DOING TIME FOR ETERNITY ON "THE ROCK"
The Hauntings of Alcatraz


DEAD MEN DO TELL TALES
History & Hauntings of American Crime & Mystery
by Troy Taylor -- Includes the Complete Story of Hauntings at Alcatraz





















 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alcatraz, which earned the nickname of the "Rock", was the ultimate American prison. Bloodletters and badmen and assorted public enemies like Al Capone, Alvin Karpis and Machine-Gun Kelly and others, called this place the end of the line. For 29 years, the damp, fogged-in prison kept the country’s most notorious criminals put away from the rest of the world. The heavy mists, cold wind and water and the foghorns of the bay made Alcatraz the loneliest of the prisons.


From the time it became a federal prison in 1934 until it was closed down in 1963, the steel doors clanged shut behind more than 1,000 hardened convicts, criminals and escape artists. Alcatraz was not conceived as a facility for rehabilitation. It was a place of total punishment and minimum privilege. And those who survived it often did so at the cost of their sanity... and some believe their souls.

Alcatraz Island, located in the mists off of San Francisco, received its name in 1775 when the Spanish explorers charted San Francisco bay. They named the rocky piece of land La Isla de los Alcatraces, or the "Island of Pelicans". The island was totally uninhabited, plagued by barren ground, little vegetation and surrounding water that churned with swift currents.

In 1847, Alcatraz was taken over by the United States military. The Rock had extreme strategic value, especially during these times of tension between the United States and the Mexican government. Topographical engineers began conducting geological surveys and by 1853, a military fortress was started. One year later, a lighthouse was established (the first on the Pacific Coast) to guide ships through the Golden Gate.

A few years later, a military fort was erected on the island and in 1859, Alcatraz saw its first prisoners, a contingent of court-martialed, military convicts. Then in 1861, Alcatraz started to receive Confederate prisoners, thanks to its natural isolation created by the surrounding waters. Until the end of the Civil War, the number of prisoners here numbered from 15 to 50. They consisted of soldiers, Confederate privateers, and southern sympathizers. They were confined in the dark basement of the guardhouse and conditions were fairly grim. The men slept side-by-side, head to toe, lying on the stone floor of the basement. There was no running water, no heat and no latrines. Disease and infestations of lice spread from man to man and not surprisingly, overcrowding was a serious problem. They were often bound by six-foot chains attached to iron balls, fed bread and water and confined in "sweatboxes" as punishment.

After the war ended, the fort was deemed obsolete and was no longer needed. The prison continued to be used though and soon, more buildings and cell houses were added. In the 1870’s and 1880’s, Indian chiefs and tribal leaders who refused to give into the white man were incarcerated on Alcatraz. They shared quarters with the worst of the military prisoners. The island became a shipping point for incorrigible deserters, thieves, rapists and repeated escapees.

In 1898, the Spanish-American War sent the prisoner population from less than 100 to over 450. The Rock became a holding pen for Spanish prisoners brought over from the Phillipines. Around 1900 though, Alcatraz again became a disciplinary barracks for military prisoners. Ironically, it also served as a health resort for soldiers returning from the Phillipines and Cuba with tropical diseases. The overcrowding caused by a combination of criminals and recovering soldiers resulted in pardons to reduce the number of men housed on the island.

By 1902, the Alcatraz prison population averaged around 500 men per year, with many of the men serving sentences of two years or less. The wooden barracks on the island had fallen into a ramshackle state, thanks to the damp, salt air and so in 1904, work was begun to modernize the facility. Prisoner work crews began extending the stockade wall and constructing a new mess hall, kitchen, shops, a library and a wash house. Work continued on the prison for the next several years and even managed to survive the Great Earthquake of 1906. The disaster left San Francisco in shambles and a large fissure opened up on Alcatraz, but left the buildings untouched. Prisoners from the heavily damaged San Francisco jail were temporarily housed on the island until the city’s jail could be rebuilt.

Construction of the new buildings was completed in 1909 and in 1911, the facility was officially named the "United States Disciplinary Barracks". In addition to Army prisoners, the Rock was also used to house seamen captured on German vessels during the First World War. Alcatraz was the Army’s first long-term prison and it quickly gained a reputation for being a tough facility. There were strict rules and regulations with punishments ranging from loss of privileges to solitary confinement, restricted diet, hard labor and even a 12-pound ball and ankle chain.

Despite the stringent rules though, Alcatraz was still mainly a minimum-security facility. Inmates were given various work assignments, depending on how responsible they were. Many of them worked as general servants, cooking and cleaning for families of soldiers housed on the island. In many cases, the prisoners were even entrusted to care for the children of officers. However, this lack of strict security worked to the favor to those inmates who tried to escape. Most of those who tried for freedom never made it to the mainland and were forced to turn back and be rescued. Those who were not missed and did not turn back usually drowned in the harsh waters of the bay.

Other escape attempts were made by men who did not go into the water. During the great influenza epidemic of 1918, inmates stole flu masks and officer’s uniforms and causally caught a military launch heading for the base at the Presidio. The convicts made it as far as Modesto, California before they were captured.

During the 1920’s, Alcatraz gradually fell into disuse. The lighthouse keeper, a few Army personnel and the most hardened of the military prisoners were the only ones who remained on the island. The mostly empty buildings slowly crumbled... but a change was coming.

The social upheaval and the rampant crime of the 1920’s and 1930’s brought new life to Alcatraz. Attorney General Homer Cummings supported J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI in creating a new, escape-proof prison that would send fear into the hearts of criminals. They decided that Alcatraz would be the perfect location for such a penitentiary. In 1933, the facility was officially turned over to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Attorney General asked James A. Johnston of San Francisco to take over as warden of the new prison. He implemented a strict set and rules and regulations for the facility and selected the best available guards and officers from the federal penal system.

Construction was quickly started on the new project and practically the entire cellblock building was built atop the old Army fort. Part of the old Army prison was used but the iron bars were replaced by bars of hardened steel. Gun towers were erected at various points around the island and the cellblocks were equipped with catwalks, gun walks, electric locks, metal detectors, a well-stocked arsenal, barbed and cyclone wire fencing and even tear gas containers that were fitted into the ceiling of the dining hall and elsewhere. Apartments for the guards and their families were built on the old parade grounds and the lighthouse keeper’s mansion was taken over for the warden’s residence. Alcatraz had been turned into an impregnable fortress.

Wardens from prisons all over the country were polled and were permitted to send their most incorrigible inmates to the Rock. These included inmates with behavioral problems, those with a history of escape attempts and even high-profile inmates who were receiving privileges because of their status or notoriety. Each train that came from the various prisons seemed to have a "celebrity" on board. Among the first groups were inmates Al Capone, Doc Barker (who was the last surviving member of the Ma Barker Gang), George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Robert "Birdman of Alcatraz" Stroud, and Floyd Hamilton (a gang member and driver for Bonnie & Clyde), and Alvin "Creepy" Karpis.

When they arrived on Alcatraz, the inmates were driven in a small transfer van to the top of the hill. They were processed in the basement area and provided with their basic amenities and a quick shower.

Al Capone arrived at the prison in August 1934. Upon his arrival, he quickly learned that while he may have once been famous, on Alcatraz, he was only a number. He made attempts to flaunt the power that he had enjoyed at the Federal prison in Atlanta and was used to the special benefits that he was awarded by guards and wardens alike. He was arrogant and unlike most of the other prisoners, was not a veteran of the penal system. He had only spent a short time in prison and his stay had been much different than for most other cons. Capone had possessed the ability to control his environment through wealth and power, but he was soon to learn that things were much different at Alcatraz.

Warden Johnston had a custom of meeting new prisoners when they arrived and he gave them a brief orientation. Johnston later wrote in his memoirs that he had little trouble recognizing Capone when he saw him. Capone was grinning and making comments to other prisoners as he stood in the lineup. When it became his turn to approach the warden, Johnston ignored him and simply gave him a standard prison number, just like all of the other men. During Capone’s time on Alcatraz, he made a number of attempts to convince Johnston that he deserved special consideration. None of them were successful and at one point, Capone finally conceded that "it looks like Alcatraz has got me licked."

And he wouldn’t be the only one to feel that way.

Alcatraz was not a recreational prison. It was a place of penitence, just as the Quakers who had devised the American prison system had planned for all prisons to be. There were no trustees here. It was a place where the inmates had but five rights... food, clothing, a private cell, a shower once a week and the right to see a doctor.

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. 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.

During his trial, Young’s attorney claimed that because Young was held in isolation for so long, he could not be held responsible for his actions. He had been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment and because of this, his responses to hostile situations had become desperately violent.

The attorney subpoenaed Warden Johnston to testify about the prison’s conditions and policies and in addition, several inmates were also called to recount the state of Alcatraz. The prisoners told of being locked in the dungeons and of being beaten by the guards. They also testified to knowing several inmates who had gone insane because of such treatment. The jury ended up sympathizing with Young’s case and he was convicted of a manslaughter charge that only added a few years on this original sentence.

After the trial, he was transferred to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. After serving his Federal sentence, he was sent to the Washington State Penitentiary and was paroled in 1972. He had spent nearly 40 years in prison. He later disappeared and it is unknown whether he is still alive today.

During the 29 years that Alcatraz was in operation, there were over 14 escape attempts in which 34 different men risked their lives to try and make it off the Rock. Almost all of the men were either killed or recaptured. Only one of the men was known to have made it ashore. John Paul Scott was recaptured when he was found shivering in the rocks near the Golden Gate Bridge. As for the men who vanished, it was believed that most of them succumbed to the cold water and the always churning currents that moved past the island. Although no bodies were ever recovered, the authorities always assumed that the men had drowned and marked the cases as closed.

Of all of the escape attempts though, two of them left a lasting mark on the history of the island. The most traumatic and violent of the two took place in 1946. It was later dubbed the "Battle of Alcatraz" and it began as a well-planned and well-organized breakout from the "escape-proof" prison.

In May 1946, six inmates captured a gun cage, obtained prison keys and took over a cell house in less than an hour. The breakout attempt might have succeeded if not for the fact that a guard, Bill Miller, didn’t return one of the keys to the gun cage as soon as he finished using it, as was required by prison regulations. The strange twist of fate completely disrupted the escape attempt. When the cons captured the gun cage, they found all of the keys except for the one that would let them out of the cell building. This was the key that Miller failed to return to the guard cage. The breakout was grounded before it even began.

But the prisoners, Bernard Coy, Joe Cretzer, and Marvin Hubbard, Sam Shockley, Miran Thompson, and Clarence Carnes, would not give up. They took a number of guards hostage and before the escape attempts was over, three of the guards were dead and others were wounded. Two of them were murdered in cold blood in cells 402 and 403, which were later changed to C-102 and C-104.

Thousands of spectators watched from San Francisco as U.S. Marines invaded the island and barraged the cell block with mortars and grenades. The helpless inmates inside of the building took refuge behind water-soaked mattresses and tried to stay close to the floor and out of the path of the bullets that riddled the cells. But even after realizing that they could not escape, the six would-be escapees decided to fight it out.

Warden Johnston, unable to get a report on how many convicts were actually involved in the battle, came to believe that the safety of San Francisco itself might be at risk. With the entire prison under siege, he called for aid from the Navy, the Coast Guard, as well as the Marines. Before it was all over, two Navy destroyers, two Air Force planes, a Coast Guard cutter, a company of Marines, Army officers, police units, and guards from Leavenworth and San Quentin descended on the island.

The fighting lasted for two days. With no place to hide from the constant gunfire, Cretzer, Coy and Hubbard climbed into a utility corridor for safety. The other three men returned to their cells, hoping they would not be identified as participants in the attempt. In the bloody aftermath, Cretzer, Coy and Hubbard were killed in the corridor from bullets and shrapnel from explosives. Thompson and Shockley were later executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin and Carnes received a sentence of life, plus 99 years. His life was spared because he helped some of the wounded hostages. The cell building was heavily damaged and took months to repair.

While this may be the most violent escape from Alcatraz, it is by all means not the most famous. This attempt was that of Frank Morris and brothers Clarence and John Anglin. In 1962, a fellow prisoner named Allen West helped the trio to devise a clever plan to construct a raft, inflatable life vests and human-like dummies that could be used to fool the guards during head counts. Over a several month period, the men used tools stolen from work sites to chip away at the vent shafts in their cells. They fabricated the life vests, the rafts and the dummies. They also ingeniously created replicated grills that hid the chipped away cement around the small vents. The quality of the human heads and faked grills was remarkable as they used only paint kits and a soap and concrete powder to make them. They also collected hair from the barbershop to make the dummies more lifelike. These painstaking preparations took over six months.

On the night of June 11, 1962, immediately following the head count at 9:30, Morris and the Anglin’s scooted through the vents and scaled the utility shafts to the upper levels. Once they reached the roof, they climbed through a ventilator duct and made it to the edge of the building. After descending pipes along the cement wall, all three climbed over a 15-foot fence and made it to the island’s shore, where they inflated the rafts and vests. They set out into the cold waters of the bay and were never seen again.

The next morning, when one of the prisoners failed to rise for the morning count, a guard jammed his club through the cell bars at the man. To his shock, a fake head rolled off the bunk and landed on the floor!

Almost 40 years later, it is still unknown whether or not the prisoners made a successful escape. The story has been dramatized in several books and was made into a gripping film starring Clint Eastwood. The FBI actively pursued the case but never found any worthwhile leads.

After this last escape attempt, the days of the prison were numbered. Ironically, the frigid waters around the island, which had long prevented escape, were believed to be the leading ruin of the prison. After the escape of Morris and the Anglin’s, the prison was examined because of the deteriorating conditions of the structure, caused mostly by the corrosive effects of the salt water around it. In addition, budget cuts had recently forced security measures at the prison to become more lax. On top of that, the exorbitant cost of running the place continued to increase and over $5 million was going to be needed for renovations. According to U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the prison was no longer necessary to have open.

On March 23, 1963, Alcatraz closed it doors for good. After that, the island was essentially abandoned while various groups tried to decide what to do with it. Then, in 1969, a large group of American Indians landed on the island and declared that it was Native American property. They had great plans for the island, which included a school and a Native American cultural center. The Indians soon had the attention of the media and the government and a number of meetings were held about the fate of Alcatraz.

The volume of visitors to the island soon became overwhelming. Somehow, during the talks, the island had become a haven for the homeless and the less fortunate. The Indians were soon faced with the problem of no natural resources and the fact that food and water had to be brought over from the mainland. The situation soon became so desperate that island occupants were forced to take drastic measures to survive. In order to raise money for supplies, they began stripping copper wire and pipes from the island buildings to sell as scrap metal. A tragedy occurred around this same time when Yvonne Oakes, the daughter of one of the key Indian activists, fell to her death from the third story window. The Oakes family left Alcatraz and never returned.

Then, during the evening hours of June 1, 1970, a fire was started and raged out of control. It damaged several of the buildings and destroyed the Warden’s residence, the lighthouse keeper’s home and even badly damaged the historic lighthouse itself.

Tension now developed between Federal officials and the Indians as the government blamed the activists for the fire. The press, which had been previously sympathetic toward the Native Americans, now turned against them and began to publish stories about beatings and assaults that were allegedly occurring on the island. Support for the Indians now disintegrated, especially in light of the fact that the original activists had already left Alcatraz. Those who remained were seen as little more than "squatters". On June 11, 1971, the Coast Guard, along with 20 U.S. Marshals descended on the island and removed the remaining residents.

Alcatraz was empty once more.

In 1972, Congress created the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Alcatraz Island fell under the purview of the National Park Service. It was opened to the public in the fall of 1973 and has become today one of the most popular of America’s park sites.

The Hauntings of Alcatraz

During the day, the old prison is a bustling place, filled with tour guides and visitors... but at night, the building is filled with the inexplicable. Many believe that the energy of those who came to serve time on the Rock still remains, that Alcatraz is an immense haunted house... a place where strange things can and do happen today!

Every visitor who arrives by boat on Alcatraz follows the same path once walked by the criminals who came to do time on the Rock. The tourists who come here pass through the warden’s office and the visiting room and eventually enter the cell house. After passing the double steel doors, a visitor can see that just past C Block. If they look opposite the visiting room, they will find a metal door that looks as though it was once welded shut. Although the tour guides don’t usually mention it, behind that door if the utility corridor where Coy, Cretzer and Hubbard were killed by grenades and bullets in 1946.

It was also behind this door where a night watchman heard strange, clanging sounds in 1976. He opened the door and peered down the dark corridor, shining his flashlight on the maze of pipes and conduits. He could see nothing and there were no sounds. When he closed the door, the noises started again. Again, the door was opened up but there was still nothing that could be causing the sounds. The night watchman did not believe in ghosts, so he shut the door again and continued on his way. Some have wondered if the eerie noises may have been the reason why the door was once welded shut? Since that time, this utility corridor has come to be recognized as one of the most haunted spots in the prison.

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?

Or could it be merely another of the countless ghosts who continue to haunt this place, year after year.....?

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