Horrifying Tales From Alcatraz, The Notoriously Haunted Island Prison
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.
D-Block Was A Place No Prisoner Wanted To Go And Has Since Become One Of The Most Haunted Places On Alcatraz
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.
- Photo: San Diego Shooter / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
The 1946 Battle Of Alcatraz Lasted Two Days And Killed Five People
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.
- Photo: Anna Irene / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
The C-Block Laundry Room Holds The Ghost Of Abie Maldowitz, A Prisoner Who Was Violently Murdered
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.
- Photo: vhines200 / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0
A 1938 Escape Attempt Resulted In A Guard Being Beaten To Death With A Hammer And A Prisoner Getting Fatally Shot
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.
Rufus McCain Was Fatally Stabbed In The Gut By A Former Partner From A Failed Escape And Now Is Said To Haunt D-Block
In 1939, prisoner Rufus McCain attempted to escape Alcatraz along with Henri Young, Arthur Barker, and two other men. They managed to get to the shore but guards caught up with them as McCain suddenly realized he couldn't swim. Two guards were murdered during the incident, Barker was killed, and both McCain and Young were put into solitary for almost an entire year. Young blamed McCain for the failure of the escape and tension between the two men grew.
In December of 1940, Young snuck out of the furniture shop in which he'd been put to work, crept down to the tailor shop where McCain was working, and stabbed him in the gut. McCain was seriously injured and lived another painful couple of hours before finally dying in the hospital. Some believe either or both men haunt the solitary D-Block in which they spent so much time.
- Photo: Alex Light / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
Many Alcatraz Prisoners Went Insane And Several Committed Gruesome Suicides
Due to the harsh conditions and treatment prisoners received at Alcatraz, many of them ended up suffering from mental illness. Warden Johnson believed insanity, no mater how severe, was being used an excuse from working and refused to acknowledge that his prison was tormenting and abusing its inmates.
Some men, like Rube Persful, worked out their anguish through physical activity. Persful was hospitalized after purposely cutting off all the fingers on one hand with a hatchet while working in one of Alcatraz's work shops. Laughing, he asked a guard to take care of the fingers on the other hand. Others, such as Ed Wutke who used a pencil sharpener blade to slice through his jugular, successfully killed themselves. Joe Bowers attempted something similar using his eyeglass lenses and when he failed, climbed the outer fence knowing he'd be shot. He fell 75 feet to certain death. With so much negative energy and tragedy at Alcatraz, it's no wonder the island prison is considered one of the most haunted places in America.