The Haunted History of Central Texas’s Most Notorious Jail
Every small town has a Main Street, with cute antique stores, trendy cafes, and unique dining experiences that make the town feel charming and quaint. Georgetown, Texas is no different; except Georgetown’s Main Street is also the home to the abandoned and haunted Old Williamson County Jail.
The Ghosts of the Old Williamson County Jail
With hangings, jailbreaks, and violent convicted murderers in her history, the Old Williamson County Jail had her share of tragedy and trauma behind her walls. Many of those that spent their end days behind bars are still haunting the Old Williamson County Jail today.
But before we get to the ghosts of Old Williamson County Jail, we’ll uncover her history.
About the Old Williamson County Jail
Sitting on what was once affectionately referred to as Jail Hill, the steel and concrete French Bastille-style structure sits proudly displaying an exterior of native Texas limestone. Built in 1888 to the tune of $22,000.00, The Old Williamson County Jail housed some of Central Texas’s most notorious criminals.
The Old Williamson County Jail was the fourth jail in the county. In January 1888, the Williamson County Commissioners’ Court met in a special session. Commissioner Woolsey stated that because the current jail’s limitations to house more prisoners without an “act of inhumanity,” and the cost to remodel and repair the current jail would be too high, the county would build a new Williamson County Jail.
Williamson County was growing, and apparently, the criminals were getting crafty. Not only were there too many to house in the current jail but there was a rise in jailbreaks, as well. The new fortress-like jail was designed by Waco architects Dodson and Dudley and was to be built on the “south half of the block on which Mr. David Love’s wagon yard is situated, and on the fourth block north from the courthouse.” (Williamson County Sun)
During the construction of the new Williamson County Jail, a group of six men escaped the current jail. Just a few months later, in June, another escape happened. The county prisoners were eventually relocated to Austin until the new jail was completed. Then, on January 10, 1889, the final acceptance of Williamson County Jail at 312 Main Street was made, and the cells began to fill.
Inside the Williamson County Jail
The Williamson County Sun newspaper visited the impressive new stone structure and reported on the interior design:
A substantial stone structure, a part o fit one story high, and a part two stories. The one-story part is light and airy, and has four cells, capable of containing four persons each, and as comfortable as a prison can well be.
The Williamson County Sun pointed out that things change once you move up the stairs:
The lower part of the two-story is dark and gloomy dungeons with poor ventilation. The north cells upstairs [sic] are also dark (we had to grope our way around as we visited them), nor do they strike us as being well-ventilated.
The residents in the “upper story” of the Williamson County Jail were an interesting integration:
The other two cells – in the upper story – designed for the insane, and for the women are well lighted and ventilated.
The Williamson County Jail had a total of ten cells, and most were large enough to contain four inmates each. The jailor’s residence was six rooms and was considered one of the nicest homes in Georgetown at the time. But what about the Jail’s residents?
The Prisoners of Old Williamson County Jail
Tom Young was the last man hanged in Williamson County and spent his final days at Old Williamson County Jail. Folks in Georgetown still tell the legend of the cruel and heinous crime. Tom brutally murdered his twelve-year-old niece, Alma Reece, and on his hanging day, newspapers reported that thousands gathered in Williamson County to watch him hang.
In 1934, Ludwig Cernoch, a high-strung type of guy, got angry that he wasn’t paid for some work he did on a man’s farm. He went on a rampage, a couple of them actually, and killed two police officers. Shortly after being tried, convicted, and sentenced to death, Cernoch and a few other men escaped Williamson County Jail. He was known to tell fellow inmates that his only desire was to kill officers.” He sat in the electric chair 90 days later.
Pedro Cruz Muniz was arrested and convicted for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Janis Carol Bickham on December 20, 1976. Ms. Bickham was just 19-years-old and a fine arts student at Southwestern University. In his written statement, Muniz admitted to aggravated and nonconsensual sex with Ms. Bickham, but his story changed years later. Muniz was executed by lethal injection on May 19, 1998.
Then we have everyone’s favorite boastful serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas. That’s right, Henry Lee sat behind the bars of Williamson County Jail. In November 1983, at the Old Williamson County Jail, the Lucas Task Force was formed, with the Texas Rangers driving the investigations and where Henry Lee’s claims grew. Lucas claimed to the murders of 35 people in 1982; he added a few hundred more to that number and twenty years.
But let’s get to the ghosts!
Hauntings at the Old Williamson County Jail
The dominating and oppressive structure screams spooky. And this time, feel free to judge a book by its cover. The feelings that the exterior gives you are simply a preview of the dark energies that roam the inside.
Cold spots, disembodied voices, and footsteps are a given within the corridors of the Old Williamson County Jail. But it’s the feeling of being watched as the residual sound of metal doors being shut that will surely raise every hair on your neck. Who are these spirits? Guards? Prisoners? Probably both.
Many who have spent time, even just moments, inside the Old Jail report the uneasy feeling of being watched. Every step they take, every corner they turn, there is an eeriness of eyes following their every move. Most are hopeful it’s a guard and not one of the former violent inmates.
A Williamson County law enforcement officer recently said, “Strange things happen here.” Perhaps he’s referring to the pair of feet that mysteriously appeared in a hallway during a paranormal investigation. Or the time he attempted to hang sheets of plastic on the walls, but when he returned, the sheets were always torn down.
But the most disorienting of all of his experiences was when he heard something while he was in a narrow corridor adjacent to a few of the cells. It was a voice. The voice was calling his name. As he searched the building, he knew he was the only one inside. So who did the voice belong to?
It’s no surprise that the Old Williamson County Jail, with its foreboding presence in downtown Georgetown, keeps the city’s history alive.