We have been to some truly awesome investigations but the Missouri State Penitentiary is the Holy Grail of paranormal investigation locations. We will be also inviting our other teams around the country to this special event so sign up soon so you can insure your spot for this great event. We will only have 40 spots available so time is critical. You will be investigating with the cast of the R.I.P. Hunters Paranormal TV Show and they are the best at what they do. This place has been called The Bloodiest 47 Acres in the Country for many reasons. Here are just a few bits of history from this location. When you have a few minutes research this place and you will be amazed. Infamous Inmates:
A former Union General, the first train robber, 1930s gangsters, world champion athletes and the assassin that killed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. all came through the gates of the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) as inmates. Some left MSP for successful careers in the arts, sports and even state government; others chose a life of more crime.
John B. “Firebug” Johnson: In the 1880s, a man caught the public’s attention with his antics in prison. That man was “Firebug” Johnson, one of the most notorious of all the inmates to ever serve a sentence at the Penitentiary. Johnson attempted escape several times but was best known for his most notorious act; setting a fire that destroyed more than $500,000 worth of property and the deaths of several inmates. Johnson was then convicted of arson in a Cole County Court and given an additional 12 years after which he was locked in the dungeon for many years. After he was released, Firebug wrote a book entitled “Buried Alive for 18 Years in the Missouri Penitentiary.”
Katie Richards O’Hare: In 1919, Katie Richards O’Hare began serving a federal sentence at the Missouri Penitentiary that would change her life and contribute to reforms in inmate labor practices. In July of 1918, O’Hare, Chairman of the Socialist Labor Party, gave a speech in Bowman, North Dakota after which she was indicted under the new Federal Espionage Act, convicted of espionage and sentenced to prison. While incarcerated, O’Hare was forced to work 50 hours a week in a clothing factory and prohibited from communicating with her husband and four children. In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson commuted O’Hare’s sentence and she was released. She later received a full pardon from President Calvin Coolidge but her life was forever changed by her experience at MSP. She abandoned socialist agitation and pursued prison reform efforts. In 1939, she was appointed by the California Governor to the position of Assistant Director of the California Department of Penology. Her reform efforts had a major impact on California’s penal policies and many of those reforms were implemented throughout the country.
Emma Goldman: While Katie Richards O’Hare was incarcerated at MSP, another international activist shared the women’s quarters with her. Emma Goldman was serving one of several imprisonments for charges ranging from inciting a riot to advocating the use of birth control to opposition to World War I. At the time, the government called Goldman the “ablest and most dangerous” anarchist in the country and she was pursued through much of her life by two of the most notorious law enforcement officials in American History; Anthony Comstock and J. Edgar Hoover. She is credited with having had tremendous influence on the founders of Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union. Not surprisingly, while in prison Goldman was known as an agitator, stirring rebellion among the women prisoners. Prison administrators were glad to see her leave when in 1919, after serving nearly two years, she was arraigned before a US commissioner. When she testified that she did not have the money to pay her $10,000 fine, she was told she was free to go anyways. The two famous activists, Goldman and O’Hare, left their mark on the Penitentiary and their impact would continue to be felt across the country for years following.
Harry Snodgrass “King of the Ivories:” In the 1920s, Harry Snodgrass became known as the “King of the Ivories” because of his exceptional piano playing while serving a sentence in the Penitentiary. Every Monday night, local radio station WOS broadcast from the dome of the Capitol building and the prison band, also known by the “Peaceful Village Band,” was frequently featured. The show was incredibly popular; telegrams from all over the U.S., Mexico and Canada often poured in expressing appreciation of Snodgrass’ music. Soon, the prison band and orchestra were known nationwide and Harry Snodgrass was the featured attraction. When an announcement was made over the air that Snodgrass, due to leave prison the next year, would leave a poor man, more than $2,000 was received for him at the radio station within a couple of weeks. At Snodgrass’ final performance as an inmate in 1925 after his sentence was commuted by Governor Sam Baker, a crowd estimated at more than a thousand people attended. Following his release, Snodgrass traveled with a vaudeville act and made several records for the Brunswick record label. Snodgrass was later granted a full pardon in 1926.
Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd – Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd first arrived at the Missouri State Penitentiary in 1925 after pleading guilty for his first offense, a $12,000 St. Louis payroll robbery. Upon his release in 1929, he continued wreaking havoc across the Midwest robbing banks and murdering in cold blood with a notorious band of outlaws. By 1933, Floyd was wanted in several states and known to police as the “most dangerous man alive.” In Missouri, he was wanted for three murders. He was wanted in Toledo, Ohio for killing a policeman there. Numerous Oklahoma bank robberies were credited to Floyd and his gang; he was also wanted in that state for murdering an officer. Police officers were warned that he was heavily armed with machine guns and wore a steel vest for protection. In June of 1933, Floyd and his gang continued on killing sprees across Missouri and Oklahoma and were identified as the prime suspects in an attempt to free Frank Nash, an infamous Oklahoma outlaw, which resulted in the fatal shooting of four lawmen. A massive manhunt ensued for Floyd and the fellow killers. Floyd managed to elude law enforcement for weeks before he was apprehended at a farm and shot dead on the spot after trying to flee.
Charles “Sonny” Liston – In 1950, Charles Liston arrived at the Missouri State Penitentiary. He was serving time for two charges of robbery with a deadly weapon and two charges of larceny. Liston was illiterate, one of 17 children, and had rarely held a job. While incarcerated, Liston, soon known as “Sonny,” found his niche in life; he learned to box, and he fought very well. One day the publisher of a St. Louis newspaper saw Liston box and thought he showed promise as a professional. The next day he contacted the Board of Probation and Parole. If Liston could be released on parole, the publisher promised, he would personally see that Sonny received a job and training as a boxer. So Sonny Liston was released on parole in 1952 and his rise to success was meteoric. He learned to read and write a bit and his associations with businessmen and managers taught him grooming and polish. He lived and trained at the Pine Street YMCA and began working at Scullins Steel until he could support himself from his earning as a pro boxer. Almost immediately, Liston was entered into the Golden Gloves Amateur Boxing Tournament, held in St. Louis. He won, and then went on to win the National Heavyweight Championship in Chicago in 1953.
James Earl Ray – James Earl Ray was raised in Ewing, Missouri, a small, poverty-stricken farming community. The Ray family fell into the low end of the Ewing lower class and was known as the town’s “white trash.” Raised to be suspicious of everybody, little “Jimmy” especially learned to despise blacks, although he had little to no contact with them throughout his life. Ray later moved to Quincy, Illinois, a rowdy river community on the Mississippi River, where he began associating with the town’s “bad element” and getting into minor scrapes with the law. In 1959 Ray and an accomplice held up a Kroger store in St. Louis and after being caught, tried and convicted, Ray was sentenced to 20-years at the Missouri State Penitentiary. Ray had previously served terms in Joliet and Pontiac prisons in Illinois and Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas. After several escape attempts at MSP, Ray made one final escape plan. In 1967, he reported to his job in the prison bakery early and was helped into a large box that was used to ship loaves of bread. Soon, a truck drove up to pick up a supply and several boxes, including the one containing Ray, were loaded up and the truck left the Penitentiary. It was nearly a year later on Thursday, April 4, 1968 that Ray assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. Ray was amazed at the publicity surrounding his deed; he thought that killing King would make him a hero and instead he became a hunted man. Ray was soon apprehended, convicted of murder in the 1st degree, and sentenced to 99 years in prison. He was sent to the maximum security Brushy Mountain facility in Tennessee, where he tried to escape multiple times. In 1991, James Earl Ray was transferred to the River Bend Maximum Security Facility in Nashville. He remains on escape status in the records of the Missouri Department of Corrections.
In September of 1937, Governor Lloyd Crow Stark signed a bill calling for execution by lethal gas. No longer would the local sheriff be responsible for carrying out the death penalty for those convicted in his county. The days of public hangings in Missouri were to finally come to an end. Many members of the legislature were strongly opposed to the bill and argued that more death sentences would result. Nevertheless, Missouri was, on the whole, a state that supported the death penalty for serious crimes. The bill was changed to lethal gas instead of the electric chair, and passed. In total, 40 inmates were put to death in the gas chamber between 1937 and 1989 when MSP death row ended and all capital punishment inmates were moved to the new prison at Potosi.
Riot of 1954
During the years of 1953 and 1954 there had been a rash of prison riots across the United States. Many feared the Missouri system was ripe for an outbreak as well. The potential for riot became a popular topic of conversation which the Missouri Highway Patrol took very seriously, drafting a plan and training officers how to respond to such an event. The advance preparation would come in handy before long.
The storm is brewing: It was Wednesday evening, September 22, around 6:30, when two inmates feigned illness to attract the attention of two guards. When the guards entered the hall to investigate, they were overpowered and their keys were stolen. One of the guards was beaten severely. The two convicts then bolted out of their cell and ran along the cellblock, releasing others as they went. Soon a large group of inmates was running loose, racing around the compound and emptying other cellblocks along their path. One group of inmates entered the dining hall, smashing windows and chairs. In the prison shops, anything flammable was set afire.
Highway Patrol gets the call: Missouri Highway Patrolman Walter Wilson was eating dinner in his patrol car when he heard an urgent message come over his radio; “Proceed to Jefferson City at once, prison riot in progress!” Obeying the riot plan procedures, he immediately headed towards Jefferson City. Simultaneously, other patrolmen from all over the state turned their cars toward the capital city as well. By midnight, more highway patrol troopers, Kansas City and St. Louis police, national guardsmen and local police had surrounded the prison. Inside, several hundred convicts were running, shouting and throwing bricks and chunks of concrete at the deputy warden’s office. Four buildings were fully ablaze and more fires were being started. Soon, nearly 2,500 rioters were on the loose inside the walls. In this chaotic nightmare of activity, one inmate in solitary confinement was tortured and murdered by other prisoners.
Convicts rampage through the night: Trooper Wilson and the other highway patrolmen continued their vigil throughout the night, as the law enforcement groups tried to prevent a mass breakout: “As waves of rioters stormed the deputy warden’s office, armed troopers on the roof were finally forced to open fire with machine guns and riot guns to force the desperate prisoners to flee the prison yard. Several convicts were injured by gun fire,” Wilson later wrote.
Official regain control: Confronted with that mighty show of firepower, the inmates were finally forced back and most scattered to take cover wherever they could. Officers finally gained control, flushing out small groups of men and subduing the group of ringleaders. Another 300 prisoners were still barricaded in B and C cellblocks, cornered but not ready to surrender. The law enforcement officers left them alone and retreated, while in the warden’s office a meeting was held to decide how to handle the situation. The assembled members of the press were told that no attempt to secure the cellblocks would take place that night. Governor Phil Donnelley, Lt. Governor James Blair, Director of Penal Institutions Thomas Whitecotton, Warden Ralph Eidson and Highway Patrol Superintendent Hugh Waggoner had been at the riot scene since it began and were growing weary. At last they announced that all troopers were to meet at 7:00 the next morning, when they would be given instructions on how to enter the building. It was a sleepless night for the law enforcement teams.
Troopers storm the grounds: 245 troopers attended the next morning’s meeting. 18 men were chosen to lead the way into the cellblocks where the cornered rioters were in a forbidding four story white stone building. Trooper Wilson was one of those 18 selected. 100 St. Louis police officers and the remaining troops would stand outside the prison yard as a second wall of defense. These officers were also to process the 300 convicts, if and when they were taken captive. Wilson writes that this moment was the crucial one, when all of his training as a trooper would be put to the test: