We like the idea of a late-night ghost hunt with cool night-vision cameras and electromagnetic field readers as much as anybody.
So when Asylum was invited to tag along on an investigation of the haunted Old Williamson County Jail conducted by the Ghost Hunters of Texas
, we totally accepted.
But rather than determine if the ghost of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas -- who spent two years in the building awaiting execution -- still walked the halls, we decided to focus our eye on something more quantifiable:
Were the ghost hunters a bunch of quacks?
The Old Williamson County Jail
The jail was built in 1888 in Georgetown, Texas, about 30 miles north of Austin. It's a neat old building that looks kind of like a castle
, and Lee and Marilyn Bankston, who work for the county, tell us that it was decommissioned in 1988.
"I can't tell you exactly how many people died here," he says. "Several were hanged from an old tree that used to be in front of the very door we walked in through. And there's at least one who passed away to -- let's call it 'neglect'. They don't like to publicize that."
"The Lucas cell," as the Bankstons refer to spot where a man some believe was America's most prolific serial killer
, is a hot spot in the jail. Marilyn, who considers herself to be a "sensitive," insists that it's the worst room in the jail. Since no one, not even Lucas, died in the cell, it seems like a weird coincidence that the space that housed the most famous inmate would also be the most haunted.
The jail and the serial killer connection are certainly spooky, but the Bankstons so far are only supplying evidence that at least those who hire the ghost hunters are a little flaky.
Meeting the GHOT
is GHOT's resident skeptic, an engineer with a background in the audio-video-communications industry.
"I'm always the sort of person who wants to know the truth," he says. "Because many things can cause people to have weird sensations. Electrical stuff can do it. There are things that I don't understand, but I'm not the person who's going to say, 'Oh, it's a ghost!'"
Bertie Denby, GHOT's founder, also impresses us by checking for heating vents when one of the jail's guides claimed that a utility closet was a hot spot because it was literally the warmest room in the jail.
Even as believers, Steed and Denby claim that the Ghost Hunters of Texas enter every investigation seeking out the rational explanation first.
The Investigation Concludes
The GHOT spend the entire night in the jail with handheld EMF readers constantly scanning all three floors, plus multiple night-vision cameras and electronic voice-phenomena recorders at the hot spots.
"It's definitely spooky-looking in there, but I really felt calm all night," Steed says afterward. "I think everybody else did, too."
So did they find anything?
After reviewing all these materials collaboratively, the team is able deliver a hypothesis regarding whether or not the jail's actually haunted. Steed is reflective about the experience.
"We got a little bit of audio out of the Lucas cell," he says, "which surprised me. I figured, if anything, it'd have come from one of the cells where something happened
. But we like to have more than one thing before we try to say that a place is probably haunted."
That's not what the Bankstons would say, and it might not be what a ghost hunter who had a whole reality show devoted to his investigations would say, either.
But Steed's skepticism does more to convince us than anyone else's enthusiasm. The Old Williamson County Jail might not be haunted (or it might), but when evaluating a ghost hunter, the one who'll tell you when a place isn't haunted is probably the one to believe when he tells you that a place is.