Haunting Ghost Stories of Alcatraz

Is Al Capone Still Wandering the Corridors of Alcatraz?

View of a long corridor inside a cell block at Alcatraz penitentiary
Getty Images/Archive Photos

Could the famous prison of Alcatraz, off of San Franciso, be haunted? Ghost hunters have discovered certain that parts of the island and areas of the prison that evoke a certain... strangeness. A look into the prison's brutal history and some of its infamous criminals may shed light on why some believe the halls are still inhabited by the ghosts of the prisoners who died there.

History of Alcatraz

In the late 1850s, the first inmates to occupy Alcatraz were military prisoners who were forced to build a new prison that later became known as "The Rock." The U.S. Army housed military prisoners on the island until 1933, at which time the Federal Government decided to open a maximum-security, minimum-privilege penitentiary, to deal with the Federal Government’s most incorrigible inmates.

Alcatraz was designed to break the spirit of the most rebellious prisoners by putting them in a structured, monotonous routine until their release. Prisoners were given only four basic things - food, clothing, shelter and medical care. Anything beyond these basics had to be earned. Famous criminals, such as Al Capone, George "Machine-Gun" Kelly, Alvin Karpis, and Arthur "Doc" Barker, spent time in Alcatraz. Mobsters in other prisons often managed to manipulate special privileges from guards, but this was never the case at Alcatraz.

Brutal Punishments

The Strip Cell
Prisoners refusing to follow prison rules risked being confined to the Strip Cell, located on the lower tier of D Block. It was a dark steel cell, where inmates would be stripped naked and given water and bread once daily, an occasional meal and a mattress at night. The only 'toilet' was a hole in the cell floor, and there was no sink.

While there, convicts had no contact with others, spending their time in pitch-dark solitude.

The Hole on D Block
Similar to the strip cell, there were five 'hole' cells, also on the lower tier, where prisoners were kept in isolation for up to 19 days. The cells had a toilet, sink, one light bulb, and a mattress provided only during the night.

Prison Closure

Due to the huge costs of refurbishing the prison, Alcatraz was finally closed in 1963. The United States Park Services later reopened the prison for public tours.

As  Alcatraz was built on an island and kept so isolated from public view, tales of inmates being tortured and of their bitter ghostly spirits coming back to haunt the halls of Alcatraz soon gave rise to myths about the island circulating among the general public.

The Ghost Stories of Alcatraz

One of the areas of the prison most often claimed most active with paranormal activity is a utility corridor where inmates Coy, Cretzer, and Hubbard were pummeled with bullets after a failed prison escape.

In 1976 this was in the same area that a night security guard reported hearing unexplained eerie clanging sounds coming from inside.

Cell 14D
Cell 14D, one of the 'hole' cells, is believed by some to be very active with spirits. Visitors and employees have reported feeling a raw coldness and have claimed that at times a sudden 'intensity' encompasses the cell.

Tales have been told of an event in the 1940s when a prisoner locked in 14D screamed throughout the night that a creature with glowing eyes was killing him. The next day guards found the man strangled to death in the cell.

No one ever claimed responsibility for the convict's death. However, the next day, when doing head counts, the guards counted one too many prisoners. Some of the guards claimed to see the dead convict in line with the other inmates, but only for a second before he vanished.

Warden Johnston
Other stories have circulated that Warden Johnston, nicknamed "The Golden Rule Warden," also experienced a bizarre event while showing some of his guests around the prison. According to the story, Johnston and his group heard someone sobbing from inside the prison walls, and then a cold wind whisked past the group. Johnston could never explain any reason for the occurrences.

Cell blocks A, B, and C
Visitors to cell blocks A and B claim they have heard crying and moaning. A visiting psychic wrote that, while in Block C, he encountered a disruptive spirit named Butcher.

Prison records show that another inmate in block C murdered Abie Maldowitz, a mob hitman known as Butcher.

The Ghost of Al Capone?

Al Capone, who spent his last years at Alcatraz with his health in decline from untreated syphilis, took up playing the banjo with a prison band. Fearing that he would be killed if he spent his recreational time in the prison yard, Capone received permission to spend recreation time ​practicing his banjo in the shower room.

In recent years, a park ranger claimed he heard banjo music coming from the shower room. Not familiar with the history of Alcatraz, the ranger could not find a reason for the sound and documented the strange event. Other visitors and employees have reported hearing the sound of a banjo coming from the prison walls.

More Paranormal Reports

Other odd events experienced over the years include guards smelling smoke, but finding no fire; sounds of unexplained crying and moaning; unexplained cold spots in areas of the prison and claims of seeing ghosts of prisoners or military personnel. Could it be that Alcatraz is haunted?