It’s been called the “Bloodiest 47 Acres in America”, a prison known for its stunning violence, housing 5200 inmates at its peak, including gangsters, boxers, and even James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin. Today, the inmates are long gone, but for those who’ve spent the night behind it’s massive stone walls, it’s clear that their ghosts still linger, angry and as violent as ever. Welcome to Missouri State Penitentiary.
Back in May, I wrote an article covering the prison’s long and violent history. From riots, to executions, to murders – if it was violent, it happened here. Missouri State Pen was not a place where anyone wanted to be locked up. So of course, I decided to do just that. But if you’re going to spend the night with a a few hundred restless spirits, who better to do it with than Nick Groff, a man who spent a decade chasing phantoms on Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures?
When I arrived on site, the very first thing I noticed about the prison was the massive stone wall wrapping around the entire property, including infamous gas chamber which executed forty people in its day. It’s the closest thing to a castle that you’re bound to find in America. This place was serious.
Construction on the prison began in the 1830s, and while it was in operation, ‘The Walls”, as it came to be known, was the oldest functioning jail this side of the Mississippi. While it’s true that most jails are known for their abject violence, which is understandable when you consider they house some of the most dangerous men and women in the world, Missouri takes it to a whole new level, hence the nickname, “The Bloodies 47 Acres in America”.
The prison is made up of quite a few buildings, all of which have their own unique paranormal stories, legends, and strange experiences attached to them. However, during my visit, the two buildings which seemed to continue having the most spooky activity were A-Hall and, naturally, Death Row.
Out of all the buildings that make up MSP, at 147 years old, A-Hall is the oldest. It’s amassive stone building, lined on ether side from floor to ceiling with jail cells and catwalks that criss-cross its width, making it the perfect “home base” for an overnight stay. It’s intimidating and immense, and was built to withstand pretty much anything that the inmates could throw at it, and for good reason.
It’s also the home of the infamous “Hole”.
Imagine, if you will, roughly 10 solid stone underground cells, cut-off from daylight and any source of fresh air, and you’re sort of getting the idea. “The Hole” was a medieval-torture-style dungeon where the worst (or most disliked) prisoners were dumped and forgotten about. Often times they were crammed into a cell packed 15 people tight, only to lose their minds in the darkness and eventually die. To say it’s bleak is an absolute understatement. These cells are teeming with the memories of madness, illness, and fear. Though initially I had hoped to get the chance to explore it alone, after spending a few hours amongst Nick Groff Tour guests who continued to experience everything from the touch of phantom fingers to mysterious nausea… I changed my mind pretty quickly.
Week In Weird also explored the “Death Row” building with Lawrenceburg Ghost Walk’s own Jeff Waldridge, and it ended up being one of the most interesting locations of the night. The area where we spent most of our time was in the basement, where troublesome prisoners were often kept. If an inmate was unruly, suffering from a mental disorder, or generally unstable they would be pumped full of thorazine and brought to the basement cells.
These specific inmates were referred to as “the bobbleheads”, as they would bob back and forth, so drugged that they could do little else. Many of the inmates were packed 4 or 5 men to a cell, living out their days in filth and neglect. One of the strangest experiences our group noticed was the overwhelming smell of body odor, which was still lingering in the air after years and years of being absorbed into the stone walls.
At one point our group was sure we were seeing movement in the darkness at the end of the main hallway, as if people were walking back and forth from one cell to the other. We considered that it might have been animals living in the cells, but the height of the shadows was far too tall to have been a rat or even a cat, not to mention that the strange shadows made absolutely no sound even though they were just 25-feet away from where we were standing.
MSP tour guide Maggie Harris shared with us an image snapped by one of her tour guests while visiting A-Hall, and it’s a little disturbing, to say the least. The guest in question had been snapping photos of one of the most infamous cells in A-Hall: Cell #48. At the time, she hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary, but once she reviewed her images, she discovered a very strange-looking, distorted human figure standing next to her friend.
This area of the cell was site of a grisly murder which took place during one of the prison’s many riots. This particular cell had once held an inmate who was notorious for snitching, a bad rap that got him bludgeoned to death with the very sledge hammer used to smash open the wall to his cell. To this day, Cell #48 remains one of the strangest, most active places in all of Missouri State Penitentiary. Naturally, I needed to investigate.
As the night wound down, I made my way to Cell #48 with Nick Groff, Greg Newkirk, and SHOCK’s Lee Kirkland, where throughout the event, a handful of people had reported experiencing some very strange phenomena. Electromagnetic field meters would erupt in a flash of red lights, disembodied voices were captured on digital recorders, and more than one person mentioned the feeling of an invisible force breathing down their neck.
Groff was the first to enter the cell, spending a few moments inside before calling Greg over.
“Walk inside the cell and tell me what you feel,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you what I was feeling, I just want you to walk in there and see if you feel the same thing I did.”
Greg crept into the cell and let out an audible “whoa”, before poking head out of the tiny room.
“It feels like my feet are lead weights. Like everything is physically heavier in here. This is crazy!”
I can only describe the strange feeling as a shift in gravity. There was a very noticeable “heavy” feeling, which was accompanied by varying degrees of anxiety and dizziness. It was like wearing a backpack filled with bricks, but only in that specific cell. It was a fascinating and bizarre phenomena… but it was what happened next that really startled us.
Suddenly and without warning, Lee, who had been standing in the doorway of the cell turned abruptly at the sound of something rushing down the catwalk towards him. Whatever it was was moving quickly, and with enough of a racket to get our attention. The invisible force entered the cell at an exceptionally fast rate, and collided with the inside of my left leg, knocking me back a few paces before dissipating completely. The experience was over before we’d even realized what happened, and though it’s been months since the event, I’ve still not been able to fully explain what happened.
Many others had their own personal experiences that night, with one man even breaking down into tears from the overwhelming sense of sorrow that permeated the walls of Missouri State Penitentiary. When you consider the amount of violence that took place behind those walls, it’s no surprise that those feelings still linger. My own strange experience in cell #48 was just one of many. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever been to such an active location in my life.
I never thought I’d recommend that people spend time behind bars, but if you get the chance for a lock up in Missouri State Penitentiary, you won’t be disappointed. Considering that the building is older than my home country of Canada and the amount of bizarre activity happening inside its stone barriers, MSP is a living, breathing piece of America’s history, and ranks among Eastern State Penitentiary, Ohio State Reformatory, and West Virginia Penitentiary, as one of the most incredible haunted prisons in the country. While it’s impossible to guarantee that someone has a paranormal experience anywhere, Missouri State Penitentiary is about as close to a guarantee as you’ll get.
After spending nearly 15 hours exploring the grounds, I still feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of “The Walls” or the legends contained within them. My own strange experience has only fueled my curiosity about MSP, and though I can’t really explain what happened, I’m hoping I’ll find my answer one day.
If you want to plan your own visit to Missouri State Penitentiary, you can find hours for their public tours at their official website, including rates for private, all-night lockdowns as well. The staff are a top-notch, fun-as-hell gang of history buffs with a weird streak, and they’ll make sure you have a fantastic time whatever you choose.
Interested in joining Ghost Adventures‘ Nick Groff on a future ghost hunt? Check out the official website of the Nick Groff Tour for a list of events at some of the most infamously eerie locales across the country. Next stop? Virginia City, Nevada, where Ghost Adventures began.