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

Posts tagged ‘prison’


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






The Haunting of Hill Hall – Epping, Essex

A few days ago I received an email from Ann of North Weald, Essex.  Considering I’ve lived in the area for my entire life, I have to confess to feeling a little ashamed at never having heard of Hill Hall, Epping.  Especially as it happens to have its very own ghost.

Hill Hall boasts some of the earliest classical decoration on any surviving building in Britain as well as a series of late 16th century wall paintings including scenes from the story of Cupid, Psyche and the mother in law from hell, Venus.

The origins of Hill Hall date back from before the Norman Conquest when the site was owned by a Saxon chap called Godric. I’m sure Godric would be delighted to see what they’ve done with the place over the centuries.  The first proper house was built on the site in the early 13th century and the mostly timber framed building was then rebuilt by Sir Thomas Smith during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The Smiths remained in residence at Hill Hall right up until 1923.

During World War II, Hill Hall was used as a maternity home before becoming a billet for RAF officers.  The stately pile was then abandoned in 1942.  After a while the building was converted into the most unlikeliest of things: a women’s prison which opened for business in 1952.  Things ticked on quietly at Hill Hall until one unfortunate day in 1969 when an inmate started a fire. This is where Ann’s story begins:

“When I was about seventeen, I was doing a project on Hill Hall.  The building has been converted into flats now but it was a women’s prison many years ago.  I was allowed special access to take photos and at the time the place was boarded up due to the fire that had taken place while it was a women’s prison, caused by one of the inmates setting light to herself in her room.   I had access to the grounds only as the building was unsafe to enter.  I was round the back of the house with my dad and I was looking at the back of the house when I saw a woman in a long white night dress.  I watched her for about a minute as she walked along the back of the house and then turned to my dad and asked him who he thought the woman was.  He hadn’t seen her.  When I looked again she was gone but there was nowhere for her to go.

I know it was a ghost I saw that day and I can see the image in my mind even now, as if it happened yesterday.  Hill Hall is reported to be haunted by the lady who set herself alight and caused the fire.”

English Heritage now look after Hill Hall and even though the building has been converted into some rather swanky private houses, the public are still able to view certain areas by prior arrangement.  If you’re lucky, perhaps the lady in white will join you on your tour.


©Nicola Kirk and 2010

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