“West Virginia Penitentiary” is a defunct, sinister, Gothic styled sentinel that once housed the most viscous, blood thirsty criminals in the entire state. Though the building is no longer residence for the living, this monstrous structure still maintains a visceral and surreal presence that refuses to be denied.
Throughout the years the penitentiary has been the subject of countless paranormal investigations and private ghost hunting excursions. It has been featured in print, television and on-line media as one of the most actively haunted locations in the United States today.
According to the researches, visitors and staff alike; notorious prisoners by the likes of Shep Caldwell, Elmer Brunner and Trout E. Shue still stalk the prison’s darkened corridors making it a point to boldly announce their presence.
Shep Caldwell, for the uninitiated, was the first African American man to be hung at the prison wagon house in 1899. What was Shep’s crime? It was the brutal killing of his mistress prompted by her threats to reveal their torrid affair. Though Shep may have been the first man to be executed within the prison walls, he was far from being the last.
Elmer Brunner was also one of the earlier prisoners to be executed there. Brunner sunk a claw hammer repeatedly into the skull of an unfortunate and hapless woman. He died for his crimes in the electric chair on April 3rd, 1959.
But perhaps the most intriguing and celebrated prisoner at the “West Virginia Penitentiary” was Trout E. Shue. A disarmingly attractive albeit brutal Blacksmith, Shue was the male version of a black widow. His wives, 7 in all, had an uncanny ability to turn up missing, beaten or dead.
Shue was known to change his name and move around frequently to avoid detection of his crimes. It wasn’t until the murder of his last wife that Shue’s true nature was revealed thanks to a ghostly visit from the descendant to her mother.
At first the police and coroner determined that Zona Heaster Shue died from either a fainting spell or child birth. Her staged body was found laying at the bottom of the family’s staircase on a cold January day in 1897.
Zona’s death went un-avenged for awhile until her ghost purportedly made an appearance to her mother Mary Jane Heaster who was living in Greenbriar at the time. After the spectral sighting, Mary Jane notified the authorities that her daughter’s ghost had given her the gruesome details of her untimely demise.
According to Mary and the decedent, Shue choked the young woman, broke her neck and threw her down the stairs. Mary Heaster was so adamant about the details of this experience that she testified to it in court. As such Zona’s otherworldly plea was entered into court’s evidence thus making her the 1st ghost to ever testify at her own murder trial. The story of Zona and her spirited testimony later became known as the “Legend of the Greenbrair Ghost.”
And what happened to the devilishly handsome deviant Trout Shue? He was eventually convicted, jailed and later died on March 1st, 1900.
The penitentiary staff conducted numerous executions from 1899 until 1959. The facility was also the site of several bloody riots and escapes before it was eventually shut down and abandoned by all except the ethereal occupants.
Penitentiary Activities and Prices
Today visitors to “West Virginia Penitentiary” can partake of several different activities such as ghost hunts, night tours, ghost hunting classes, overnight private ghost tours, day tours, self-guided tours, guided tours and a “Dungeon of Horrors” special Halloween event every October.
Ghost hunts and night tours run from March until November. Due to the horrific nature of the activities, no one under the age of 18 is admitted. Tours generally last 90 minutes and as of 2010 sell for $60.00 per person.
Overnight ghost tours tend to start at 8:00 pm except during the month of October to accommodate the special Halloween Dungeon event. During October all tour hours are subject to change.
Overnight tours also sell for $60.00 per person and include a pizza dinner, non-alcoholic beverages, movie and a chance to explore the facility on your own for several hours.
Intrepid travelers will want to keep in mind that once they are inside the penitentiary they are locked in much in the same way as the inmates once were. All outside exits remain locked until the 6:00 am departure time. Please note that being locked inside a prolific paranormal penitentiary is not an activity for the faint of heart.
Advance reservations are needed and would-be visitors should make note of the cancellation policy, deposit requirement and other information listed on the “West Virginia Penitentiary” web site.
West Virginia Penitentiary
818 Jefferson Avenue
Moundsville, WV 26041
The haunted and hulking “West Virginia Penitentiary” is not the only remarkable attraction that Moundsville has to offer. There is also the “Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex”, “Fostoria Glass Museum” and the “Grand Vue Park” to consider.
Those would be Moundsville, West Virginia travelers longing for more information on the area’s attractions, eateries and lodging establishments should log onto the State’s tourism website