Napier Prison Investigation

On the topic of prison, it’s more likely that you’d hear of those on the inside that can’t wait to get out. And then there’s us – those on the outside that couldn’t wait to get in…

Haunted Auckland had been invited by Craig Wright to join him on a tour of Napier Prison where he would be filming an episode for his show Haunted: Untold Stories.  Accompanied by Sue Nicholson, together their angle was to make contact with any spirits within the prison using their abilities as psychic mediums. Our angle (as usual) was to investigate and document our visit with our own equipment and collect any recordings of possible paranormal activity whilst working alongside Craig and Sue, testing our findings against theirs and vice versa.

Investigators in attendance:  Mark, Barbara, Matthew, Edwin and Sam.

Joined by: Psychic mediums Craig Wright and Sue Nicholson. Ali Beal and Napier Prison Staff/Actors as well as Craig’s film crew.

Weather conditions on the night: It was overcast and cold for most of the night.  It did rain a couple of times through the night and this can be heard on my audio.

Lunar cycle:  Full Moon.

Temperature in the building: During our investigation it ranged from 8 to 13°C. There was such a large range as some rooms were large and open to draughts and others were small cells with up to 10 people in them.

Temperature outside: During our investigation it ranged from 11 to 8°C.

We arrived at the front gates of the prison in the early afternoon after a pleasant team road-trip from Auckland to Napier. The sun beamed down on the hulking stone walls and the waves could be heard crashing on the rocks below from high up on Bluff Hill from where the prison overlooked the ocean.  The Prison doors would open at random intervals as the last of the tourists and guests left for the day, each with a smile on their face and many taking one last posed photo on the exit steps.  They had been, they had seen and they had conquered.  As the last of the guests left, we were greeted at the door by Ali Beal who was our host for the night and knew the prison inside out. As I walked through the big wooden front door of the prison I noticed a pail of water sitting just inside before the steps; no doubt for the use of cleansing, common in Māori culture. A sign that there was a strong spiritual belief on this land in particular.

Having opened in 1862, Napier Prison boasts being the oldest prison in New Zealand. It certainly had that feeling to it – and I don’t mean that in a negative way. The prison itself is well maintained and looked after, but you could tell just by walking through the front gates that it had history. I remember stepping foot inside the prison walls (thankfully never having stepped inside a prison before now), and thinking “Wow, this must’ve been what it was like for every prisoner here, for the first time, seeing what I’m seeing now.”  My imagination opened up for a moment and I could almost see what prison life could have been like, as Ali pointed out certain buildings and spots.

I was surprised at how small the prison was; to be fair, when I imagined a prison I imagined… well what you see on TV I guess, row upon row of cells over a large area. When in actual fact there were only a few hallways -worth of cells, which gave me the impression that at any given time the inmates all would have been their own “Dirty Dozen,” so to speak. The prison was small enough that I could imagine it would have been hard to keep a secret or keep out of one another’s business, put it that way.

Despite its long history the Prison was decommissioned and closed its doors for good (at least as a functioning prison) in 1993.  However in 2002 the prison was opened once again as a backpackers hostel (of all things) and since 2007 has been open for both historical and ghost tours during the day, as well as being open as a haunted attraction once a month on a Friday or Saturday night for “Scare Tours,” complete with actors in full make up ready to jump out at unsuspecting guests from the shadows. It was clear that some of the rooms within the prison had been altered/decorated in conjunction with the Scare Tours; complete with mannequin torsos, blood splatters on walls, and with some rooms appearing to deliberately look grey and depressing. These were only a select few rooms however, and the rest appeared to look as close as you could expect to how they would have last looked since the decommissioning in 1993.

Barbara reports“I had expected a dark, dirty dingy prison but it was in much better condition than I had imagined it would be.  It was reasonably clean and well maintained. 

Most of the cells were in original condition, although I was very pleased to find that two had been renovated to be clean and comfortable accommodation. There were many different areas and each had its own stories.” More of the group arrived, one by one, as Ali took us through a tour of the prison. Many were actors for the Scare Tours – all of whom were quite eager to share their stories with us in regards to their paranormal experiences whilst working in the prison. The stories included shadows seen walking out of cells during mock cell inspections, the feeling of having something push them aside down hallways whilst being alone, claims from tour guests having panic attacks after spending time in certain cells due to feelings of being attacked or hearing deep, disembodied growls, and of seeing apparitions wandering out near the graveyard outside of death row.

Cell #2

After hearing a few of the stories from the tour staff, I was drawn to and quite eager to spend more time in Cell #2. It was located at the very end of a row of cells in the Remand hallway. Many of the cells in this hallway were known as the “suicide watch” cells. This was the particular cell that staff had seen a shadow walking in and out of.

Naturally (well, for me it seemed logical at least) I chose this room to be the room that I would sleep in overnight. It was a cell after all, so at first glance it was as basic as a cell gets: four walls, a small grated window, a pair of hard, wooden bunk beds, a cold concrete floor and a heavy iron door. But as I sat on the lower bunk and looked a little deeper, there was far more to the room than you would expect; beginning with the wooden bunk beds themselves; covered with years of etchings and graffiti, making them an unintentional time capsule, decorated with names of inmates who had spent time in the room, boasting anything from gang affiliations and Nazi propaganda to popular song lyrics and even confessions of having sexually transmitted diseases. Reddish brown blotches dotted the bottom bunk; I wondered if this was an inmate’s blood or had it had it more likely have come from one of the Scare Tour actor’s makeup? I looked across at the wall opposite the bunk beds. It was pretty much void of any graffiti at all, other than four lines written in block letters, “1993 – WAYNE – IN HELL – FA QUE”.  A sad reminder of final words ever written by the last inmate to stay in Cell #2.

It is alleged that Wayne was a young gang prospect who had been imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit, but who took the blame for a higher -ranking gang member as part of an initiation process. For whatever reason, the pressure had become too much for Wayne, and he took his own life in Cell #2 by hanging himself with his own bedsheets from the window grating. Wayne was between the age of 18 and 19 and was the last inmate to ever die at Napier prison, ending his life a mere two weeks before the prison closed in 1993. Perhaps the thought of moving to another prison was too much for him to bear. We had an interesting experience in this particular cell during our investigation. I happened to be standing in the cell at the time with both Mark and Matt (one of the Scare Tour staff). I was standing in the centre of the room with an EMF meter whilst Matt was telling us what he knew of Wayne. As Matt told the story he happened to mention the gang name that Wayne was allegedly affiliated with. As he did so the EMF meter spiked and started beeping for a few seconds before slowly decreasing in intensity and eventually completely stopping. We asked Matt to repeat his story from the beginning again to confirm that the triggering word wasn’t just a coincidence, and sure enough the EMF meter spiked yet again at the exact same moment. Many attempts at encouraging further reactions were made after that with only minor peaks on the EMF detector.
One may expect to be a little discouraged about sleeping in this cell after potentially experiencing some form of communication from its last occupant; however it actually made me a little bit more excited.

As I lay there on the bottom bunk at 2am in the morning, wrapped up in my sleeping bag in Cell #2, at the opposite end of the building to the rest of the team, if I were to see Wayne or any other apparition for that matter standing over me because I’m sleeping in their bed – I’d probably shit myself silly. But at least there would be a bit of hope that it’d all be caught on the camera that I’d set up to record all night. As it turns out I slept incredibly well, all things considered. Other than a rhythmic cold breeze (breath?) on my face that was in time with the crashing of the waves off in the distance, there was nothing worth being spooked over at all. In fact the most disturbing thing I saw all night was Edwin in his Batman onesie.

On review of the video recording that I had left going overnight, there is at one point a bright white flash that can be seen for no more than a second, which lights up the whole room. It occurs about 45 minutes after everyone retires to their rooms to sleep. Technically no one would have been awake at that time, and they especially wouldn’t be using flash photography at that time. I’m not jumping to the paranormal as a conclusion because I do believe there is a logical explanation, however the cause is still a mystery to me.

The Gallows

The Gallows were where the inmates on death row met their demise. Many of the executions were performed by Tom Long – one of New Zealand’s only publicly known hangmen, and who was often found on both sides of the law himself, for minor crimes such as public drunkenness and assault. Not uncommonly, the public could pay an admission fee to visit the prison and witness the hangings.

Napier Prison’s most infamous death row inmate is that of mass murderer Roland Herbert Edwards, who was hanged on 15th July 1884. Roland was sentenced to death after slitting the throats of his wife and children after he’d had a premonition of his family perishing in a house fire.   Roland is said to be buried upright in the prison graveyard in a state of eternal unrest.   There have been claims that Roland’s spirit is often seen wandering around the prison graveyard – being especially active on July 15th, the anniversary of his death. The Gallows appeared to be a point of interest for Craig and Sue, both picking up on Roland’s full name and date of death.

Whilst these details are relatively well -known and easy enough to research, it was the more intimate details that Craig especially had picked up on that I found interesting. Details of Roland’s personality, stating that he was an angry prisoner and how he despised all of us standing at the Gallows staring at him (in spirit). Details describing Roland’s slow death – the drop from the Gallows itself didn’t kill Roland instantly as it probably should have, instead the hangman had to grab hold of Roland’s legs and pull hard in order to snap Roland’s neck. These details however may be very hard to verify. It was clear though that the Gallows that we were looking at were indeed more of a prop for tour purposes. The actual Gallows would have been much taller and situated on the opposite wall. I was invited by Craig to join him at the top of the Gallows as he spoke to Roland. Craig encouraged Roland to focus all of his energy and place a hand on my EMF meter and telling me exactly where Roland was standing. Unfortunately there was no EMF reading at all. In my honest opinion I don’t believe that I can come to the conclusion that anything is right or wrong in this situation. I personally felt bad that there was no EMF reading to help back up Craig’s claims but the absence of a reading neither proves nor disproves the existence of a spirit in that spot at that time. All it proves is that there was no electromagnetic field detected at that spot at that time.

The Dome –

The Dome is pretty much the centre of the Prison and is where most of the corridors intersect. If you were to stand in the middle of the dome and look down the corridors, you could see how twisted and warped the prison floors are as a result of the 1931 earthquake. Here you will also find many of the inmates’ “artwork” on display, as well as newspaper clippings on the prison and a large map of the building. It was in this area that I went off on my own to film some stock footage on my low-light video. As I walked down one of the corridors and entered the Dome area, I distinctly heard the sound of stomping feet behind me. I quickly turned around (camera in hand) but of course no one was there. Unfortunately on review of the video footage the sounds heard at the time could not be determined (only my reaction).

 Basil

In the 1960s a man by the name of Basil was sent to Napier prison on minor fraud charges. It is said that he was a lover of cats and had about 30 of them at his home. One unfortunate night there was a house fire in which Basil was badly burned. As a result, he was only able to grow half a ginger moustache, the other half appeared as dark disfigured skin. When Basil came to prison he was allowed to bring a cat with him. Basil died in his sleep one night, during his time in prison, and his cat allegedly ran away the following day. The following week a kitten appeared at the prison, and incredibly, the kitten happened to have the same facial markings as Basil the inmate – one half ginger moustache and the other half a dark patch – therefore adopting the name of Basil after the inmate (despite being a female kitten). Basil the cat was still alive and kicking during our visit, and did indeed have the distinctive markings that would suggest – however strange it may seem if the story is to be true – that she is well over 50 years old! During our visit, one of the guests, Susan, and I noticed the cat behaving in an unusual manner. We decided to follow Basil, who eventually came to a stop and circled around a spot just outside the infirmary. Here we experienced some unusual EMF spikes, starting from and exclusive to that one spot, which eventually moved closer to the Warden’s hut. Being outside the infirmary we asked “Is anyone there?” and “Are you a nurse? Did you work in the infirmary?” Almost as if in response to the question we heard a tapping sound coming from inside the infirmary, which was otherwise locked and no one had access to. As the rest of the group eventually joined us outside the infirmary, we did notice overhead telephone lines that could potentially have interfered with the EMF meters. However the areas in which we initially picked up readings weren’t directly below or really even close to the cables. The unusual EMF readings continued in that area with other team members present.

Barbara reports: “The room that Mark stayed in (the Guard Room) had had a lot of reported activity, with several people telling us stories about that cell.  Several people told us of seeing a man sitting at the window looking out at the recreation yards, and apparently a mannequin left in the cell was moved to a different position when there was no one in the room.  The Gang Wing was interesting, as several sightings of apparitions and shadows have apparently been seen. “Cell 1 is where a full -body apparition is said to have come out of the room and stood in the middle of the corridor, staring down towards the other cells. “Cell 2 was reported to be where a young inmate had hung himself; now tourists and people attending Scare Tour night events tell of being touched and hearing breathing while in there. Several staff members have also reported seeing a shadow entering Cell 4 (which is almost opposite Cell 2).  Apparently when people talk about gangs the activity in this area of the prison increases. “I also found the ‘Dome’ area very interesting as this was where staff spoke about a shadow, and a ‘dark fuzz’ had been sighted.   “The Gang Room off the Dome was an accommodation room during my last stay at the prison, and a backpacker was attacked in her bed; apparently a ‘black figure’ held a hand over her mouth and told her that he was going to kill her.  There were also reports of activity in the Women’s Wing, and that was where I had a strong feeling that someone often walked from the corridor outside Ali’s store room, along the corridor, into the Dome and into Death Row or the rooms off Death Row.”

Conclusion

Barbara“I didn’t see or hear anything on the night which would make me consider that the prison was haunted, but after listening to the stories the staff recounted and getting some odd EMF readings, I would definitely like to investigate further to see if we could get any evidence of the reported activity.  I suspect that if Haunted Auckland could get some research time at the prison, and could control the conditions, we may in fact catch some form of activity.  It was difficult for the Haunted Auckland team to work with another group of people, as we are not used to lots of people being around during our investigations.  Eddie and I were doing an EVP session in the exercise yard. When we asked who the spirits were, we received what sounded like a loud dog bark, in response. We subsequently spent a long time further investigating that area and trying to get more communications, only to find out later that Mark and Sam were in another cell in another wing, making barking sounds to try to incite a reaction from a suspected ‘gang ghost.’ Unfortunately we had to get some sleep in order to drive home the following day.”

Mark:  “For me, I felt nothing. I was expecting big things, but in the end, I slept solidly and felt well rested in the morning after a few hours’ sleep. It was certainly a fun night and good to get out of the bustle of Auckland for a short while. However, in my time there I saw, felt and recorded nothing that would even vaguely suggest the idea that the prison was haunted or paranormally active. Those who tagged along with Craig and Sue certainly lapped up everything that was said or implied. The fact that there was signage everywhere around the prison highlighting the people housed there, everything from their names to the crime committed, to how they died (had it come to that), and each area of the prison was signposted with what it was used for.  Any information needed was easily accessible by just glancing around. The power of suggestion was in full play that night.”

Sam – This is by far one of my favourite Investigations so far. Napier Prison is an amazing location and I would jump at the chance to return should we ever have another opportunity.  I enjoyed working alongside Craig and Sue and believe that having psychic mediums in the group didn’t hurt our investigation or results in any way. I believe that their ability is just another tool that can be used during an investigation, and like anything else cannot be proven to be 100% effective all of the time. I believe that working together and being honest in what we all do is the best way to achieve the outcomes that we are after.

The Napier Prison staff were not only a welcoming, friendly bunch but they were also great to be around and were very knowledgeable about the prison and its history, which was a big help to us and our investigation. I hope we’ll all have a chance to meet again in the future.

Do I believe that Napier prison is haunted? I’d like to believe that it is, there was definitely enough happening during the visit for me to raise an eyebrow at and want to investigate further. I have a feeling that if there was ever a place where I could spend time and have a definite paranormal experience, it would have to be in a place like Napier Prison.

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