Licking County Jail – History

Standing for more than 130 years, the stone walled structure of the Licking County Jail once housed the most dangerous and deadly criminals in the region. Throughout its’ history, the Licking County Jail transitioned from a small county jail that was not meant to hold these treacherous criminals long term. But as the city of Marietta grew, so did crime. Eventually criminals burst through the seams as the jail became overcrowded and inhumane treatment ran rampant. The jail once boasted ornate woodwork and architectural beauty, but the expanse of the jail cells and inmates outweighed the small town feel of the first detailed designs. Death and tragedy haunted most of the men who ran the facility, but this sinister impression also stretched to the inmates. Murders and suicides were commonplace until the jail finally closed its’ doors and gave these inmates permanent homes and strong leadership. The Licking County Jail was abandoned and allowed to rot, until the local community jumped in to save the historical building that allows visitors from all over witness and experience the past first hand.

The Past

The fourth and largest scale jail to be constructed in Licking County still stands today. The Licking County Jail was constructed in 1889 and based off a very unique castle-like design featuring turrets and archways throughout the stone structure. The state even went on record stating that it was the best and sturdiest facility the entire state had ever seen. 

The jail cost $120,000.00 to build, equivalent in today’s value as over $3.75 million, and housed 32 prisoners quarters. These cells were 8’ x 8’ and each one was meant to hold two prisoners each. This incarceration area was built with solidarity and confinement in mind and sat in the rear of the structure and was separated by floors between men and women. The first floor was dedicated to the sheriff and his family, an ideal that was commonplace when the jail was first utilized. 

The first sheriff of the Licking County Jail was Andrew Crilly. He served the jail for over ten years and ended up becoming the mayor of Newark, Ohio. After his departure, the jail saw an influx of different sheriffs and tragedies occurring within their living quarters. Four different sheriffs suffered heart attacks and ended their tenure at the jail. Until the 1970’s, no sheriff held the position for longer than five years aside from Sheriff Crilly.

Shortly after the original sheriff’s departure, one of the most historic and disturbing ordeals of the entire prohibition, occurred right inside the walls of the Licking County Jail. In 1910, a detective named Carl Etherington raided numerous saloons, brothels, and speakeasies. In, what Etherington considered self defense, he shot and killed a local saloon owner. He was taken to the jail, partially for his own safety. However, the thick stone walls of the jail could not save Carl Etherington. An unruly mob of nearly 1,000 locals was formed and broke through the side door of the jail and overtook the guards on duty. The mob tore Etherington from his cell and beat him to death with sledgehammers. They carried his limp body to the courthouse square where they hung him by the neck on a telephone pole. Nearly 5,000 men, women, and children were said to be at hand to watch the event.

It took the intervention of the governor of Ohio, Judson Harmon, to bring about order to the mess. A total of 58 mob members were sentenced for their actions. Their indictments stretched from perjury charges, to rioting, to assault and battery, and even murder.

After making national news, the Licking County Jail bulked up its’ security and regulations. Because of this, the jail began taking in more dangerous criminals that the rest of the state, and sometimes country, couldn’t contain. Some of the more infamous criminals that the jail housed include “The .22 Caliber Killlers,” two brothers who murdered ten people by shooting them while they lay in their beds, “The Proposal Murderer,” a man who slaughtered his fiancé with a butcher knife no more than 24 hours after she accepted his wedding proposal, and “The Handsaw Slayer,” a woman at the ripe old age of 72 who mutilated her husband with a handsaw and then baked him piece by piece. There are many others who were equally as dangerous, that is just scratching the surface of the types of criminals that Licking County Jail called home.

With the reputation the jail began taking on, the two criminals per jail cell plan fell by the way side. On some accounts, each 8’ x 8’ cell held up to six inmates. Because of this unheard of growth, in 1970, the jail undertook some serious construction. The sheriff’s quarters were converted into offices, holding pens, and more administrative spaces. With this addition, the women were shipped out of the county to make more room for dangerous male inmates. 

Even with these additions, the jail continued a downward spiral. The inhumane living conditions combined with the lack of state support began to have outsiders and the community question whether the jail was even sustainable in its’ current condition. By 1981 a new sheriff was hired to oversee the Licking County Jail. Sheriff Gerry Billy’s first major decision was to begin finding funding to build a new jail to start fresh. By 1987, the fifth jail in the area was opened and prisoners began transitioning into the new facility. The end of 1987 also brought about the official closure of Licking County Jail.

The jail sat empty and undisturbed for many years until a preservation group, Licking County Governmental Preservation Society (LCGPS), began renovating the jail in hopes of containing the 19th century history that was safeguarded within the stone walls. Their goal is to restore the jail to its’ original architectural glory and encourage the community to learn about the history of both the structure and the area. The society runs as a non profit organization and hopes to bring in more visitors through the growth of the jail’s popularity and notoriety.

Paranormal Experiences

Most prisoners, even if they spend a lifetime behind bars, are eventually released through due process or death. For an unlucky few, there is a far worse punishment; being jailed even after they pass away. The Licking County Jail is a perfect example of this post-life torture. Many volunteers and former employees who worked within the confines of the prison have reported eerily similar stories on numerous occasions.

Tragedies and untimely deaths fill pages of the Licking County Jail record books. There have been 4 sheriffs and 14 inmates deaths that occurred inside its’ stone walls. There are counts of 6 murders and 8 suicides that have been recorded among the inmates deaths. Aside from the deaths, the inhumane treatment throughout its’ operation and the relatively cruel nature and hatred that the prisoners felt and expelled are likely culprits of the energies and spirits left behind after their worldly expiration.

There have been numerous cold spots felt throughout the jail and unaccounted noises. Visitors claim to hear tapping sounds, like something is gently beating their fingernails off the cell bars, and louder, more predominant sounds like that of slamming the cell doors closed. The shuffling of feet can be heard inside the jail corridors and out in the courtyard, while tortured screams echo throughout the structure, even in areas that are off limits and dangerous to visitors and employees alike. On occasion, electronic devices will be completely drained of power and shut off completely. 

Dark shadows and misty figures have regularly been seen making their way around the jail blocks. These entities will appear and disappear quickly and quietly with no rhyme or reason as to their presence. Full body apparitions have even been recorded on camera in the matron quarters of the former sheriff’s living space on the third floor. Another clearly recorded spirit was seen on a video camera in the basement dungeon wondering the halls. The dungeon is actually said to be the most active location in the entire jail. It’s there that chairs have been spotted flying across empty rooms that no one is currently in and doors have been seen opening and closing without anyone there.  When these occurrences are investigated, there is no scientific way to debunk these otherworldly oddities. 

Far more terrifying are the very rare instances of the spirit world actually causing physical distress and harm to guests. There have been a few cases where visitors have reported the feel of a pulling on their clothes. Worse yet are when some of these people actually feel as though they are pushed, touched, or hit when no one is remotely close to them inside the jail.

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