Sunday, August 28, 2016

Prison Cemetery Blues

an appropriately dreary day
Geocaching sometimes takes me to interesting places. One of my favorite caching locations is cemeteries. I've been to all kinds. Some of them I've written about here. Pioneer cemeteries, potter's fields, US veteran graves, Confederate gravesAmerican Indian gravesPresidential tombs, rural family plots, African-American cemeteries, abandoned cemeteriesbizarre graveyards, and even an elephant resting place. One day geocaching brought me to the Chillicothe Correctional Institute Cemetery. A prison cemetery.

I like cemeteries. They are historical records and the last word on the person. Some gravestones are quite beautiful and ornate. Others may have a likeness of the deceased. They may have a remark about the persons legacy or their wishes for the afterlife. However, nothing seems bleaker or more desolate than a prison cemetery. Don't get me wrong, many of the people buried in them were the worst of society. Other times they were a lost soul who had a hard life that ended here. Either way, you certainly won't find any epitaphs that read "husband, father, mass murderer" or "beloved son, in the wrong place at the wrong time". It's a pretty inauspicious place to spend eternity.

As I wandered around the unadorned wooden crosses and plain stones with simple names and dates, I wondered how one marker with the words "Unknown US" could be here. Even if a person goes to prison under an alias, one would think they would at least have the name used while incarcerated. As it turns out, Chillicothe Correctional Institute Cemetery is on the site of Camp Sherman, a WWI training camp, named after William Tecumseh Sherman. This is likely a stone from that era, although no records seem to exist to explain any further. Apparently, a similar stone was found under the CCI Administration building basement. I guess that still doesn't explain it fully. Maybe it was a newly arrived as yet unknown recruit, one of the nearly 2,000 soldiers that died of an influenza outbreak in 1918. Life was hard and cruel 100 years ago.

Of the inmates buried here, there are the usual types of offenders you would expect. Then there are the notorious and truly despicable. Looking through records on led me to the following people buried here:

Stephen Allen Vrable shot and murdered his girlfriend and their 3-year-old daughter in 1989. He put their bodies in a refrigerator and lived in the apartment for a month before leaving. The bodies were discovered several weeks later. He was executed in 2004.

plain wooden crosses among simple gravestones
Jeffrey Don Lundgren was failed Mormon minister and self-proclaimed prophet who started a religious cult in Kirtland Ohio. He murdered a family of five with help from some followers in 1989 and got ratted out by one of them. He was executed in 2006.

Then there is Frank Spisak, a neo-Nazi who even sported a Hitler mustache. He killed three people and injured several others in a racially charged 1982 shooting spree on the campus of Cleveland State University. Spisak was executed in 2011 and expressed no remorse when given the chance in his final words. Instead he read from the Book of German. Like many here, no one claimed his body afterward.

Although this post is more about the cemetery rather than the prison, there have been some noteworthy folks that passed through the corrections facility itself. Cincinnati born 17-year-old Charles Manson was housed here from 1952-1954 before his notorious 1969 Family murders. Country singer Johnny Paycheck did 22 months at CCI for shooting a man in a Hillsboro OH bar in 1985. His friend Merle Haggard performed for the inmates in 1989.

Anyway back to the cemetery.
I only intended to research the unknown grave. I do wish I could find some information on the "regular" folks that are buried in this stark cemetery, the ones that just made terrible mistakes or were in the wrong place at the wrong time, paid their price and ended up dying here. They were still sons, fathers, brothers...Now they lie here almost as if they never existed. For some of them like Vrable, Lundgren, and Spisak, that's fine by me.

other sources and further reading:
-Grave Addiction on CCI
-Gehio cemetery posts