Image of West Virginia Penitentiary is a gothic-style prison located in Moundsville, West Virginia USA
Image of West Virginia Penitentiary is a gothic-style prison located in Moundsville, West Virginia USA

West Virginia Penitentiary


Located in Moundsville, West Virginia, the West Virginia Penitentiary is a gothic-style prison. It operated from 1876 till 1995, and during its operating years, housed some of the country’s most violent criminals. It was retired from prison use after a judge ruled that its living conditions were severely inhumane. While the inmates of the prison were moved to other jails throughout the country, the building was reclaimed as a tourist attraction. Every year, hundreds of people flock to the destination to witness the history engraved on its walls. Since it is also known to be haunted by the ghosts of those murdered here and the memories of all the evils that happened here, ghost hunters have shown a particular interest in the destination.

The West Virginia Penitentiary has its long history. It housed several thousand prisoners over the years. However, some of the men there just managed to leave a mark on history. They are known for what happened to them and what tragic ends their lives met. The following is a list of some prisoners of the penitentiary and how their lives were ended tragically:


1. William “Red” Snyder

Moundsville's Infamous Prisoner #45512 Red Snyder was stabbed to death in his cell room The Charleseton Gazzette November 17th 1986
Moundsville’s Infamous Prisoner #45512 Red Snyder was stabbed to death in his cell room The Charleston Gazzette November 17th 1986

Snyder was one of the most violent men trapped between the walls of the West Virginia Penitentiary. He was feared and respected by his fellow inmates. Imprisoned for killing his father and his neighbor, he immediately caused unease within the cells upon his arrival. On most days, he seemed pretty normal, chewing tobacco, wearing his knitted hat, and watching “Days of Our Lives”. Although he is suspected of having started the prison riot (that led three dead), he was respected by the guards.

Red was brutally murdered by his friend in his cell with a sharp piece of metal broken off his bed. He was stabbed multiple times till death. It was the guards of the prison who fought for permission to let his family bury him instead of the prison cemetery.


2. Frank Hyer

Frank Hyer was a peculiar prisoner at the West Virginia Penitentiary. Imprisoned for killing his wife while intoxicated, he tried to end his life following the episode. However, the church bought him back. While being taken for execution, he was strangely calm and grateful for the wonderful Christian experience he had been given. He was fearless of death and deserved himself worthy of the punishment. He asked the priest present during his execution to ‘advise young men to abstain from whiskey’.

What happened to him is gruesome. When the trap of the gallows was opened, the pressure on the noose was too much. Instead of just breaking his neck, it managed to rip his head off his body. It was a public hanging, and the audience was left revulsed. His execution marked the end of public executions in the prison.

In the almost 120 years that it was operational, the West Virginia penitentiary has seen many executions, crimes, and evils being committed within its four walls. The number of dark activities that occurred there is uncountable. News of some of the things that happened inside escaped the walls of the prison and are common knowledge today. Visitors who tour the building claim to experience supernatural presence in particular areas, some of which are known to be terrifying even when the prison operated. Some of the most common recounts of tourists include the following:


1. The presence of R.D. Wall

What happened with R.D. Walls is perhaps the most terrifying of all accounts. While he was popular with the majority of inmates and even the guards, a few new transfers saw him as a snitch, for he was a little too friendly with the guards. What happened of Walls is a gruesome tale. A group of fellow inmates caught him while he was alone, chopped off his fingers, and sliced his throat with a broken piece of metal. They failed to completely severe his head off, but they managed to make him nearly headless. Today, visitors to the prison report seeing a headless man in a khaki uniform (characteristic of Walls) walking to the boiler room (where he was killed). Those who do not see him recount hearing footsteps and a man’s voice. Women with long hair feel like someone is running fingers through their hair. Other women claim to feel someone caressing their cheeks.


2. The Infamous Sugar Shack

The term sugar shack might have been just a euphemism. It referred to space within the prison where the prisoners went for some sugar, so to speak. This infamous spot was the hub of violence, both physical and sexual. Fights broke out, scores settled, and weaker brutally raped. There might be no record of the number of such incidents that happened here; but, the count was enough to leave behind a dark energy lingering in the space. Most men who visit this point say they experience the residual energy, hear sounds of whimpering, and sometimes yelling men.


3. The North Wagon Gate

Previously this gate led to the gallows for public and private executions. Now, this gate is said to be haunted by the spirit of Orville Paul Adkins, an inmate who met a tragic end in the private gibbet. Convicted for kidnapping a minister and killing him subsequently (something he did not intend on doing), he was sentenced to death. However, when taken for execution, he was met with an accident that led him to fall down 20 feet. He did not die due to the fall but managed to make the executioner angry, who then dragged him back to the gallows and executed him. Witnesses today speak of the footsteps they hear in the area and the sensation of being watched by some unseen force.


4. The Inverted Pentagram

The inverted pentagram in the warden’s office is attributed to all the dark energy in prison. It is deemed satanic. One popular theory says that it is because of this sign’s presence in the penitentiary that led to all the dark activities happening in the place.