Alcatraz has been described as a portal to another dimension and is filled with the energy of the prisoners who never left. Native Americans used the island as a prison of sorts to banish those who had violated tribal law. And now, these spirits continue to lurk in the shadows of this distant island. Staff and visitors alike have hears, seen, and felt these spirits. The echoes of men’s voices, whistles, screams, clanging metal doors, and terrifying screams are said to be heard within this historic place, especially when you’re near the dungeon.
While the island was still a federal penitentiary, there were several guards who said that they had experienced extraordinary things, including hearing the sounds of moaning and sobbing, terrible smells, and reports of what was nicknames “The Thing,” an entity the was said to have glowing eyes. There were other reports about phantom prisoners and soldiers appearing before the guards and their families who lived on the premises.
Even the Warden, who said he did not believe in ghosts, had an encounter with what he was certain was a woman sobbing while he was leading some guests on a tour of the prison. These cries, who were heard by the guests as well, were described as coming from inside of the walls in the dungeon. Just as the sobbing came to an end, an icy cold wind blew through the group.
Since around the 1940s, apparitions have been seen in the area of the warden’s house. Warden Johnston through a Christmas Party where several guards shared that they saw a ghostly man who suddenly appeared in front of them in a gray suit, brimmed cap, and sporting mutton-chops. As the startled guard stared at the ghost, the room turned cold and the fire in the Ben Franklin stove went out. In less than a minute, the spirit vanished.
It has often been said that on foggy nights, the old lighthouse will appear, accompanied by an eerie whistling and a flash of green light that makes it way slowly around the island. Showing its self to guards and visitors, the spectacle goes away just as fast as it appeared.
When the prison was still active, guards stated they had heard phantom gunshots and cannon fire, accompanied by screams that were so real that they sent the guards to the ground, believe that a prisoner had somehow gotten out and obtained weapons. After they took cover, the guards would cautiously look around to see that there was absolutely nothing to worry about. They could never explain these incidents.
Another said that they experienced the smell of smoke coming from a deserted laundry room, as if something was burning. When they went to check it out, the black smoke was so thick it drove the guards out of the room. However, after a few minutes, the room was clear.
The notorious D-Block is said to have been, and still is, the most haunted block in the prison. While first built just like all of the other cell blocks, the Bureau of Prisons appropriated more money for a more secure D-Block after the 1939 escape attempt that left Arthur “Doc” Barker dead. D-Block, which soon became known as the “Treatment Unit” was made up of 42 cells with varying degrees of restrictions. For every prisoner in D-Block, there was absolutely no contact with the general population. 36 of the cells were like those in the general population. However, inmates could not work, nor go to the mess hall for meals. They could only have one visit to the rec yard and two showers per week, and every meal was served in the cells. Their only diversion was getting to read prison approved material. These cells all face the Golden Gate Bridge, from the harsh, cold winds would blow. One of the guards that worked D-Block was known to switch on the air conditioning to make things even colder for those on the block.
Five of the remaining six cells on D-Block were call the Strip Cells, but were more often known as the “Hole.” These were reserved for the most serious offenders of prison rules. They were located on the bottom tier the coldest place in the prison, and they had only a sink, a toilet, and a low wattage light that could be controlled by the guards. Their mattresses would be removed during the day and they were not allowed any yard time or showers, or reading materials. Inmates could face as many as 19 days in the hole, completely isolated and constantly boarded.
The last Strip Cell was called the “Oriental,” and was the harshest punishment in the prison. Assuring complete deprivation of all peripheral senses, the dark steel-encased cell had no toilet or sink, just a hole in the floor for the prisoner to use. Inmates ad to be completely naked, were placed on a strict diet, and confined in a totally pitch-black, cold environment. While they were allowed a mattress at night, it was removed first thing in the morning. Inmates were only put here for one to two days at a time.
A guard who worked there in the 1940s reported that guards would often see the ghostly presence of a man dressed in late 1800s prison attire walking down the hallway next to the Strip Cells. One time, when an inmate was in Hole, he immediately started to scream that somebody with glowing eyes was in there with him. This 19th-century spectral prisoner has been turned into so much of a joke among the guards, the screams from the convict was ignored. The inmate continued to scream well into the night when they suddenly replaced by silence. The next morning, when the guards inspected the cell, the convict was dead with a terrible expression on his face and noticeable handprints around his throat. The autopsy performed on the inmate found that the strangulation was not self-inflicted.
At that time, a lot people believed that the inmate had been strangled by a guard who had gotten tired of the inmate’s screaming. While they did do an investigation, nobody ever admitted to the strangling. Others believe that the inmate had been killed by the restless, evil spirit of the 19th-century prisoner who was often seen wandering around the prison. Adding to this mystery, when the guards lined up the inmates for their daily count, one too many convicts were in the line-up. At the very end of the row was the recently strangled convict. As everybody looked on in stunned silence, the figure simply vanished.
Today’s staff and visitors often report cold spots within the halls of D-Block, as well as sudden intense feelings. Cells 12 and 14 D are the most active. Cell 14-D is often said to be around 20 degrees colder than the rest of the cells and several psychics have felt emotionally charged impressions in the corners of the cells where prisoners often crouched and suffered. These cells are so eerie, that there are some park rangers who refuse to go in there along.
Nancy Osborn and Richard Winer visited Alcatraz for their book Haunted Houses, they also got an eerie feeling in cell 14 D. When they, along with a park ranger, enter the cell, they experienced strong vibrations and tingling sensations in their arms and hands. Convinced that someone or something was in there with them, Osborn said that she had never felt so much psychic energy in a single are.
Michaael Kouri, the co-author of Haunted Alcatraz, has described receibing psychic impressions when in cell 14 d. Also feeling tingling sensations, he said that he “saw” a small man with a shaved head who told him of being beaten, his legs broken by the guards, and left in solitary confinement.
On a separate occasion when ghost hunter Richard Senate and a psychic spent the night on Alcatraz, Senate locked himself in 12 D, where an evil spirit had made its home. As the door closed, the ghost hunter could feel icy fingers wrap around his neck. The psychic experienced visions of the bodies of twisted and dismembered men.
In C Block, many think that the utility passage where convicts Bernard Coy, Joseph Cretzer, and Marvin Hubbard were killed during their escape attempt in 1946 is haunted. Loud and clanging noises are often heard, but will stop whenever the door opens, only to start once more once closed. Others have said that they saw the apparition of men wearing fatigues and hearing disembodied voices in the area of the riot that left the three prisoners dead.
The laundry room on C Block is also said to be home to unseen presence. The CBS news team brought in Sylvia Brown, a celebrity psychic, along with the ex-convict Leon Thompson, Sylvia immediately encountered something unseen, and a very strong impression of violence in the laundry room. She described a tall man, with a beady eyes and a bald head. Leon Thompsons spoke up and said, “I remember Butcher. He was a hit man with Murder Incorporated before they caught him. His name was Abie Maldowitz but we called him Butcher. Another prisoner killed him here in the laundry room.” The prison records proved that Maldowitz had been killed by another inmate in the laundry room of C Block.
In the hospital ward, park personnel have heard voices and screams of inmates who were often strapped to a table until they calmed down. Voices can be heard in the mess hall. When Al Capone was there, he was assigned to a cell on outside west end of B Block. While the gangster had never been allowed a musical instrument or radio, many have said they hear phantom banjo strumming in his old cell.
In 1992, Alcatraz was featured on the show Sightings, where a lot of the park service staff confirmed the haunted history. Among the stories that the staff has shared, they mentioned unexplainable crashing sounds, unearthly screams, running footsteps, cell doors mysteriously closing, chains rattling, moans, and the constant feelings of being watched.
Sightings also had the help of Peter James, a psychic investigator, to get his impression as he walked through. James described hearing the voices of men who had been driven crazy, and experiences of abuse, fear, and pain.
The talks of haunting of Alcatraz Island have become so frequent that the legends are just as popular as the history. Are the ghosts of previous prisons, dead soldiers, or the evil spirits the Native Americans believed in? Maybe the island is just living up to its nickname, “Hellcatraz.”
To hear more about this escape, theories, and my thoughts, be sure to check out the podcast episode. If you would like to support the podcast and website, make sure that you check out the Patreon page. Become a Patron!