In 1877, four men, John Donahue, Edward Kelly, Michael Doyle and Alexander Campbell, were found guilty of the murder of mine boss John P. Jones and sentenced to be hanged.
The trial was a kangaroo court. Not all of the jurors spoke English. The judge was prejudiced against the Mollie Maguires. Today, appeals would be granted on these grounds. Then, there were no appeals.
Campbell said he was innocent. He didn’t kill Jones. Although he admitted to being an accessory to murder because he was present when Jones was shot, he was found to be guilty of this capital crime. As proof of innocence, he put his hand on the cell wall before being forcibly removed to be hanged, swearing the print would forever remain as evidence.
Over the years, county sheriffs have tried to remove the handprint to no avail.
In 1930, Sheriff Biegler had the wall torn down and replaced. The next day, the handprint reappeared.
Around thirty years later, Sheriff Charles Neast covered the handprint with latex paint, but it reappeared. His son, Tom, in the 1960s, loved to tell friends about the ghostly phenomenon. Word spread and people visited the Carbon County Jail to see the print.
Attempts to wash the image away failed.
In recent years, James Starrs, George Washington University forensic scientist, and Jeff Kercheval, Hagerstown MD police chemist, analyzed the handprint using high tech equipment. They found no logical scientific explanation for the handprint’s existence. They finally measured the exact location of the image in the event it there were attempts to remove it and it reappeared, they would know if the phenomenon returned to the same location or a different one.
The jail’s last sheriff, Bill Juracka, said he wouldn’t try to remove the handprint.
The prison was closed and is now the Old Jail Museum. Tour guides show groups Cell # 17 where they can see the ghostly handprint. Campbell’s story is told. It is pointed that, although multiple attempts were made to remove the image, it always returned. Many of those who have visited the museum say the atmosphere is eerie.