The historic and ominous Missouri State Penitentiary is well-known to be rampant with paranormal activity.
Those who walk through these haunted halls may find their resolve tested like never before.
Our ghost hunts provide exclusive access to general population, the women’s and intense therapeutic community building, death row, the segregation area known as “3-D”, the notorious “A-Hall and dungeon cells” and the gas chamber, where 40 Inmates paid with their lives for crimes in which they were convicted.
Who are these spirits that are often seen and heard through the buildings of this massive abandoned penitentiary?
What do these spirits want? Why do they remain?
Missouri State Penitentiary is one of the most intense locations anywhere in the country. And on your journey with us, you may just find out.
Sitting near the Mississippi River in Jefferson City, Missouri is a square of thick stones walls which surrounds a daunting complex of abandoned buildings. Once you park your vehicle and walk up to the massive administration building, for a moment you may feel as though you could be standing at any building, on any street in the world.
As you step through the door, you’ll find yourself greeted by old iron bars, signs saying “Out of Bounds”, and a highly charged atmosphere. It’s at this point you realize that you are now inside one of the most historic and haunted pieces of land to exist anywhere in the country, Missouri State Penitentiary.
In 1831, Jefferson City was in danger of losing its status as the capital city of Missouri. In order to help solidify that status, Governor John Miller suggest the construction of a penitentiary. In 1833, the House of Representatives passed a bill that called for a penitentiary to be established and built. Construction of what would be known as Missouri State Penitentiary began west of the Mississippi River in 1834. Due to the large stone blocks used in building the walls around the property, Missouri State Penitentiary quickly became known as “The Walls”.
In 1836, the first Inmate, Wilson Eidson, was transferred from green County, Missouri to the newly built penitentiary in Jefferson City. In 1840, prisoners were building houses under the watchful eyes of armed guards, many of which still stand today. In May of 1842, the first female Inmate, Amelia Eddy, was transferred to Missouri State Penitentiary from St. Francis county.
Housing Unit 4, also known as “A-Hall”, was completed in 1868 to hold post-civil war criminals. The stone used for the construction of Housing Unit 1 was quarried on-site by prison labor. Housing Unit 1 is the oldest complete building which still stands today.
By 1885, numerous industries made contributions to the economy of Jefferson City through their use of prison labor to help manufacture their products. In 1893, Missouri State Penitentiary was considered one of the most efficient prison systems in the country by showcasing their ability to feed and house Inmates for only $0.11 per day.
Missouri State Penitentiary housed around 2,200 prisoners by 1900. The Jefferson City Star Tribute called Missouri State Penitentiary “The greatest in the world.”
In 1905, Housing Unit 1 (the former women’s unit and intensive therapeutic community that currently serves as the main entrance for Missouri State Prison) was constructed. Infamous female activists Gabriella Segata Antolini, Kate O’Hare, and Emma Goldman were housed in this building.
Shortly after, in 1909, Inmates were no longer forced to wear the striped black and white prison uniforms that had previously been required. On February 5th, 1911, Inmates rushed to save thousands of documents from the Missouri State Capitol as it was being destroyed by fire.
Housing Unit 3 was constructed in 1914. This building held two general population cell blocks and segregation cells. This building also held death row inmates until 1989. This is also the building where the 1954 riot began.
In 1925, Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd was transferred to Missouri State Penitentiary after being convicted of a payroll robbery. Floyd was granted parole after serving 3.5 years of a five-year sentence.
By 1935, Missouri State Penitentiary housed 5,300 Inmates. In 1937, a gas chamber was brought in and placed on a concrete slab. Inmates then used stones from the prison quarry to construct a building around it. The gas chamber was involved in the executions of 39 Inmates between 1937 and 1987, when lethal injection became an option in 1989.
George “Tiny” Mercer was the first Inmate executed by lethal injection on January 6, 1989, the last Inmate executed at Missouri State Penitentiary’s gas chamber building, and the first inmate executed in the state since 1965.
In 1938, a 5-story, 240-bed hospital complex was completed, which allowed for medical records to be created and maintained on each inmate.
Charles “Sonny” Liston was brought to Missouri State Penitentiary on June 1, 1950, after being convicted of robberies and sentenced to five years. Liston learned to box while incarcerated, which led to his early parole on October 31, 1952. Liston went on to become a renowned heavyweight boxing champion.
On October 6, 1953, Carl Hall and Bonnie Heady were arrested for the kidnapping and murder of 6-year old Bobby Greenlease. Hall and Heady were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for the crime on November 19, 1953. Slightly more than a month later, on December 18, 1953, Carl Austin and Bonnie Heady were executed side by side in the gas chamber at Missouri State Penitentiary, as a second chair had been installed just for this purpose. Bonnie heady remains the only woman executed at Missouri State Penitentiary.
In 1954, tensions ran high at Missouri State Penitentiary. Many of the 2,575 inmates took issue with the parole board, their living conditions, and the quality of their meals. At 6:00 pm on September 22, 1954, two Inmates lured a guard into a cell, attacked him, and took his keys. The inmates attacked another guard, freed some of their friends, grabbed a sledgehammer from the machine shop, and made their way to death row.
Housed on death row was an Inmate named Walter Lee Donnell. Donnell was serving time for robbery and was hidden away in death row as a measure of protective custody after his testimony at trial resulted in the convictions of others and having already been stabbed once while in prison.
The group then turned their attention to James Creighton. Creighton was housed next to Donnell for the same reason, and Creighton had also set another Inmate on fire and slashed the throat of another during his period of incarceration. Creighton was beaten severely by a gang of Inmates but managed to survive his attack. After the riot, Creighton provided testimony that resulted in his receiving of a full pardon.
Guard Clarence Dietzel, who was working death row on that fateful day, was taken hostage. A group of Inmates rushed towards Donnell’s cell, unlocked the door, stabbed him multiple times, then crushed his skull with a sledgehammer. Hundreds of Inmates then rushed the recreation yard to throw rocks at retreating staff. Other inmates set fired in the school, license-plate factory and other buildings.
Corrections Director Thomas Whitecotton called for reinforcements, which resulted in 100 policemen from St. Louis and State Policeman armed with rifles stood atop the administration building and opened fire. This barrage of artillery resulted in the deaths of three Inmates while everyone scattered to find cover.
At dawn the next morning, State Policemen moved toward a group of 400 who refused t give up. After being told “We mean business”, the holdouts gave up, hostage were rescued, and order was restored. The riot resulted in much damage from the fires, the deaths of 4 Inmates, and injuries to multiple staff and Inmates.
Murder convictions were won against 7 men who were involved in the murder of Walter Lee Donnell. One of the men, Rollie Laster, was considered the ringleader. For his involvement in Donnell’s death and the riot, Laster was sentenced to death. This sentence was eventually commuted to life.
Laster took Warden Wyrick hostage and attempted to escape Missouri State Penitentiary in 1959, attempted escape again in 1960, assaulted a guard and attempted to escape in 1961, stabbed a fellow Inmate in 1968, attempted suicide in 1971, suffered a heart attack in 1975, and spent much of the last years of his life in segregation. Amazingly, Laster nearly had his name cleared in the death of Donnell and was likely going to be paroled before being moved to a minimum-security prison (with the help of former Warden Wyrick, whom Laster had taken hostage years before) where he passed away.
The riot at Missouri State Penitentiary received national attention for being the worst riot to ever take place at any prison in the country. In 1967, TIME magazine referred to Missouri State Penitentiary as “The bloodiest 47 acres in America”.
In 1959, James Earl Ray was sentenced to twenty years at Missouri State Penitentiary for various repeated offenses. Ray escaped Missouri State Penitentiary in 1967 by hiding in a bread truck. A year later, Ray would be suspected of the murder of Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King Jr. Ray was convicted and sentenced for this crime, dying in Tennessee in 1998.
In 1984, during an installation of a recreation yard for offenders on death row, six cells were unearthed between Housing Units 2 and 3. These cells are believed to have been built in the 1840’s as part of “Centennial Hall”, and these are the oldest discovered cells on the Missouri State Penitentiary grounds.
In 1988, serial killer Robert Berdella (known as The Kansas City Butcher or The Collector) was convicted and sentenced to life at Missouri State Penitentiary for the rape, torture, murder, and dissection of six young men. Berdella died of a heart attack in October 1992 in the Hospital building of Missouri State Penitentiary.
In 1989, all death row Inmates housed at Missouri State Penitentiary were transferred to a new prison at Potosi. In 1991, Missouri State Penitentiary was renamed the Jefferson City Correctional Center.
On September 15th, 2004, all remaining Inmates at Missouri State Penitentiary were transferred, and the prison was closed. Missouri State Penitentiary was the oldest prison west of the Mississippi River and operated for more than 168 years. The name was reverted back to Missouri State Penitentiary and the State of Missouri operates tours, public investigations, and private rentals.
Held within the thick stone walls and ominous buildings of Missouri State Penitentiary is the energy of darkness, extreme violence, and many unimaginable deaths. The paranormal activity has been known to be so and intense that hundreds of investigations have been conducted, Missouri State Prison has been featured on Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, and Destination Fear, and even former staff and Inmates have stepped forward to tell of their own frightening experiences.
Once the lights turn off and the doors close, where will you go and what experience will you have?
Perhaps you’ll encounter one of the apparitions walking around that once stopped a tour and resulted in the police searching the entire property, only to come up with nothing. As you enter death row, you might be the one to hear the unexplained knocks and whistles, feel the cool breezes and phantom touches, or come face to face with Bonnie Heady, Carl Hall, Waller Lee Donnell, George “Tiny” Mercer, or any number of souls who spent their finals days in these tiny cells.
You may decide to enter the former women’s unit and intense therapeutic community or general population areas, where you could encounter shadows walking along the tiers, voices calling out from the darkness, or footsteps on the stairs. Or you could try your luck in 3-D, where many have seen shadows reaching out from cells or hiding near the doorway, and where some become uncomfortable or become physically ill.
You may also visit “A Hall” and experience the active spirits of post-civil war criminals or those housed inside when the cell block was used for segregation. Venture down the stairs into the former dungeon cells and discover who may be down there waiting. Or, have a seat in the gas chamber building, where 40 souls walked in and none walked back out. They all have stories to tell. And one of them may want to tell their story to you.
Can you last inside with spirits that may be responsible for heinous crimes or this prison’s notoriously violent reputation? As a shadow rushes by you, an apparition walks toward you, footsteps fall behind you, or a hand reaches out to touch you…. Can you keep yourself together through the night?
Come spend a night with us at this amazing location and find out what your limits of fear really are!