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Old Idaho State Penitentiary

Old Idaho State Penitentiary

Old Penitentiary was open between 1872 -1973, when the prison housed over 13,000 inmates including 222 women. All types of inmates were placed here, some for murder, some for forgery, robbery, or polygamy, but it is the murderers that make the haunting of this old site so interesting.

One Harry Orchard, was sentenced for the crime of assassinating former Boise Governor, Frank Stunenburg. Orchard began his sentence in 1908, and chose not to be released, dying in the prison on April 13, 1954. Orchard served the longest term ever served at the Old Pen, 46 years. Harry Orchard died of natural causes, but others who weren’t so lucky. There were ten executions performed by the prison from 1878 to 1957.

An inmate named Douglas Van Vlack had been sentenced to death for kidnapping and murdering his wife and two policemen, but on the day he was supposed to hang, he got loose from the guards, climbed three sets of stairs to reach the cellblock rafters. It is said he sat on a beam in the rafters for a half hour, and then after shouting, “I have a right to choose the way I die”, he jumped to the concrete floor thirty feet below and later die of his injuries.

One of the most infamous inmates was Raymond Allen Snowden who became known as “I Idaho’s Jack the Ripper“, was the only person executed inside prison walls, and was also the only person to be executed in the maximum security gallows. Snowden was convicted of brutally murdering Cora Dean, a Boise citizen, by stabbing her repeatedly. In his confession Snowden said that when Cora resisted his sexual advances he took out his knife and gave her a choice: “Take your pick, honey, rape or death!” She refused, so he slashed her throat. He was also said to have killed two more men, but was never convicted for those crimes. The knife used to murder Cora Dean was found in the street gutter near Hannifin’s Cigar Store.

October 18, 1957 Raymond Snowden was hanged to death. However, the hanging did not go as planned. When the trap door was released to drop Snowden, the observation glass window, separating him from the witnesses, shattered from the rattling. Snowden dropped through the floor, but his neck did not break as it was intended, consequently he struggled for almost fifteen minutes while the observers upstairs could now hear him suffering since the window separating them was broken. This gruesome death is the main interest of many ghost hunters. Zack Fagan from Ghost Adventures, who specifically traveled to Boise to see this eerie penitentiary.

Inmates in the 1970s, upset with prison conditions rioted twice, once in August of 1971 and again in March of 1973. Buildings were damaged and badly burned, the destruction is clearly visible today. A new correctional institute was built outside of Boise and many prisoners were transferred there in the last years of the Old Pen’s operation. Finally, in December 1973, the Old Idaho State Penitentiary was officially closed. Today the prison is a historical museum where you can go to learn a little Idaho history, and take a tour of the old buildings.


by cnkguy

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