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13 Facts About The Missouri State Penitentiary

13 Facts About the Missouri State Penitentiary

The Missouri State Penitentiary isn’t for the faint of heart! There have been several notable inmates, including the assassin of MLK and a deranged serial killer who hanged himself in his cell. Here are 13 chilling facts about the prison’s dark history.

1.The Missouri State Penitentiary was one of the oldest operating prisons in the US until it closed in 2004. The first building, the A-Hall, was constructed by prisoners in the early 1830s. It remained in operation for 168 years.

2. The word “penitentiary” means “a place of penance.” It was believed that prisoners should be completely confined from the outside world and forced to work as a form of punishment and reformation. It was believed that poor conditions, isolation, and hard labor would make prisoners repent of their bad deeds.

3. Some of the inmates here committed truly chilling deeds. Robert Berdella – a serial killer, torturer, and rapist – was imprisoned here for life, from 1988 to 1992.

4. Charles Ray Hatcher was imprisoned multiple times throughout his life for a wide variety of crimes, including several brutal murders. He admitted to 16 murders and is considered one of America’s worst serial killers. He was sentenced to life in prison, but instead he hanged himself in his cell at the Missouri State Penitentiary.  

5. James Earl Ray was incarcerated here in 1960 for repeated offenses, including mail fraud, armed robbery and more. However, he successfully escaped in 1967 by hiding in a bread truck. After a short stint as a pornographic film director in Mexico, Ray came back to the US, where he shot and killed Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, TN. Ray was a segregationist who was strongly opposed to civil rights.

Approximately one year after the assassination, Ray was caught, convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison in Tennessee. He escaped from that prison as well, but was recaptured 3 days later and spent the rest of his life in prison, where he died from hepatitis C.

6. In 1954, there was a large riot in which several inmates were killed and injured. The prison was set on fire and many inmates attempted to escape, but ultimately failed. The National Guard, state highway patrol, and city police had to be brought in to stop the riot.

7. In 2003, an inmate was murdered by two fellow inmates. The two murderers were found four days later in a small hideout within one of the prison factories.

8. The Missouri State Penitentiary has a gas chamber which was used to execute forty convicts until it ceased to be used in 1989. You can still visit the gas chamber today.

9. The death row cellblock was located underground and in isolation from other inmates. Death row prisoners were not allowed to leave the death row unit for any reason.

10. The imposing Gothic-style building was designed to appear unfriendly from the outside. On the inside, it was even worse, with cramped cells and miserable, inhumane conditions.

11. At one point, the facility was nicknamed “The Walls” and was also dubbed “the bloodiest 47 acres in America.”

12. People touring the facility have reported ghostly activity, including apparitions. Considering the types of people who were imprisoned here, it’s chilling to think about the types of spirits you might encounter in the Missouri State Penitentiary!

13. Today, the penitentiary is a museum that you can visit. But if you really want to verify whether the inmates still haunt the cells, gas chamber, and prison factories, you can find out for yourself with an overnight paranormal investigation!