to everyone by this name? When it rained in this area, the track that had been dug out for the road would flood and get very muddy, similar to the quagmire of a bog. The area around this came to be known as Boggo and thus the track was given the name Boggo Road. These names started in the 1850s. There are some who believe that the name actually was derived from an Aboriginal word, Bloggo, that meant "two leaning trees." Whatever the case, the name stuck, even when the track became a street that was named Annerly Road in 1903.
The hill upon which the gaol was built was originally an indigineous camp. This would be the third gaol to be built in Brisbane. The land here was already a government reserve, but it would not be set aside specifically for building a jail until 1880. Robert Porter built the first cell block and it opened in July of 1883. Some time later it would officially be known as Number 1 Division. There were 57 cells originally and it held only men, but eventually a place for women would be required. A new prison was begun in 1903 for that purpose. There will be other buildings added onto the complex, but this one built for the women was known as the Number 2 Division and would be the only building to remain standing.
This was a hanging jail and forty-two people would be hanged on the grounds, which included one woman and two teenagers. The final hanging would occur in 1913 and this would be Queensland's last execution. Ernest Austin was the criminal to have that final honor. Austin had been a child killer. Ernest Austin was sentenced to death in 1913 for the vicious murder and sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl named Ivy Mitchell. This was a heinous crime as he slit the poor little girl's throat. A legend claims that Austin was lead to the scaffold and when he got to the top, he shouted that he was proud of his crime. He then gave a creepy laugh and mocked the people there to watch and he swore that he would return from the grave. What actually happened is that Austin had been sorry for his crime and even tried to kill himself before his trial. Several reporters and officials witnessed the hanging when the day came for him to be put to death and he was administered morphine and he said to the group, "I ask you all to forgive me. I ask the people of Samford to forgive me. I ask my mother to forgive me. May you all live long and die happy. God save the King! God save the King! God be with you all! Send a wire to my mother and tell her I died happy, won’t you. Yes tell her I died happy with no fear. Goodbye all! Goodbye all!" One newspaper proclaimed in a headline that "The State Slays its Own Creation." It was thought that Austin had been institutionalized for most of his life moving from a home for neglected children and then eventually onto jail.
George Silva was hanged the year before in 1912. He was a mass murderer. Silva worked for a man named Charles Ching. On November 16, 1911, Ching told Silva that he needed to go to ton for supplies. Silva had taken an interest in Ching's eldest daughter. He made advances towards her on this day and when she rejected him he killed the entire Ching family except for Charles who was away. This was six people. Four of the bodies were in the house. The son Hugh and baby Winnie had their skulls smashed and the mother named Agnes and the eldest daughter Maud had been shot by a revolver and a muzzle-loading rifle. Two other bodies were found a mile and a half away with their skulls smashed and they had been shot. Silva eventually turned himself in because he feared a lynch mob.
Eventually in the 1920s, the women would be moved out of the jail and prisoners from the St Helena Island Prison in Moreton Bay were moved into Number Two Division. There would be a later building constructed to once again house female prisoners. Number Two Division became home for the worst of the worst offenders who had long sentences to serve. Three cell blocks were set aside specifically for Lifers. These cells seem horrible. The building is made from brick and there are doors with slits for each cell. So they seem very claustrophobic. In the 1960s it was decided that an update was needed to Number One Division and so a new building was constructed around its perimeter and then it was demolished. The open oval area left behind was turned into a recreational yard. The new jail building was updated with toilets and running cold water in each cell. Another new feature was the black hole, which was under the oval. This was used throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s for punishment.
The 1970s would feature a time of great unrest at the gaol as inmates started fighting back against the poor living conditions. They staged roof-top protests, hunger strikes and riots. This got the inmates a lot of attention and it was warranted as the Number Two Division had not been updated, so there was no sanitation. Inmates still had only buckets in their cells for toilets. The government of Queensland came in and did a survey and were appalled at what they found. They officially shut down the building in 1989. In the 1970s, there were four prisoners who formed some wire bound with rubber into these little crosses and they swallowed them. These crosses would spring open in the stomach and cause pain and bleeding. This was a way for the prisoners to get out of jail because they needed to have surgery to remove the crosses. The cross idea came from John Andrew Stuart who was serving a life term for being one of the Whiskey Au Go Go Killers. He underwent surgery five times to remove crosses.
The Whiskey Au Go
Go Killers were John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch. Whiskey Au Go Go was a cabaret nightclub that was in Brisbane. The club was firebombed in the early hours of March 8, 1973. Two five-gallon drums of gas were placed in the club's foyer and lit with fire. Carbon monoxide fumes rushed into the main room and the club was soon a deathtrap. Vats of used cooking oil were lined against the only escape route and they were upended as people stampeded through and eventually it was hard for people to stay on their feet. When they did manage to get outside, they were met with a six-foot high fence in the alley. There were fifty people in the club and 15 of them would die. Those that survived jumped from broken windows onto an awning and then dropped the remaining 15 feet to the ground. There were also windows in the bathrooms that people squeezed through. John Stuart had warned the police that Whiskey Au Go Go was going to be firebombed, so he became their top suspect. An associate of Stuart's named James Richard Finch was arrested. He proclaimed he was innocent, but the police said that Stuart planned the crime and Finch lit the fires. Both men would claim during their trials that they had been pressured to give false confessions. Stuart not only swallowed metal objects, he also once sewed his lips shut with wire paperclips. Finch was a self-harmer too. He cut off one of his fingers during the trial. *Fun Fact: Inmates were photographed holding their open hands against their body to show that they had all their fingers upon entry into the jail.* Stuart died in jail in 1979 after a six day hunger strike. Finch was released in 1988 after serving fifteen years.
Number One Division would close in 1992 and all but the C5 guard tower were demolished in 1996. The women's prison, which was operated for 100 years, was used until 2000 and then torn down in 2006. The only section of Boggo Road Gaol that still remains is Number Two Division and it has been heritage listed. In December of 2012 it was reopened and serves as a museum offering tours and there are a variety of tours. These are conducted by Boggo Road Gaol Pty. There was redevelopment done as well and this lead to the construction of an urban village that was completed in 2010.
Another infamous convict at the jail was Patrick Kenniff who was Australia's last bushranger. He and his brother, James, were cattle thieves. They stole horses and robbed stores as well, but what got Kenniff thrown into Boggo Road Gaol was murder. A police posse had set off after the boys after they stole a pony. They managed to capture James, but the rest of the group got away. They later ambushed the two men who made up the posse and their remains were later found burned up in saddle bags of one of the men's horses. The brothers were sentenced to death, but James' sentence was later commuted to life. Patrick was hanged in 1903.
Florence MacDonald and her husband, Angus, were sentenced to death for murdering Grace MacDonald. This was later commuted to life imprisonment. She was the first woman sentenced to life imprisonment in Queensland. Florence was known as the stepmother of the "Longreach Cinderella." She and her husband kept Grace chained up under the family home and they deprived her of food. They worked the poor girl to death. Florence was released after serving twelve years.
"Slim" Halliday was nicknamed the "Houdini of Boggo Road." He escaped from the jail twice, once in 1940 and again in 1946. He tried four other times, but failed. Slim was exactly that, tall and thin. He was a thief and enjoyed breaking into houses. He eventually was caught and convicted in 1939. He was sentenced to five years of hard labor. Slim tried his first jailbreak in 1939 and was busted using a drill to drive out the rivets that held the bolt. Halliday made his first jail break on January 28, 1940. He slipped out of line and climbed over a wall and ran for the prison workshop where he had his escape kit. Over several months he put together a grappling hook that was made out of two wooden hammock sticks and he attached 30 feet of rope to it that was knotted every 18 inches. There was a spot on the outer wall that could not be seen from the towers. He worked his way over with the grappling hook. It took hours before he was missed and he was long gone. He was recaptured a week later. His next escape in 1946 was with two other men using a grappling hook again. They were recaptured four days later. Eventually he was released, but he returned to jail in 1952 a murderer.
We came across a website while searching for ghost stories that denied that the gaol was haunted. The author said something along the lines of, even if ghosts were real why would they be any more prevalent in a jail than other places? Of course, they may not, but we all understand that the higher the levels of trauma, the more likely it is that a location will be haunted. The author wrote, "The recent television-inspired fad for 'ghost hunts' - based on the use of obviously fake 'ghostometer gadgets' - has also proved problematic. Such activities have not only been scientifically discredited, but they are clearly disrespectful in a place where people have committed suicide or been murdered within living memory. Relatives of the deceased have strongly expressed their opposition to commercial 'paranormal industry' activities inside Boggo Road. This led to the Queensland Government taking the welcome step of banning ghost hunts at the heritage prison in 2015." And that really is disappointing because many investigators just want the spirits to tell their stories. Ghosts are at these locations for a reason and we believe that is because they have a story they need to tell. So let's look at these non-existent ghosts at Boggo Road Gaol.
Ghost tours are hosted by Brisbane Ghost Tours. The child killer Ernest Austin is said to haunt Number Two Division even though he was hanged in Number One Division. Prisoners claimed to see his face appear outside their cell
door. His eyes were filled with darkness and prisoners claimed that they knew when they looked in those eyes that he had made a deal with Satan. That deal was that he would snatch their souls in exchange for his own. Then the apparition of Austin would come through the door and try to strangle them. This was said to drive a few of them crazy. Haunting Australia investigated the jail in 2015 and they got some interesting evidence. The most evidence came through the spirit box. There were a lot of angry responses and choice words we cannot share here.
Jack Sim is a dark historian, writer and Director of Boggo Road Gaol. He shared some ghost stories with the ladies from Haunted Down Under. Jack himself had seen one of the ghosts that old prison guards used to talk about experiencing. This was the ghost of a former guard who was killed in the jail workshop in the late 1960s known as Birdie. Sadly, he was not supposed to be on duty that day, but he had switched shifts with another guard. An inmate who was incarcerated after being found guilty of multiple murders killed him. Most guards who reported seeing his apparition were working the graveyard shift. It was as though he were still on duty patrolling the place. His disembodied footsteps would be heard many times. Jack saw him standing outside one day and at first he thought he was some member of the state government security detail named Steve. So he said, "Hey Steve, I'll be right out in a second." And then he did a double take because he realized it wasn't Steve and then the man in the uniform just disappeared.
The back track that runs the perimeter of the jail property is a type of no man's land and this is reputed to be the most haunted area of the jail. Most prisoners knew that the gaol was haunted and they knew which specific cells were haunted. They would place bets with each other when a new prisoner would be placed inside one of these cells as to how long it would take before they were begging to be moved. There was only one prisoner to each cell and Jack was told by a former inmate that one rainy night he awakened and felt as though someone were watching him. He looked to the end of his cell and there sitting on the floor was a young man. Then he disappeared.
Jack related a really scary experience for himself. The doors to the cells are heavy and Jack had gone into one of the cells that was reputedly haunted one day and the door slammed shut. He turned and watched the slide bolt move by itself and he was locked inside. He was all alone. His cell phone and keys were on the lower floor and no one was expected at the jail until two days later. He started to panic thinking that he would be locked in there for two days. Then suddenly, the slide bolt moved again and unlocked the door. The ghost or ghosts were clearly playing with Jack and trying to scare him and they certainly did!
Many visitors to the jail have seen the apparition of an older woman in a high necked dress. Some people think that this spirit belongs to Ellen Thompson, the only woman legally hanged in Queensland. She was tried, along with her younger lover, for the murder of her husband. The Judge, Justice Pope Cooper, said the following as he sentenced the two, "Prisoner Ellen Thompson and you prisoner John Harrison, have been found guilty of the crime of murder on evidence which I must say to my mind is quite sufficient. One of the jury has thought to make a recommendation of mercy on the grounds that he is of the opinion that there may have been a quarrel between the murdered man and Harrison immediately preceding the murder. I will, of course, forward that recommendation to the proper authorities. I can give you no more hope than that. That you, Harrison killed the old man Thompson, I have no doubt whatever. The jury have found that you did so, and I confidently believe that Thompson's wife was present at the time aiding and abetting you. You committed a most cruel murder, and you did it, in my opinion, for sake of gain. Nothing now remains for me but to pass upon you both, the sentence of the law. I have no option in the matter. The sentence that I have to pass on you, Ellen Thompson, is, that you be taken to the place whence you came, and thence to the Brisbane gaol; and thence on the date to be appointed by the Governor-in-Council, you be led to the place of execution, and that you be hanged by the neck until your body be dead." When people describe seeing Ellen, they say that she is wearing the clothes that she was photographed wearing before she was hanged. Visitors will go into the section of the museum with the gallows displays and swear that they have just seen the woman that is in the pictures there. Female guards did have similar clothes, so it is possible that the spirit belongs to one of them, but we haven't heard of any of them dying at the gaol.
Like all gaols, this one has a history of interesting characters and infamous inmates. Deaths by suicide and execution were plenty. The emotions that a jail spawns feed negative energy. Is the Boggo Road Gaol haunted? That is for you to decide!