Criminal Ghosts are stalking Old Idaho Penitentiary

Boise, Idaho might not seem like a likely beacon for strange happenings, but one spot, in particular, aims to disprove that notion. At the bottom of a hill, just outside of town sits the Old Idaho Penitentiary, a site of mischievous comings and goings of some of the West’s most notorious criminals. The problem is, they’re all dead.

According to the Idaho State Historical Society, the prison first opened in 1872 and housed over 13,000 inmates including 220 women. The conditions weren’t exactly like staying at the Ritz Carlton however, and after years of horrendous living conditions and no mints on the pillows, the inmates said enough was enough. In 1971 and 1973, they rioted and successfully burnt down the church, cafeteria, and a few other buildings on the property. The rioting seemed to work as in December of 1973; they were moved to a newer facility outside of town and the doors to Old Pen closed forever. Throughout its active status, the prison saw an estimate of 110 deaths from disease, old age, murder, and ten out of Idaho’s eleven executions.

One of the premium suites - credit: Maureen Elsberry

One of the premium suites – credit: Maureen Elsberry

The complex collected dust for years until it was granted status as a historical place and re-opened as a museum. After a staggering amount of strange occurrences started happening to staff and guests, many surmised that some of the inmates never actually left, including its most infamous prisoner, Raymond Snowden.

Raymond Snowden

Raymond Allen Snowden

Snowden, who is not to be confused with the hacker Eduard Snowden, is better known as Idaho’s Jack the Ripper. He earned this moniker after committing a rather gruesome murder, and then, at a later date, admitting to at least two more. The charmer lured a mother of two by the name of Cora Dean away from a bar on September 23, 1956. Once they were out of sight, he whipped out his 2 and 1/4 inch pocket knife and gave her the enticing choice of rape or death. Like I said, the guy was a real charmer. Apparently Cora chose death (or Snowden had some trouble performing) because she was found with more than thirty stab wounds and a severed spine.

After his little foray, Snowden ventured to Hannifin’s Cigars where he was witnessed using the restroom. Presumably, this is where he was cleaning up, but he did a rather shoddy job as the murder weapon was found just outside the location. He was booked and sentenced to die.

In 1957, Snowden was the first and last man to be hung in the maximum security unit known as 5 House. During the execution, his neck failed to break, leaving him dangling for fifteen minutes before he took his horrific last gasp of air. Apparently, he’s much better at getting around after death as he is said to haunt the bar he met Dean in, the cigar store, and most notably, 5 House.

Rogue Planet Investigates:

On a particularly ominous Friday the 13th, along with RP’s Jason McClellan and his wife, we joined Boise’s chapter of the International Paranormal Reporting Group for a night-time investigation. Equipped with cameras, Mel Meters, and audio recording devices, we began our hunt for evidence of the ghostly kind throughout six of the prison’s buildings.

Jess, Maureen, and Jason in the Old Shirt Factory - credit: IPRG

Jess, Maureen, and Jason in the Old Shirt Factory – credit: IPRG

We began by cramming ourselves into the old barber shop where two individuals had died—one from suicide and the other at the hands of another inmate. Initially, there was a cold draft that several of us felt but we were quickly able to establish that it was originating from an old airshaft. The only notable event in this particular building was a loud mysterious whisper that was heard only by myself and two IPRG investigators. We questioned the shy couple in the corner who were adamant of their silence, but the potentially interesting EVP (electronic voice phenomena) did not turn up during analysis.

Next we ventured into the old shirt factory where a Ghost Adventures episode claimed a man was gang-raped to death while in the showers. We were quickly informed that this was merely a rumor. If that rumor holds any credence, that’s probably a pretty angry ghost. There wasn’t much to report here as the few creaks, bangs, and groans we heard were most likely explainable.

Maureen stares into a cell

Cell Block 2 – credit: Jason McClellan

The most interesting event in our investigation occurred while we were in 2 House—a cellblock looming up the hill from maximum security. Our group heard a wall-shaking boom, which turned out to be the large heavy door of 5 House swinging open and slamming shut. We quickly verified over Walkie-Talkies that no one was currently in that building. Two team members were sent down to check it out and alleged that they heard footsteps but that the building was indeed empty. As they were walking away from the building to re-join us, we all witnessed the large door slam shut once again. It seems highly unlikely that the mild wind that night would have had the force needed to slam the door, however, without further evidence to the contrary, that is my only explanation.

Drop RoomWe had to hit up a few more buildings before we made our way down to 5 House, which was to our benefit as our investigation coincided with the time of Snowden’s botched hanging. So we found ourselves, at 12:20 AM, standing in the drop room directly below the gallows, waiting for some residual evidence of Snowden’s still lingering presence. The deafening silence continued for five minutes until I heard distinct footsteps above us. With the exception of Jason’s wife, no one else registered the noise. We continued cramming ourselves into creepy cells, solitary units, and exploring the grounds until we wrapped up our investigation at nearly 2:00 AM.

While I would attribute the majority of the sounds we heard at the Old Idaho Penitentiary to the creaks and groans of old buildings, the repeated door slamming, a few meter spikes, footsteps in the gallows, and a few mysterious whispers remain unexplained. Perhaps, just perhaps, Snowden and a few of his inmates are still serving their sentences in the afterlife.