Demons of the Ohio State Reformatory — Mansfield, Ohio

Video:

Investigation Video Notes:

  • Thank you to Creepy Legends Paranormal for the gracious invite!
  • The initial EVP caught in the video was actually recorded on my camera not the audio recorder seen in the footage.
  • My video doesn’t purport that the prison is full of demons as in biblical fallen angels. But if you disagree or can’t understand the metaphor, please send your hate mail to Mike Culwell.
  • It was awesome to get Geobox II and V together in the same location. Always a pleasure to see and work with my friend Jeff Fent. For those of you who like Geoboxes, you understand that they’re beautiful and unique ITC devices that sound and look great — equipped with $40 hacked radios. For those of you who hate Geoboxes, remember they’re made from cheap Chinese parts (like all ghost boxes), Huff Paranormal finger-banged one to death once, people go ape shit for them on eBay — that’s as inconceivable as the Beanie Baby rage — plus they’re equipped with exploding $10 hacked radios that Kim Jong Un stole from left-handed Rwandan refugee children. Once again, direct all hate mail to Mike Culwell.
  • There are differing views on the Panasonic DR60 recorder, which I think is good to have. For its critics, every reason they list to undermine its effectiveness in catching electronic voice phenomena (chip, etc.) could be argued that that’s why they work uniquely. Maybe the faulty chips make them easier to imprint voices on? I’m not sure, but I know I’ve gotten direct and intelligent responses with them. I do admit that if you think that you’re catching Class A EVPs with a DR60 you’re crazy. They are not easy or pleasurable to listen to. Much like The Beatles. Once again, Mike Culwell awaits your hate.
  • Oh and my startled response at the end of the video when the spirit box says demon? A possum came around the corner of a cell block and at first I couldn’t make out what it was in the dark. You are welcome.

Historic Timeline

• Field where reformatory would be built named Camp Mordecai Bartley, a training camp for Civil War soldiers in 1861, named in honor of Mansfield man who served as state governor in 1840s. More than 4,000 soldiers trained at site, later named Camp Buckingham and Camp Mansfield.

o Land part of Tingley farm, settled in 1822 by William Tingley. (News-Journal, 10/8/1978)

o Soldiers perished in training camps because of poor sanitary conditions, hygiene and exposure to communicable diseases. One soldier “announced to all that he had been visited by ghosts and spirits while training at the camp at Mansfield and was very agitated. The unfortunate soldier was often so shaken and disturbed from these experiences that he was later determined unfit for duty.” Some soldiers refused to do drills in certain areas; high rates of ammunition failure; whispers and muffled voices and unexplained sounds from ground reported. (“The Haunted History of the Ohio State Reformatory,” Sherri Brake)

• Mansfield promoted as a candidate for the location of the new Intermediate Penitentiary (original name before Ohio State Reformatory) in 1867.

o When war was over, Mansfielders wanted former camp put to good use and suggested state build large prison there … site was well drained, had large spring, close to Erie railroad and two main highways and offered grand view of countryside. Plenty of room for large orchard and farm. (News-Journal, 10/8/1978)

o Prison campaign leader Roeliff Brinkerhoff, an authority on prison reform concerned about cruel treatment he had witnessed in prisons and lack of care for persons suffering from mental illness. (News-Journal, 10/8/1978)

• State selected Mansfield for planned state prison in 1885, a new concept of Intermediate intended as halfway point between Boys Industrial School and State Penitentiary for young first-time offenders. The city purchased 30 acres of land for the prison, and the state acquired 150 acres of adjoining land.

• Construction on historic $1.3 million stone and metal prison began in 1886. Original architect Levi T. Scofield employed architectural styles of Victorian Gothic, Richardsonian Romanesque and Queen Anne to help encourage inmates to be reborn into their spiritual lives. The creation and construction of the entire building entrusted to architect F.F. Schnitzer, whose name also appears on the cornerstone.

o Resemblance to medieval chateaux and castles

o “Mansfield’s Greatest Day”: Elaborate city celebration, parade marked laying of cornerstone in 1886

• Name changed from Intermediate Penitentiary to Ohio State Reformatory in 1891.

• 250,000-square-foot Reformatory opened doors to first 150 offenders in 1896. Inmates put to work completing 25-foot, 14-acre stone wall, structure and sewer system. Inmates required to finish school, attend church and learn a trade. (The Akron Beacon Journal, 8/6/2017)

o “Largest institution of its kind in the United States, if not in the world.”

o “Average yearly population of 3,500 young men whose ages range from 16 to 30 years.”

o “It is the intermediate step between reform schools and penitentiaries. It seeks not only to discipline, but reform the men who come within its jurisdiction.”

o “It attempts, also, to rehabilitate the men who leave its doors; to help them find new places for themselves in the social structure outside the high gray walls.”
(From “The Ohio State Reformatory, 1896-1934” as reprinted in
News-Journal, 10/4/1996)

• Prison complex included chapel, hospital, doctor, dentist, schools, orchestra; agricultural, livestock and poultry operations provided food for bakery, creamery and food service department; administration building housed clerical offices and also home to warden and assistant warden, chaplains and their families. (News-Journal, 10/4/1996)

o 9-by-7-by-8-foot cells housed two men each in “city inside a city.” Prisoners worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and learned skills in printing, laundry, shoe and broom factories at the prison. (The Tribune, 5/13/1999)

o Inmates designed and maintained small lake and picnic area on the grounds that residents used for play or picnics. (The Tribune, 10/20/2002)

o Inmates grew and canned own vegetables, raised cattle, churned butter and made own clothes. (The Cincinnati Enquirer, 6/17/2001)

o Inmates had hand in beautification of reformatory grounds. One inmate awaiting action on plea for pardon in 1930s built rock garden at one end of lake. Visitors learned of project and came to admire his work, known as “Frenchy’s Rock Garden.” (News-Journal, 10/8/1978)

• East Cell Block finished in 1908.

• Due to delays caused by funding problems, construction not completed until 1910.

• Chapel, auditorium/school building dedicated in 1928. Construction work by inmates. (The Cincinnati Enquirer, 4/23/1928)

• In 1933, educators and prison experts deemed overcrowding, conditions at OSR “a disgrace” with “little or no real rehabilitative values.” (News-Journal, 3/25/2001)

o A 1930 fire killed more than 330 inmates at the Ohio Penitentiary, which housed violent criminals. More than 200 surviving inmates were transferred to OSR, where they were kept in a small storage attic. Conditions worsened. (News-Journal, 12/5/2016)

o Superintendent feared mutiny, asked state officials for more machine guns and tear bombs after “hard-boiled” convicts staged disturbance during governor’s visit to prison. (The Tribune, 5/17/1930)

• Work started on first complete hospital in history of reformatory in 1950. (News-Journal, 3/25/2001)

• Two-way radio setup began operations in 1955, designed to keep guards at reformatory and honor camps in closer touch. Equipment consisted of transmitter in superintendent’s office, two-way radios and walkie-talkies. (The Marion Star, 6/2/1955)

• Considerable amount of ornamental architecture permanently removed during reroofing in 1960. (News-Journal, 3/25/2001)

• In 1960s, reformatory became more crowded, taking in serious criminals. (The Akron Beacon Journal, 8/6/2017)

o Considered overcrowded at more than 2,000 inmates, but at one point, population reported at 3,600. (News-Journal, 10/8/1978)

• Four inmates charged in court brief that prison officials violated inmates’ constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and due process, as well as freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. (Marysville Journal-Tribune, 11/2/1973)

• In 1976, OSR officially became maximum security prison, holding about 1,900 inmates in East and West Cell Blocks separated by guards’ command station. (The Akron Beacon Journal, 8/6/2017)

• In 1978, Counsel for Human Dignity filed lawsuit on behalf of the 2,200 inmates, claiming rights violations because of being forced to live in “brutalizing and inhumane conditions.” (News-Journal, 12/30/1950)

• State agreed to close prison by 1986. (News-Journal, 3/25/2001)

• Remained in full operation until 1990 when closed by Boyd Consent Decree, a federal court order resulting from prisoners’ class action suit citing overcrowding and inhumane conditions. Judge ordered prison closed by the end of 1986, but closing date moved to 1990 due to delays in constructing replacement facility, the Mansfield Correctional Institution, which stands to the west of the old prison.

• In 1992, the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society formed and has converted prison into museum to help fund rehabilitation projects. State leased land in 1995 to Mansfield, which leased to Preservation Society. (News-Journal, 3/25/2001)

• Most of grounds and support buildings, including outer wall, have been demolished since closing. Parts of infrastructure including power plant and selected workshops/outbuildings torn down in 1994. Mansfield turned over what’s left, including administration building and massive cellblocks, to Preservation Society. (News-Journal, 3/25/2001)

Deaths and tragedies

• More than 200 people reportedly died at prison, which housed 154,000 inmates during time as working prison.

o “At least one inmate managed to hang himself, another set himself on fire, once two men left too long in a single tomb-like cell, only one walked out, leaving his cellmate’s body behind, stuffed beneath a bunk.” (News Channel 4, Columbus, Ohio, 1997)

• In 1926, paroled inmate Philip Orleck returned to OSR to “spring” Victor Dackin. Escape attempt failed and Orleck shot and killed guard Urban Wilford/Wolford, age 72. First officer killed in line of duty at Reformatory. Orleck captured and executed in 1927. (News-Journal, 3/25/2001)

• Inmate Albert Francis, 25, died of tuberculosis. (The Newark Advocate, 10/21/1930)

• In 1932, guard Frank Hanger, 48, beaten to death when dozen prisoners attempted escape. Inmates Chester Probaski and Merrill Chandler executed for death in 1935. (News-Journal, 3/25/2001)

• In 1933, five prisoners escaped by sawing way to freedom. Four captured soon after prison break, but other escaped. (News-Journal, 12/30/1933)

• In 1933, inmate William Chapman killed in escape attempt, dropping from the roof of dormitory while trying to lower himself to ground with rope made of heavy twine. (News-Journal, 12/30/1933)

• Inmate Emil Chura, 21, died of gunshot wounds inflicted by guards when tried to scale wall surrounding dormitory. (Cincinnati Enquirer, 7/3/1937)

• Guard shot down and killed fleeing inmate Tony Amadio, 21, attempting to escape with another during a dense fog. (Marysville Journal-Tribune, 3/23/1942)

• Charles Dickerson, 42, stabbed to death by fellow inmate in melee. (News-Journal, 12/31/1932)

• Inmate Janvere Bruck, 18, killed in sneak attack with paring knife while in supper line. (News-Journal, 7/19/1946)

• In 1948, parolees Robert Daniels and John West kidnapped and murdered John Niebel, the prison farm’s superintendent, his wife, Nolanda, and daughter Phyllis and dumped their bodies in cornfield. Pair had reportedly been intent on revenge murder of guard “Red Man” Harris (also see below), but, drunk, stumbled into wrong quarters. “Mad-dog killers” found after two-week crime spree in which the men killed six. West killed by authorities in shootout following several-state manhunt. “I’ll get the chair for this,” Daniels quoted as saying as signed confession papers; executed in 1949. Said to be bloodiest single incident in prison’s history. (News-Journal, 3/25/2001; News Channel 4, Columbus, Ohio, 1997; Akron Beacon Journal, 10/4/1998)

• Governor and authorities met to address parole system and conditions at reformatory following slayings of six people. Former inmate Frank Korecky charged that Mansfield Reformatory “is a crime school, not a reform school.” Korecky said Robert Daniels (see above note) “deserves to die for what he did, but something good can yet come out of his crime career if it awakes the people to the brutal conditions at Mansfield.” Also learned that Willis “Red” Harris, target of Niebel family murders, had served 18 months in Ohio penitentiary for shooting a reformatory parolee in 1942. Mixed population where “normal prisoners are thrown in with psychopaths and below-average inmates” criticized. System changes proposed. (News-Journal, 7/26/1948)

o Reformatory became congested, and cells intended to support a single man now contained three. The attention changed from renovation to punishing disobedient inmates. The penalties were directed with old-fashioned torture devices comprised of “the butterfly,” a method of electro-torture, water tubes, sweatbox and solitary confinement. Along with the likelihood of being tortured, convicts were also endangered to the extreme by other convicts, horrendous food, rat plague, and transmittable diseases. Special treatment was likely, but only to the prisoners who could find the money to pay for it. (thevintagenews, 8/27/2016)

• Six inmates escaped by twisting screws off fire escape door; lived in dormitory outside prison walls before four captured. (Cincinnati Enquirer, 8/7/1948)

• In 1950, Helen Bauer Glattke, wife of Arthur Glattke, reformatory superintendent and chief of Division of Corrections, died at age 41 after suffering gunshot wound to lung/pneumonia at superintendent’s residence housed at the reformatory. Gun kept at residence for convenience of superintendent, who believed his wife was dressing and reached into a shelf to move the gun away from jewelry box. The .32 caliber automatic pistol apparently slipped from her hands and discharged as hit floor. Coroner’s Office ruled death accidental. Dr. J.V. Horst, OSR physician, asserted gun defective and frequently jammed. Helen Latke mother to two sons, Arthur Jr. and Teddy, then ages 13 and 9. (News-Journal, 11/7/50)

o Arthur Glattke died at age 56 after heart attack suffered in office. (The News-Messenger 2/11/1959)

• 1957 riot earned 120 inmates visits to “the Hole,” area of solitary confinement cells equipped with nothing but toilet and bunk for 30 days with 20 rooms occupied between them; at least one inmate’s murder alleged during this period; his body hidden by fellow inmate for several days under bedding; prisoners sometimes slept on bare concrete floors. (News-Journal, 3/25/2001; deadohio.com)

• James R. Harris, 22, died suddenly of heart failure in his cell. (News-Journal, 6/17/1953)

• Darrow Dean Sapp, 19, fatally stabbed with scissors by cellmate in institution’s tailor shop. (News-Journal, 2/18/1959)

• Inmate James A. Kreiger, 21, died from effects of drinking wood alcohol. (News-Journal, 4/2/1964)

• Tractor on institution’s farm overturned on embankment, killing inmate John F. Fitzwater, 24. . (News-Journal, 1/1/1965)

• Inmate James Caldwell, 17, died of stab wounds. (News-Journal, 1/1/1965)

“Youth describes prison perversion in plea not to be returned”: Charles Randles, 20, begged court not to return him to reformatory after escape from deputies, recounting story of being victim of attempted sexual attacks by other victims. (The Daily Reporter, 12/23/1970)

• Student inmate barber slashed throat of Fred Don Miller, 28, with straight razor during argument in institution’s barbershop. (The Daily Reporter, 11/2/1971)

• 17-year-old inmate attacked by group and forced to commit sex acts. (News-Journal, 12/11/1972)

• Inmate Oscar Prude IV, 27, strangled girlfriend Salbrina Simmons, 29, to death with bed sheet sneaked into visiting area. First civilian killed by an inmate in one of Ohio’s prisons. (The Akron Beacon Journal, 12/9/1989)

• Captain recalled guard attacks and gruesome inmate deaths, including one who set himself on fire with paint thinner. “Most guards would quit within the first 30 days,” according to Ike Webb. (News-Journal, 10/27/2002)

Cemetery

• 215 prisoners buried in nearby cemetery (known as Ohio State Reformatory Cemetery and Mansfield Prison Cemetery).

• Only identified on tombstones by prison number. Dead include victims of disease, influenza, tuberculosis and violence. (News Channel 4, Columbus, Ohio, 1997; Akron Beacon Journal, 10/4/1998)

Notes of Interest

• At six stories, 12 ranges and 600 cells, the East Cell Block remains the largest free-standing steel cell block in the world; listed in “Guinness Book of World Records.”

o Five-story West Cell Block contains 360 two-man cells. (The Akron Beacon Journal, 5/18/2003)

• Prison setting for many television and film productions, perhaps most notably as Shawshank State Prison in the 1994 film “The Shawshank Redemption.”

• Prison listed on National Register of Historic Places in 1983, just as inmates’ 1978 lawsuit resolved. (News-Journal, 3/25/2001)

• Because of role as intermediate prison, held few famous inmates during history, though some went on to future notoriety, including Henry Baker, one of men convicted of Brink’s robbery in 1950. (News-Journal, 12/9/1990)

• Ohio State Petitionary Museum in west wing displays “Old Sparky,” Ohio’s electric chair, used to execute 315 convicts (312 men and 3 women) between 1897 and 1963. (The Akron Beacon Journal, 8/6/2017)

• Thousands of empty cells remain today, some still filled with prisoners’ possessions. (The Akron Beacon Journal, 5/18/2003)

• Prison dungeon a dark and mysterious area where records were stored and religious relics and statues kept when upstairs chapel was transformed into recreation area. “When a new guard was hired, older guards would place statues around every corner and then ask the new guards to check on things in the dungeon,” according to Janice Demyan, preservation society tour coordinator. “Armed with nothing but a flashlight, the new guard would walk around the corners and suddenly see these tall statues. The older guards got a kick out of it because they know how dark and eerie it is down here.” (The Cincinnati Enquirer, 6/17/2001)

Additional sources: mrps.org; findagrave.com; Wikipedia, weirdus.com

All historical research compiled by the awesomeness of Amy Eunice Specter.

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