Looming pensively at the bottom of a hill in Boise sits the Old Idaho Penitentiary. This prison first opened in 1872 and housed some of the West’s most notorious criminals over its 101 years of operation. According to the Idaho State Historical Society, more than 13,000 inmates including 220 women spent time here. Ten out of Idaho’s eleven executions took place behind the walls, with an estimated total of 110 individuals dying from disease, old age, or murdered by other inmates.
In 1971 and 1973, due to years of horrendous living conditions, inmates rioted, successfully burning down the church, cafeteria, and other buildings on the property. They were then moved to a newer facility outside of town and the doors to Old Pen closed in December of 1973. The complex sat empty for years until it was deemed a historical place and re-opened as a museum. Staff and guests have witnessed many strange occurrences on site, leading many to believe that some of the inmates never actually left, especially, it’s most infamous prisoner, Raymond Snowden.
Snowden, who was a real grade-A jackass, was known as Idaho’s Jack the Ripper after committing a particularly gruesome murder and later admitting to committing two more. On September 23, 1956 he lured mother of two, Cora Dean, away from a bar and gave her the enticing offer . . . rape or death? What girl could resist? Cora accidentally chose death and Snowden pulled out his 2 and 1/4 inch pocket knife (probably the same length of his puny dick) and stabbed her more than thirty times as well as severing her spine. The murder weapon was found just outside of the cigar store he was spotted in that evening, using the restroom to clean up. In 1957, Snowden was the first and last man to be hung in 5 House, the maximum security unit. When the sentence was carried out, his neck failed to break, and it took fifteen minutes before his last gasp of air. Today, he is said to haunt the bar he met Dean in, the cigar store, and, most notably, 5 House. Apparently he’s much better at getting around after death.
On a particularly ominous Friday the 13th, along with my colleague Jason McClellan and his wife, we joined Boise’s chapter of the International Paranormal Reporting Group for a night-time investigation covering six buildings on the premises. Equipped with cameras, Mel Meters, and audio recording devices, we began our hunt for evidence of the ghostly kind.
Our first stop was the old barber shop where two individuals died—one from suicide, and the other murdered by another inmate. The cold draft we kept feeling was quickly identified as coming from an airshaft, and the only notable event here was a loud mysterious whisper that was heard by the two IPRG investigators and myself. If this whisper wasn’t the shy couple in the corner, who were adamant of their silence, then we may have captured an interesting EVP (electronic voice phenomena).
Our second stop was the old shirt factory, where a few creaks, bangs, and groans were heard but not much of note. The Ghost Adventures episode that was shot here claimed that a man was gang-raped to death in the showers—a supremely grisly sounding death. But that fact, we were informed, was merely a rumor. If that rumor holds any credence, that’s probably a pretty pissed off ghost.
The most interesting event occurred while we were in 2 House—a cellblock just 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. After verifying that no-one was currently investigating that building, two team members went down to check it out. They alleged that they heard footsteps and, 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.
When we finally made our way down to 5 House, it happened to coincide with the time of Snowden’s botched hanging. At 12:20 AM, we stood in the drop room, below the gallows, waiting for some residual evidence of Snowden’s still lingering presence. Deafening silence continued for five minutes until I heard distinct footsteps above us. With the exception of Jason’s wife, no one else seemed to notice the noise. We continued on cramming ourselves into creepy cells, solitary units, and exploring the grounds until we wrapped up our investigation at nearly 2:00 AM.
So do I think something strange is happening at the Old Idaho Penitentiary? Most of the sounds we heard during the investigation I would likely attribute to the creaks and groans of old buildings. The repeat door slamming, footsteps in the gallows, and a few mysterious whispers, however, are at this point still unexplained. Perhaps, just perhaps, Snowden and a few of his inmates are still serving their sentences in the afterlife.