GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Pressing a hand to her chest, Brenda Mounce double checked that her Catholic rosary blessed with holy water was tucked tightly away under her shirt before entering the jail cell where a prisoner slit his own throat with the top of a soup can.
Mounce, 62, and her husband Roger Taylor, 50, of Homosassa, Fla.-based KY Ghost Hunters and Paranormal spent four hours the night of Jan. 29 in the old jail provoking ghosts in an attempt to prove the space once filled by Clay County’s ne’er-do-wells is haunted. Born and raised in Glasgow, Ky., Taylor has been ferreting out ghosts for 30 years.
“I hope to catch some EVP’s or voice recordings,” Taylor said. “I hope to catch an apparition shadow and a couple orbs to prove this place is deemed haunted so I can go back and say it’s certifiably haunted. It increases tourism and history for the town.”
Using highly-sensitive ghost hunting equipment such as EMF-K2 and Mel Meters that read temperature changes and levels of electromagnetic energies, Mounce and Taylor walked slowly around the jail speaking to spirits and hoping to catch verbal responses on tape. A few minutes into the hunt, the face of Mounce’s handheld device lit up in an array of reds and greens.
“Light that meter up again,” Mounce said speaking directly to the ghosts. “My name’s Brenda. I’m not here to do any harm. I’m not here to hurt you.”KY Ghost Hunters was one of two teams hoping to interact with spirits at the old jail built in 1894. Standing two stories tall, the jail at 21 Gratio Place has 16 prisoner cells. Inside, the jail is damp and dark. The words “obedience to the law is freedom” were painted over the beds in one cell. Heavy steel doors screech loudly when opened. They have rusted from years without air conditioning or heat. The lack of air conditioning and heat was eventually considered inhumane and the jail closed in 1972.
Maximum security prisoners, such as rapists and murderers, were held in the upstairs area facing south. Drunk sailors sobered up in one of three large cells during weekends ashore during World War II. Other cells held two or four prisoners found guilty of prostitution, gambling or theft.
“We had the usual suspects for burglary and stealing and we had our share of bad people, like a regular jail,” said Vishi Garig, Clay County archivist. “They’re still committing the same type of crimes they did 100 years ago but the old jail housed molesters, burglars, you know, the same stuff.”
Men, women and the mentally insane often ended up in jail. Some would try to escape by sawing through the bars in the dead of night. If the court found a person to be mentally unstable during a lunacy hearing, inmates were often held in jail before being transported to a mental institution.
“They’d file petitions with the court and if you were found to be insane, they didn’t have a hospital around here, so they’d set you in the cell block before transporting them to Chattahoochee[a state-run mental facility],” Garig said. “They’d find someone wandering in the street and they’d end up in jail. A lot of people were schizophrenic or suffered from postpartum depression or dementia. One woman, it’s obvious from records, had postpartum depression and she died.”
Between 1894 and 1916, six executions occurred there by hanging. Instead of facing the brutal death, one prisoner reportedly stabbed himself in the chest with a butter knife. Up until 1923 when the prison in Raiford, Fla. received the state’s first electric chair, each county was responsible for executions. Scaffolding built for the six hangings stood between the old court house and the jail. Along with Taylor and Bounce, Brooksville Paranormal Investigations Team members Jesse Lisk, 34, and Kraig Broshears, 34, sought to round up a few Clay County ghosts. Lisk and Broshears have been a formal paranormal investigative team for more than two years and have explored countless ghost towns in the South.
Lisk said some spirits remain because of a tragic death and because they have unfinished business. Others linger here because they are afraid of receiving a more permanent judgment.
“They’re afraid of being judged and being sent to heaven or hell,” Lisk said. “A lot of them will stick around because they’re afraid of that judgement and they don’t want help crossing over. They’ll tell you no. They’ll ride this planet out until it’s time for us to be gone.”
Lisk and Broshears filmed the halls of the old jail using infrared cameras.
“We ghost hunt at night because spirits show themselves a lot more in the infrared spectrum of light,” Lisk said. “It videotapes in the full spectrum of light.”
To illicit a greater response from the ghosts, Lisk said he used aggressive language and caught the response on tape.
“I was called a monster when I told the inmates it was time for their lynching,” Lisk said.
Because of close encounters with both demonic and gentle spirits, including physical sensations in his hair and hands, Lisk said his own relationship with the afterlife changed.
“This has definitely given me a better belief in God, that’s for sure,” Lisk said. “Once you’ve done this for a while and you’ve seen things, and heard things and you’ve talked to spirits, you know that there is a heaven and hell. It’s gotten me closer to God. Now, I’m praying more. I’m telling people about God. I never would have talked to people about that before. I was never real spiritual, but now I’ll talk to a stranger.”
The recent visit from ghost hunters was not as high profile as one two years ago involving a popular cable television show. The Syfy network’s Ghost Hunters team led by Jason Hawes and The Atlantic Paranormal Society, or TAPS, filmed a segment that ran in October 2014 as part of the show’s 10th season.