Florence Arizona is a small south-central Arizona town with a very big history, much of which is either still in use or preserved. It has three state prisons within its limits including the Arizona State Prison Complex. Built in 1908 by inmates, it was constructed to take the place of Yuma Territorial Prison. It also included a very unique detail that remains in more modernized form today–the death chamber. It is here where many men have taken their last breath, sometimes painfully, as they were left with the final thoughts of the crimes they committed. Along with those incarcerated who died within the prison confines, there were also those who lost their lives in the line of duty–most notably two officers who were felled during a 1973 prison riot.
The ways of capital punishment have changed over the years, and in the early part of the 20th century, hanging was still done in many prisons. In this particular ‘death chamber’, the prisoner was taken up to the scaffolding just above where their cells were located. A trap door was beneath them as they had a noose place around their neck. When the time came, the trap door was opened, and they hung there until death…which was not always quick and merciful. In 1933, this rather archaic method of execution was replaced with the gas chamber. Many of the highways and the bridge over the San Pedro River were built by the prisoners that were housed just a short distance away in the complex. This was not an uncommon occurrence as convicts were looked at as an extremely cheap source of labor.
While many incidents happened at the prison over the years, there was one in particular that took the lives of two correctional officers while they were trying to get a cell block riot under control. Dale Morey, age 33, was on duty June 22, 1973 when a mattress was set on fire by an inmate. During the attempt to put out the fire, Officer Morey was stabbed to death by some of the other prisoners. When Officer Ted Buckley came in to assist, he was murdered as well. He was only 26.
Even though the prison is still in use, the tales and legends of spirits have thrived, especially in the ‘death house’. This is the part of the complex where the gas chamber has awaited those who are sentenced to death for nearly eighty years…and a much more painful end for many years before. It is here and in Cellblock 3 that many of the reported paranormal sightings happen.
The deaths of these two guards as well as the countless hours of pain, remorse, anger, and fear that were experienced within its walls has given birth to many stories of hauntings. Cell Block 3 where the riot took place has had the usual cast of characters: apparitions, voices that seem to have no source, along with ‘unexplained’ cold spots and doors that open and close on their own. Granted these are all very likely explainable, but given the grim history of the area itself, it does give food for the imagination to thrive. It is difficult to even imagine some of the horrors that happened–men sent to their death, pain and suffering, along with the true evil that comes into the consciousness of some of those who lost their lives because they killed first. This doesn’t even include ones who might have been innocent.
Above the Norm: Florence
Arizona State Prison Complex – Florence
Marking 100 years of incarceration
I worked in ASPC-Florence Central Unit from 2007 to 2009. I worked every shift during my time at the unit and two incidents are still fresh in my memory. One summer night around 9pm I was assigned to Cell Block 3 Keys, my job as key officer was to walk the narrow tunnels and open cell doors as needed for inmates to be escorted to showers, doctors appointments, etc. As I was making sure all access door are secure and turn over my duties to the next shift I felt a presence behind me as I walked down the dark tunnel on a steel grate, I shined my flashlight down to see if another officer was in the tunnel below and above me but no one was there. I turned to walk towards the solid metal exit door and felt like someone was running at me from behind, I quickly turned and saw a black mist fly straight up over me and disappear. I quickly unlocked the door and left the tunnels. The second incident I was working as a floor officer for Cell Block 4 on graveyard shift, all the inmates had gone to sleep and I walked to the main gates where my co-worker was stationed for the night. As we talked a Florence police car pulled up to the gates, the Florence Police Officer asked us if anyone had made a 911 call asking for help. We notified our supervisor and began a staff security check, all officers had reported they are code 4(everything ok). We asked him what number had come up at dispatch from the 911 call, as he told us the number we told him that’s impossible as that phone number was to the phone in the death house and is locked 24/7 and the keys are located in a key box inside complex armory. The shift commander went and retrieved the keys to the death house as he is the lowest ranking person who can access those keys. We searched inside the death house and as expected found no one inside. These are the only two unexplained incidents I encountered during my career working Central Unit.
Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Josh. It’s nice to hear from people who have worked at places we write about.