Old Ford County Jail Investigation

County sheriff’s residences with attached jails are unique to the Midwest. Built after the Civil War, these buildings are truly interesting juxtapositions of private-public uses. The Sheriff's Residence, located in the front of its site and often adjacent to a courthouse, was the epitome of Victorian domestic living in the Midwest; often built in a high style and out of quality materials, these residences presented an appropriate presence for the residence’s occupant--the county sheriff and his family. However, in the rear of the building complex, there was the county jail; it was the complete opposite in both function and appearance to the sheriff’s residence. Functional practicality justified such an incongruent architectural composition; in Midwestern counties, it was expected that the sheriff not only supervised inmates in the jail but his family, or his (or her) staff, was also expected to feed and board the inmates as well. Sheriff’s residences and jails were built throughout the Midwest, from Indiana to Iowa, and as far north and west as Wisconsin and Minnesota, during the last half of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century. Ford County was no different. It built its version in 1871, the residence being a noble Italianate style residence, and the jail was a foreboding heavy stone two-story rear wing. It appears that the wrap-around porch was added on to the residence part of the building around 1900.

There are eight solitary cells in the basement that were used until the cells were completed on the first floor and then the doors from those cells were used in the new part of the prison and the basement abandoned.

Once the oldest operating jail in Illinois, the building was used until a new jail opened in 1993 just a few blocks north. Housed a serial killer. Born Friederich Wilhelm Hoellman in Brandenburg, Germany in 1859, he changed the spelling of his name to an English appearance of Frederick William Hollman when he and his wife Amelia immigrated to America in 1883 and settled in Grand Haven, Michigan. There are many victims of Frederick Hollman who may never be identified. Even after his execution on May 14, 1897 authorities in other states were reopening unsolved murder cases involving women in German communities where victims lived. Some newspapers surmised the number of Hollman's victims could go as high as 17.

He actually cursed the jurors and the judge who sentenced him, “Just wait till I am dead and I will come back every night and visit these men who put me here, these witnesses and jurors. I will haunt them to their graves. I will rap on their windows at night and they will see my face at their windows!”

Hollman wrote an unfinished poem entitled “Legendary”:

“My name is Frederick Hollman

I came from a far off country which follows the River Rhine,

To America I journeyed, in honest to toil

And now they’re gonna hang me, and raise a great turmoil on day 14 of May.

When flowers are in bloom,

Between sunrise and sunset

I must meet my final doom.

They said I did a murder, but that I will deny.”

His last statement he made with the rope around his neck was, “I must die and find my deathbed in this way. I hold no malaise to anyone. I freely forgive as I ask God for Christ’s sake to forgive me. Think not that I must close my lips because another speaks for me. I am not guilty of the crime for which I die. I leave it all with God which upon judgment day will give each rewards of his deeds. I believe that one that does not confess to God his sins, eternally lost. I have confessed to God and trust him. The rich, instead of spending money for theater and opera, should build hospitals and almshouses for the poor. Someday those who spend their money in this way may themselves in the condition of the rich man who despise Lazarus.”

As he was being marched to the gallows, he was singing, “Never my God To Thee.” A book was written about Hollman entitled, “Final Doom” by Kevin Collier.

In 1937 a 47-year-old man from Gibson City, Burley Roarke (sp?) was a father of three sons and had a 23-year-old step-daughter. Apparently after the death of some of his children, he buried them on his property and was later arrested and jailed for burying without a permit. It was said he eventually hung himself in his jail cell with a wire coat hanger.’

The prison officially closed in 1994 and there have been numerous attempts to gain historical building status for this structure so that it could be preserved forever.

Located at: 259 W. State St., Paxton, IL. 60957

Owner: Royce Baier

Hauntings:  There have been numerous reports of shadow people roaming throughout the building but especially in the basement area where the solitary confinement cells used to be, lots of EVPs captured and some disembodied voices, at least one good picture taken in a window that appears to be that of the condemned killer himself Frederick Hollman, noises and sounds and various pieces of paranormal equipment being set off by unseen entities. Some believe that there may be as many as five ghosts inhabiting this building. 


Equipment setup:  Since this was a public event with lots of people traipsing through the area, only hand-held equipment was used.


Experiments performed: EVP, Ghost Box and Ovilus X sessions were conducted near where the gallows once stood, an upstairs residence room, Hollman’s cellblock, a small solitary confinement room in the basement and a large room where we also employed a laser grid, a Melmeter 8704-REM in the doorway and IR camcorder along with Ovilus X and digital recording devices.


The Ghost Research Society investigated Old Ford County Jail on February 22, 2014. Team members included: Kathie Para, Marge Sucha, Stan Suho and Dale Kaczmarek with help Bob Davies and CUPS. 








Personal experiences;

Marge Sucha:

Shortly before arriving we just had a light dusting of snow.  It was dark out when we arrived.  Due to the amount of people there we were unable to set up our command center.   

Along with some history of this building we were given a tour of the gallows and jail cell area.   

Gallows Dale, Stan, Kathie & I decided to do our first EVP Session was in the Gallows area where one of the first known serial killers, Frederick William Hollman, was hung.  He came to America in 1883 from Brandenburg , Germany .

It was pretty quiet in this area and after approx. 20 minutes we ended our session.  

2nd Floor Bedroom - This room had a small door near the upper portion of the wall.  Nothing was behind that small door.  We did have some interesting words on the Ovilus and at one point we (Dale, Kathie & I) heard a small bell quietly ring.  We were unable to determine where this bell came from... Shortly after Dale notice the battery drained on his camera. This session lasted approx. 25 minutes.  During the last 1/2 of the session the Ovilus became very talkative.  It was hard to make out most of the words.  It was suggested that maybe it was speaking in German.   

Frederick William Hollman's Jail Cell & Solitary - In both these areas when I went to pick up my recorder to leave I noticed after approx. 2 minutes of recording my recorder was shut off.   

Basement- Big Room to the left of the staircase - We were told shadows were seen in this area so we used the Laser grid scope in this area.  During our Ghost Box session the Ovilus turned on.  Several times after it was shut off it turned on again.   

Overall this was a beautiful building that had a lot of history.  I would definitely go back again with a smaller group.  


Kathie Para:

GRS visited the old Ford County jail on Feb. 22, 2014 . The building is no longer used and is, for the most part, empty.

Members present were I, Dale, Marge and Stan. We also teamed up with CUPS for this investigation.

We had planned on a full set up of equipment but on arrival found that this was a public event and with more than two dozen people there we used hand held equipment only. There was much noise contamination throughout most of the night, which was disappointing.

We got some pretty interesting responses from the Ovilus’ and ghost box. During the night there were unusually high incidences of our equipment malfunctioning and batteries draining, probably the most I’ve ever experienced.

I’d be excited to return to this location for a private investigation.  

* On a side note, while reviewing evidence I was listening to my audio from the second floor bedroom when it suddenly stopped for a few seconds. When it continued, there was an echo. I had to end and start over. Common sense tells me this probably was a malfunction in my computer but with so many different equipment malfunctions happening during our investigation I felt the need to note this.


Stan Suho: Another sturdy old Jail House built in the early 20th century style that was popular at the time. Bob Davis hosted that evening along with several members of his group. The public was also invited, and we had quite a large turnout. Because of the large size of the group and rather cramped quarters, a regular setup was decided against. After the guided tour and walk through, which I videotaped, the investigation began. The crowd although large was well behaved and quiet. Marge, Kathy, and Dale broke out the EVP equipment. I took out my Sony IR camera and began taking pictures. I pretty much filled my time up with photographing the GRS as well as other several other groups.

One interesting place was solitary confinement down in the basement which was somewhat difficult to get to. With no doors or windows, it was very dark and quiet. If we ever get back there, I would like to do a G.E.I.S.T. setup down there and see what turns up. So this was how I passed the time until departure. With a smaller group and better weather conditions, there
is no telling what we might come up with a full G.E.I.S.T. and several cameras running.

Since there was at least one suicide in the place, I think there are possibilities in this jail as they usually produce results. I would recommend a follow up investigation.  


Dale Kaczmarek: I myself did not come across anything paranormal in the building. The inside was very cold due to the time of the year we investigated and internal space heaters were being run constantly. Noise was a bit of a factor due to the amount of people taking part in the investigation so there was some minor contamination of EVP sessions but all in all most of the time it was quite doable. There were a few instances of loud interference namely someone upstairs in the command post screaming while we were in the solitary cells and later much heavy walking and loud talking when we were exchanged in an EVP session in the large room at the bottom of the stairs. We decided not to investigate the attic partially due to all the possible contaminants and dust in the air.

The only area that I did not feel very comfortable was downstairs in one of the solitary cells. I’m not claustrophobic but I did feel that after a while, I did need to get out of that area. This hasn’t happened anywhere to me in the past so I just note it as being a bit strange. This would be an interesting area to possibly revisit with a smaller group and more equipment and cameras during a warmer time of the year.

Evidence collected:

Jail area.MPG – the Ovilus in phonetic mode said “jail area.”

Need air.MPG – while conducting an Ovilus session a small solitary confinement room in the basement the Ovilus X says, “…need air.”

Response.MPG – while conducting a Ghost Box session in Hollman’s cell a question was asked, “Were you here for murder?” A faint response is heard.

Response 2.MPG – while conducting a Ghost Box session in Hollman’s cell a question was asked, “Did you kill someone?” Another faint response is heard.

Response 3.MPG – while conducting a Ghost Box session in Hollman’s cell a question was asked, “Why did you help the prison guards build your gallows?” Another faint response is heard in the background.

Response Frederick’s cell.MPG – (see Response.MP3) Captured on another digital recorder.

Shaken.MPG – while conducting an Ovilus X session near where the original gallows were a question was asked, “Can you tell us what happened right here?” The Ovilus X responds with, “Shaken.”

They are both here.MPG – the Ovilus X in phonetic mode says, “They are both here.”

Up.MPG – while conducting an Ovilus X session in a small solitary confinement room in the basement, the Ovilus says, “Up.”

Voice gallows.MPG – while conducting an EVP session near where the gallows used to be, a faint EVP is picked up.

Walks like.MPG – while conducting a Ghost Box session in the large room in the basement, a comment was made, “I think you’re afraid to walk through that door.” The Ghost Box responds with, “Walks like.”

The Ovilus X in dictionary mode by the gallows said the following words: witch, cage, shaken, southern, maybe and channeling.


Conclusions: While we did get some interesting responses during Ghost Box and Ovilus X sessions, some of the faint responses are very hard to discern, even with the aid of headphones. I did feel that “Shaken” response was pretty interesting near the gallows area and that earlier the Ovilus did use the word “Cage” as well since a prison is much like a cage for a human being. It would be beneficial to uncover more information about the man who allegedly committed suicide in the jail since I wasn’t able to find sources for that during my searches on the Internet. It would definitely add more mystique and validity to at least one other possible haunting in the building. All in all, another interesting location with some potential for future paranormal activity.                                                                                                                                                                                                

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