Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Haunted Crime Scenes

Capone's Ghost Returned?

Eastern State Penitentiary, aerial view
Eastern State Penitentiary, aerial view

Eastern State Penitentiary is an imposing structure in the northwestern area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It no longer operates as a prison and has not since the 1970s. But while the prisoners were moved out, a few apparently remained... or returned.

Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, the leading members of the Atlantic Paranormal Society (T.A.P.S.) were invited with their team in 2004 to investigate this historic building. Their group has earned renown on a series on the Sci Fi network called Ghost Hunters. Grant and Wilson are plumbers by day and ghost hunters by night, and have developed impressive high-tech capabilities for detecting the presence of anomalous energy forces in places like this. Sometimes they affirm an apparent haunting and sometimes they debunk it.

Eastern State cell
Eastern State cell

Eastern State had been envisioned in the 1780s and built by the Quakers, who were influential in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania during that time. They sought to make prisons places of spiritual contemplation, so each man was to be isolated in his own cell. The prison was built in ten years and opened for business in 1829. From a central hub the Rotunda — seven thick-walled cement cellblocks radiated out like spokes from a wheel.

Each prisoner had a toilet, running water and a skylight dubbed the "Eye of God," and they were allowed contact with only a guard or minister. Supposedly, with nothing else to do but contemplate his crime, a prisoner would learn to so hate it that he'd never again be adversely tempted at least not for that. But there were other "inducements" as well. An inmate might be confined to straitjackets, entombed in trenches, or belted into the "mad chair," a device for uncontrollable psychotic patients.

Al Capone
Al Capone

The most notorious inmate in its history was gangster Al Capone, sentenced to a year for carrying concealed weapons. He furnished his cell with a rug, antique desk, radio, and easy chair to make his stay more comfortable. Though he was able to conduct business via the warden, isolation apparently affected him, for he complained of a ghostly visitor: a man who'd been slaughtered in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929. On that day in Chicago, seven men awaited a bogus shipment of liquor, but instead ate lead when members of Capone's gang arrived to annihilate them with Tommy guns.

One of these victims, James Clark, had been Bugs Moran's brother-in-law, and since the other inmates could hear Capone at night screaming for "Jimmy" to leave him alone, they suspected that's who was "visiting."

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