For the 29 years Alcatraz functioned as a federal prison, creepy stories derived from its remote austerity and contributed to its legend. But the spooky mythos began long before the famous penitentiary opened in 1934. Today, Alcatraz is considered one of the most haunted places in America thanks to all the death, torture, and misery that went on behind its walls. From beatings to murders to a handful of escape attempts made by Alcatraz's prisoners, the terrifying history of Alcatraz prison contains plenty of ghosts.
Alcatraz's history started long before the prison. It was formerly used as a military prison and fort, and the harsh waters of the San Francisco Bay and often foggy surroundings made the island the perfect place to house some of the country's worst criminals. Soldiers, inmates, and guards have all perished on Alcatraz Island. Whether these deaths were due to natural causes, murder, or suicide, many say the ghosts of the dead contribute to the many Alcatraz prison horror lore. Like other creepy prisons with ghost stories, supernatural sightings on Alcatraz are the result of some horrifying incidents and prison conditions. Al Capone, dungeons, and one intensely haunted cell are just a few of the chilling ghost stories to be found on the Rock.
Cellblock D in Alcatraz was known as "the hole" and held the solitary confinement cells reserved for the most poorly behaved prisoners. These five cells were extremely cold: the prisoners were forced to strip naked and their mattresses were removed each morning, forcing them either to stand all day or sit on the cold floor. One of these cells was known as the "Oriental" and unlike the other solitary cells, prisoners were left completely in the dark with only a hole in the floor in which to relieve themselves.
At some point in the 1940s, an inmate began screaming as soon as he was locked inside but the guards ignored him, believing he was just upset about the conditions. The next morning, they found the prisoner dead with a terrified look on his face and an autopsy revealed he had died from strangulation that could not have been self-inflicted. Whether it was a guard who killed him or a ghost (possibly that of former prisoner Rufus McCain since he had stayed in that cell) will never be known, but many report feeling uncomfortable and tingly when entering his 14D cell, and the room is often much colder that any of the others. A ghost hunter investigating cell 12D down the hall reported feeling icy fingers on his neck upon entering.
Bank robber Bernard Paul Coy carefully observed the guards' patterns for several months as he was planning his escape attempt. In May of 1946, he and five other men managed to break into a gun cage in cellblock C and stole a guard's keys. Unfortunately for them, the key they needed to get out of the prison building was missing and they were unable to escape. Not letting that stop them, the men took several guards hostage and killed two before the Marines were called. Three of the attempted escapees eventually became trapped in a utility passage where they were killed by gunfire. The event lasted two days and became known as the "Battle of Alcatraz," the bloodiest escape attempt in the prison's history. Although the passage is concealed from visitors' view with a heavy door, bangs and clanging noises are often heard but disappear once the door is opened. Many believe the ghosts of the three men killed in the passage are responsible.
Alcatraz has become a must-see destination for paranormal enthusiasts, researchers, and investigators, and psychic Sylvia Brown was among them. She felt a very intense presence in the laundry room in Cellblock C and also received an impression that something very violent had happened there. Brown accurately described a tall bald man, the exact appearance of a prisoner named Abie Maldowitz.
Maldowitz was also known as "Butcher" and was a hitman before he was arrested. Prison records indicated he had, in fact, died in the laundry room when he was brutally murdered by another inmate. Other mysterious incidents from the same room include the heavy smell of smoke in the air even though nothing is burning.
In 1938, three men including Rufus Franklin attempted to escape by attacking the guard in the woodworking shop where they were laboring. Franklin beat the unarmed guard to death with a hammer and the three prisoners broke a window and climbed onto the roof. They didn't get very far as a guard in one of the towers open fired on the men. Two of the prisoners were shot and one died. Up until the 1946 incident that started the "Battle of Alcatraz," this was the deadliest escape attempt in the prison's history.