Nicola Kirk: Author and Collector of Paranormal Stories and Other Strange Encounters

The Rock – Alcatraz

The Americans have the right idea when it comes to prisons.  Build a prison on a rock in the middle of the sea and leave the buggers there to rot.  Why do we not do this sort of thing, too?

Alcatraz Island (originally named La Isla de los Alcatraces – ‘the Island of the Pelicans’), sits out in the middle of San Francisco Bay.  It’s a long swim to shore (1.5 miles) and the sea is rather hazardous and unforgiving, so once you’re out on ‘The Rock’, you’re there until you decide to behave yourself.

Alcatraz has housed prisoners from as far back as 1861.  The main prison block was completed in 1912 and has held famous inmates such as Robert Stroud (known as the Bird Man of Alcatraz, even though he wasn’t actually allowed to keep any birds), Al Capone and George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly.  That’s quite some guest list.

Life Behind Bars

Now, of course, the prison is no longer in use by the living, but the dead are apparently keen to stay in residence.

Apart from the fifteen inmates who died of natural causes within the prison’s maximum security walls, eight people were murdered at Alcatraz by other inmates and five others committed suicide.  Although the prison is brimming with ghost stories, here are a few of my favourites to whet your appetite:

Al Capone was sent to Alcatraz in 1934 for income tax evasion.  He became ill with neurosyphilis which had apparently been left untreated.  His mental health began to suffer and he became too frightened to go out and mix with the other inmates during recreational periods, so he was allowed to sit in the shower room and learn to play the banjo.  Even though the prison is now disused, people still report hearing the sound of a banjo being played when they are near the shower room.

Al Capone: Still practising the banjo?

Cell 14D is what is known as a ‘hole’ cell.  Unruly prisoners were kept in ‘hole’ cells for up to 19 days at a time in complete isolation.  A pretty miserable existence, I’m sure you will agree.  Still, ‘hole’ cells were one up from ‘strip’ cells where an inmate had to survive in the dark with no clothing and meagre food rations.

Cell 14D has a curious legend attached to it.  It is alleged that in the 1940’s a prisoner was thrown into the cell for some misdemeanour, but as soon as the door was closed he immediately began to scream the place down, shouting that there was some kind of creature in the cell with him with glowing eyes and it was trying to kill him.  The screaming carried on throughout the night but the next morning the inmate was… strangely silent.  When the guards checked on him, he was found dead.  He had been strangled.  Now, this in itself is rather eerie (unless you assume one of the guards had had enough of the prisoner screeching all night and decided to silence him) but the next morning when the guards carried out a head count the guards found they had one too many prisoners.  A few of the guards said they had seen the ghost of the screaming man in amongst the other inmates but the phantom quickly vanished.

Hell Hole:  a solitary confinement cell

Considering all the terrible things that must have happened at Alcatraz over the years, it is perhaps not surprising that the sounds of crying and moaning are often heard and cell doors can sometimes be heard clanging shut on their own.  Guards and police officers have also reported seeing and hearing strange apparitions while they guard the deserted prison.

If you are lucky enough to go on a tour of Alcatraz, you will be walking in the steps of its many former prisoners, some of whom were fortunate to leave after they finished their time and some of whom… never managed to leave at all.


©Nicola Kirk and 2010







  1. most interesting stuff!!!

  2. this is the best site in the world

  3. this is a great site

  4. this is so awsome

  5. I love this website! I am also incapable of writing something constructive and intelligent, that’s why the author of this website has been forced to edit my comment quite severely…

  6. it is scaree

  7. Hi Nicola, we are in Reading Berks and will be going to San Francisco in about 8 weeks. The first thing we booked was the night time tour of Alcatraz. This site really has whet our appetites, Thanks

    • Hi,

      Thanks for your comments – hope you have a great time. Would love to hear if you experience anything spooky during your visit. 🙂

  8. mz.cheerlesder said:

    dats hella creepy

  9. Hallo zusammen,

    ich habe mich über Alcatraz informieren wollen und fand zufällig diese Seite =). Ich muss sagen die Kommentare stimmen alle. Ich finde die Berichte sehr interessant und spannend. Besonders die Geschichten über Al Capone etc.



  10. Michael Collins said:

    Alcatraz was HELL! They stuck ice picks into peoples eyes to “cure” them from madness. And regular familys lived on the island. They thought it was safe-ER. I love ghosts, hisory, famouse gangsters, mobsters, and jails! THIS IS LIKE FREKING HEAVEN YOU CAN READ!!!!!! And a recamedation, if you like this, you should read “Al Capone Does my Shirts” its a good book!!!

    • Hi Michael,

      Many thanks for your comments – much appreciated.

      I have to say that there doesn’t appear to be any evidence of lobotomies or any other kind of medical experiments being performed on the inmates at Alcatraz, but if you have any further information to the contrary, please feel free to post a link up because I’m sure people would love to have a read.

      For those of you interested in lobotomies, which really were performed, as Michael says, with items that resembled ice picks a little too closely for comfort, it would seem that the procedure tended to be a bit of a hit and miss affair (quite literally) and many people suffered at the hands of over enthusiastic wannabe brain surgeons:

      “In the end, at least fifty thousand people were lobotomized by the psychosurgeons. The transorbital patients were often the most functional since there was a reasonable possibility that the doctor had missed their nerves all together. The less fortunate victims were warehoused in institutions, or they returned to families who were often unable to cope with such severely disabled people.”


  11. Adriana Ryan said:

    Ack!!! Alcatraz is a creepy place for sure. When I read about how they had one too many at the head count the day after the prisoner died, goose bumps popped up on my arms! That’s just too much. A place like that must house so much miserable energy. 😥

  12. Hello,
    We recently visited Alcatraz this March. During the early part of our audio tour we were in a holding area between cell blocks when something kind of strange happened to me. Something brushed into my side and at the same time there was a very loud scratching noise in my audio headset. When I looked around to see if someone had bumped into me there was nobody anywhere near me.. It was quite eerie and Im positive it was the troubled soul of one of its former inmates stuck for eternity.

    I loved the Alcatraz tour but I surely wont forget my personal haunted tour of alcatraz..

    • Hi Ed,

      Thanks a lot for dropping by my blog and for sharing the details of your Alcatraz experience – I’m very envious!

      Best wishes.


  13. Hey im from the UK and i wanted to visit alcatraz i didnt know anything about the place until i watched something on youtube about it and im into all this one thing that really cought my ears was cell 14 D that the screaming man started screaming soon as the doors was locked i would be very scared if that was me seeing red glowing eyes in the darkness not be able to see anything but them glowing eyes where but quick question if you went into cell 14 D on your own would the door slam shut stupid question i know but i wanna visit the place i have never been

  14. Dave Weahunt said:

    When I was 13 my cousin and I went on a tour of Alcatraz. The tour group that time was only 3 people. My cousin, me and another gentleman. The tour was very interesting and I enjoyed the tour guides stories as we were lead through the cell blocks. We ended up at the solitary confinement cells…D block. The guide told us some of the accounts of prisoners who were unfortunate to be locked in those cells. The guide also offered us the opportunity to feel what the prisoners felt by being locked in the cell for a minute or so. We all agreed and stepped in. My cousin led the 3 of us in by standing by the right wall. I stood at the back wall, the other gentleman stood at the left wall. The guide closed and locked the cell. The cell was completely dark no light. The smell of stale water was almost overwhelming. We kinda chuckled that it was a better experience we were having because we had company in the cell. I said I can’t imagine being locked in here alone. Immediately after I said those words I felt 3 taps on my right shoulder that I was sure came from the gentleman on the tour locked in with us. I was surprised when the guide unlocked the cell and noticed the gentleman wasn’t standing by the wall but was standing in front of the cell door eagerly waiting to be let out. I asked my cousin if he was trying to freak me out by tapping my shoulder he said no. I never questioned the gentleman because he seemed to be kinda irritated to be on the tour with a couple of kids. That experience never seemed to stand out to me until I was older when I watched a TV show about the ghosts of Alcatraz. I don’t talk about my experience much. I really felt the need to share it tonight. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

    • Hi Dave,

      Thanks very much for taking the time to share your experience. It would be great to know if anyone has had a similar experience in that cell.

      All the best.


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