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.