Let’s see, there’s Scotty’s Castle in Ben Lomand, the Magic Castle in LA and of course everyone knows Hearst Castle and there is that 1940’s actress/dancer Irene Castle of Hollywood and even Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland.  And now, move over England, Ireland and Scotland, California has its own haunted castle!  I know because I just spent the night there.  Located in the Central Valley foothills of the Mother Lode country is the little town of Ione, I, with a few select Paranormal Studies’ students, went on the first CCPI expedition at the very haunted Preston Castle.  But first let me tell you a little bit about this unusual and very haunted piece of fabulous real estate…………………….……      

Circa 1910

Circa 1910

On what was once the site of an Ione Miwok village in 1840, as evidenced by “grinding rocks” and remnants of a Miwok roundhouse, sits another bit of California history.  The Miwoks are long gone and in its place now looms The Castle, overlooking Ione and the valley below.

Built on a 230 acre parcel of land in Amador County that was purchased from the Ione Coal & Iron Company in 1890 for $30 per acre, this land was purchased to build the Preston School of Industry.  It was established by the State Legislature as a progressive action toward rehabilitating, rather than simply imprisoning male juvenile offenders.  Certainly a novel concept in those days, especially for the late 1890’s, to think juvenile delinquency was of such public concern they had to build a special school over 100 years ago to deal with the problem.

Building the School started immediately.  The sandstone was quarried 6 miles from Ione and made into bricks by inmates at San Quentin and Folsom prisons, which were then loaded onto rail cars and delivered by train to the construction site.  On December 23, 1890, a ceremony was held as the cornerstone for the building was laid and as many as 2,500 people came to celebrate this momentous occasion.  Even in this day and techno age, the School is recognized as the most significant example of Romanesque Revival architecture located in the Mother Lode.

The plans for the school were ambitious with the original plans showing 77 rooms on five floors.  The first floor would house a reception and Director’s room, general offices with a walk in vault, reception room, sitting room, butler’s pantry, a dining room, employee lavatory, physician’s office, pharmacy, clerk’s office plus additional office space.  The second floor would include a dormitory, reading room, library, twelve chambers, a school room, coat and hat rooms, men’s water closet and women’s lavatory. 

A mezzanine level was to provide two bathrooms with three bathtubs. The third floor would contain twelve rooms and the fourth & fifth floors would remain unfinished. The basement would include a bakery, kitchen, pantry, storeroom, laundry, play room, water closet (long urinal and nine toilets), laundry, lavatory with foot bath, shower room and plunge bath, hall, kitchen, pantry, furnace room, fuel storage room, and a water closet with two toilets. 

On June 13, 1894, the first wards were transferred from San Quentin and accepted at the new Preston School of Industry and the school was proclaimed officially opened on July 1, 1894.  Pictured here are those 7:

1. James E. Carner, Fresno
2. Alexander C. Cassulo, Visalia
3. Alfred J. Jacobs, Sebastopol
4. Walter A. Kavanaugh, S.F.
5. James E. O’Donnell, S.F.
6. James Phillips, S.F.
7. Burton Starr, Santa Barbara

Eventually, the wards would be a mixture of juvenile offenders or young boys who were orphaned and abandoned and ranging in age from around 7 to 21.  The next year, electricity was installed by way of water wheel powered dynamos for incandescent and arc lights.  The School remained open until 1960 when the new facilities were completed and the school officially moved.  It is unclear when the old building became known as the “Castle” and the name of the new school would eventually change in 1999 to the Preston Youth Correctional Facility but to the local residents, the old Preston School of Industry would always be called the Castle.

Following the closing in 1960, the building remained vacant for over 40 years and slowly faded into disrepair.  Pillars outside stand alone where once they held awnings covering the verandas.   The top floors have caved in completely leaving stairwells leading up to nowhere. 1983 1983

1985

Debris has covered the lower floors and with the window glass gone, the weather has not been kind to the rooms inside.  Along with peeling paint that has long disintegrated leaving ceilings and walls bare and moldy, rotting floorboards give way with the least amount of pressure and the bats that fly by night, have made the upper reaches of the Castle their home by day.

Fortunately, The Preston Castle Foundation took responsibility for the site on September 10, 2001 and received a 50 year lease for the property.  The Foundation is currently in the process of restoration.  The Preston School of Industry has now been named a California Historical Landmark (#867) and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NPS-75000422). 

       That is the public history. 
But what about the history that lies beneath. What went on  behind those solid oak doors.  Some of those young boys are now grown up, some even still living but refusing to talk about those long dark hallways and small closed rooms where the shadows came alive at night.  Some you might recognize like country singer, Merle Haggard and some who have passed on like actor Rory Calhoun, tennis great Pancho Gonzales and Jack Benny’s sidekick, Eddie (Rochester) Anderson.  Oh, the basic facts are true, the date of construction, the official opening, being in a state of disrepair, all that is true and the Foundation should be applauded for taking on this huge responsibility of preserving this national landmark. 
The BoysBut still, touted as a school to rehabilitate juvenile offenders, the Preston School of Industry was not intended to be punitive and styled a “reform school,” which were for the most part custodial.  But with it came the reputation most reform schools eventually carried.  The then-usual practice of housing juvenile offenders with adult criminals was a top concern for the social reformers of the 19th and 20th centuries.  Juveniles were often  sexually exploited by the older inmates and were often taught the more advanced and hardened ways of crime by these same inmates with little regard for the law, society’s morals or even human life.  As a result, rather than their sentences serving as a deterrent to future crimes, many juvenile offenders emerged from incarceration far worse than when they were first sentenced.  So the idea of a place just for juveniles for rehabilitation purposes would certainly solve this problem. Now, imagine young boys, who were not offenders but rather orphans or were abandoned by parents and relatives who were  also being placed in this environment with juvenile offenders. By the 1950’s, many of the same problems that had occurred with the former system of incarcerating juveniles along with adults began to be noticed in these reform schools-the older juveniles were exploiting the younger ones, sexually and otherwise, and the younger ones taking the more hardened, older offenders as role models and mentors.  Now, the term “reform school” had become just the opposite of its intended purpose and developed its unsavory reputation all on its own.  
In 1909, each officer and teacher carried a form which listed possible infractions and their corresponding number of demerits.  In order to earn a parole, each boy was required to earn 6500 credits but in reality, boys were continually demerited for disciplinary purposes and most were never able to attain that parole status.

Disciplinary measures were:

1. Extra hours of labor
2. Loss of privileges, conversation &    
freedom
3. Loss of meals, diet of bread &
water
4. Standing up in a fixed position
for a maximum of 6 hours
5. Isolation cell, bread & water
6. Severe & humiliating punishment, 
beatings and lashings

The one continuous problem that plagued the Castle throughout its history were the attempted escapes, which were dealt with swift and harsh corporal punishments; 24 strokes of a wooden paddle or lashed with a leather strap, a bread and water diet with confinement in an isolated wooden cell

1918 saw an increase in the number of escapes occurring at the Castle, which was attributed to the fact that whippings had been abolished as a form of punishment.  Many of the guards faced a crisis in discipline; the old timers longed for the good old days when they ruled with an iron hand and could mete out any punishment they wished just for a boy looking at them sideways.

Enter one Samuel Goins, who arrived at the Castle in July, 1918.  Convicted of burglary, Goins was given a “Mental Exam” upon admission, which classified him as a “moron” and noted that he possessed a “rather typical slow Negro mentality.”  Goins attempted to escape three times within a years time and the third proved to be his last.  On April 19, 1919, Sam Goins was killed by guard John Kelly, who meant to shoot him in the leg but accidentally shot him in the back during the chase.  Supposedly, Goins had a hammer which he threatened the two guards who pursued him but upon court testimony by eyewitnesses, it was surmised, “how could Goins be a threat to harm anyone with a hammer if the nearest guard was thirty-five yards away and Goins was running in the other direction.”  The findings of the Grand Jury exonerating guard John Kelly of the shooting was in direct conflict with the facts of the case and as in prior incidents in which escapees were shot, the shooter in this case was also not going to be held accountable.  Ironically, Goins was 20 years old at the time of his death and buried April 24th just two months shy from his release at the Castle.  The Castle no longer had jurisdiction to keep him past June 24th.  As a side note, Joe Lopez, who was captured with Goins and an eyewitness, who testified at the inquest on behalf of guard John Kelly, died 8 months later under suspicious circumstances.

There are eighteen boys buried in the Preston School cemetery, which is on private property now and inaccessible without written permission.

 

Adolf Antron, d. Feb 20, 1895        
William C. Williams, d. June 6, 1897  
Frank Ward, d. July 17, 1898
Hugh Simms, d. Feb 5, 1912
Ray Scoville, d. Apr 29, 1913
Joseph Howe, d. Dec 11, 1913
Tehama Vann, d. June 6, 1914
Samuel Goins, d. Apr 19, 1919
Frank Aljers, d. May 13, 1922         

Grant Walker, d. June 17, 1895
Nicholas Hamilton, d. May 17, 1898
Leonard Wooldridge, d. Oct 1, 1899
Eddie Heath, d. Mar 13, 1913
John Miller, d. June 13, 1913
Peter Miller, d. Jan 20, 1914
Benjamin Kealohi, d. June 17, 1915
J. Lopez, d. Dec 23, 1919
Raydell Holliday, d. Mar 23, 1929

 

*The Preston School of Industry-100 Years by John Lafferty

 

The historical facts are intriguing here even without the supernatural flavor and being a history buff I was really excited just reading the stories of the place.  However, there is one story that has piqued my interest---it’s about one alleged ghost who haunts the Castle: A murder victim so it’s said and a murder that remains unsolved:  Who Killed Anna Corbin. 

As the story goes, Anna was the 52 year old housekeeper, who had worked at the The Preston School of Industry for 15 years.  On February 23, 1950, she was brutally murdered in her office then dragged into the adjoining  padlocked storeroom where her body was discovered in a cupboard under some carpet remnants.  Those are the basic facts.  Was it possible that we, as Paranormal Investigators, could gather evidence that could help solve this cold case?  Would the ghost of Anna Corbin, who now supposedly haunts the Castle, help us find her killer? 

The Investigation

Dusk was just settling as we arrived at The Castle about 4:45 PM.  We didn’t have long to wait for Gloria Young of Ghost Trackers and our hostess for the evening, to show up with two of her team members, Ray and Maggie to lead us into The Castle. 

While Maggie gave the students and other CCPI members a guided tour inside, Gloria and I had a chance to catch up and talk about the nights’ schedule.  First we would eat dinner, which was included in the cost of our overnight stay then plan on how we would proceed with our investigation.

At about 9 PM, our group, which consisted of students Michelle, Ginger, Kristi, Claudia, Kristen and CCPI members Susan & Karl started in the basement taking pictures and conducting EVP sessions.  Of particular interest was the kitchen and pantry area.  I alone only knew the whole story of Anna Corbin’s murder which I kept to myself until later in the evening.  I wanted to give our psychics and sensitives of the group time to form an analysis of what they were picking up before I gave them the facts.  Plus, I wanted to see what data we could collect first.  As it happened, the Castle was very active.  We had numerous encounters as evidenced by Michelle’s psychic abilities and when an entity was present, Susan’s corresponding K2 meter would light up, especially in the kitchen area.  It seems we were encountering paranormal phenomena on each of the three levels.  One name seemed to be more prevalent, “James.”  During our EVP question and answer session, “James” confirmed his name, he was 14 and a boy at the school and there were others with us as well; a Ronnie we know for sure and another boy we met on the 2nd floor, William.  They seemed to follow us as we went from room to room and floor to floor but “James” seemed to be the more assertive of the three.

For four hours, we walked those cavernous halls, poking, prying and talking to whomever would answer.  We were warned before we started that we would probably not get any picture evidence but would get EVP recordings, as that was the norm.  It seems that’s what everyone else was getting during their overnight stays.  Still, that didn’t stop us from taking pictures with hopes of capturing phenomena on film.  By 1:30 AM, half of us went to bed in room 1 and the other half went on investigating until about 3 AM.  After the rest turned in for the night in room 2 across the foyer from room 1, three things happened:  1) Loud banging throughout the Castle was heard by myself and others.  In fact, it woke me up from a sound sleep on 2 separate occasions.  It was hard to pinpoint where the banging was coming from exactly what with the sounds bouncing off the walls and the echoes resonating from each floor; 2) Sobbing & Crying was also heard by some of the investigators.  What was most curious, the people in room 1 thought it was someone across the hall in room 2 having a bad dream and the people in room 2 thought it was coming from room 1.  Needless to say, no one was having a bad dream; and, 3) voices were heard in the foyer that separates the two sleeping rooms.  It seemed to be a man and woman talking.  Finally, towards dawn, the activity ceased and the ghosts of The Castle went back to the shadows.

8:00 AM and it was time to wrap things up, pack our bags, roll up sleeping bags and head for home.  We would have our work cut out for us. Not only were there pictures and recordings to go through but the research would be daunting because we were going to have to dig deep.  Oh, the public history was readily available but I was after what lies beneath..  

The Findings          

Are not overwhelming.  As much as I would like to say otherwise, as a paranormal research investigator it is my job to gather the data and let the evidence speak for itself.  Oh, in my expert opinion I believe it is definitely haunted just by the eyewitness accounts and physical manifestations of the unexplained phenomena we experienced during our stay; unfortunately, our evidence is weak from a scientific standpoint.

   

Michelle sensed someone watching her while she was in the Visitor Center restroom. She turned and snapped this picture which clearly shows a moving spirit orb, validating she was not alone.

Susan captured this spirit orb shortly after our arrival at the Castle. It seems others may have been just as curious about us as we were about them.

Ginger caught this orb in the basement and according to our team psychic Michelle, this spirit was not following us but rather “running” away.

 

Most of our Electronic Voice Phenomena or EVP were monosyllables and in very faint whispers, what are called Class “C” EVP’s.  Some why’s, a yeah, names, and, I don’t know and even an OK but not really audible without headphones and cranking the volume way up.

So much for the physical evidence and like I said, not overwhelming.  The few  spirit orbs, EMF disruptions and class “C” EVP’s we captured are not enough evidence to determine if the Castle in haunted on a scientific basis. However, what all of us experienced first hand with our own eyes, ears and even our noses, what we felt and sensed leaves no doubt we had a unique experience.  Most of the students did not know anything of the Castle except for the public history.  That was a decision I made so they would have no preconceived opinions prior to the investigation.  For Ginger it was an amazing adventure, a time for her to experiment and hone her psychic abilities and in her own words this is some of what she sensed: 

“First I saw young boys being put somewhere dark by themselves. The feelings I had were of fear and sadness. I would see little holes of light. When I saw the area outside where they would lock them in solitude, it was much like what I saw in my mind.”

Ginger E.

Early in the investigation, both Susan & Karl were standing 3 feet apart near the front door of the Castle when they smelled a very strong odor of antiseptic all around them.  The kind of “old” smell found in hospitals of the 1950’s.  It dissipated after 30 seconds. 

At one part during the evening, we conducted a somewhat informal séance, in the infirmary on the ground floor.  A few of us felt touched or saw mist attempting to form in the circle, some felt icy cold for a few seconds and  even heard footsteps walking on the outside of our circle, myself included.  After the séance, we resumed our walk around and it seemed the K2 EMF detector was the most active.  Several times while Susan was holding the meter and standing still, the lights on the meter would jump from green to orange to green, yellow to red and back again.  They seemed to respond to the questions Karl and I were asking with the colors on the meter.  It was clear the basement kitchen and 2nd story admin office, were the more active rooms of the Castle during the night.  While I am not sure which entity we were dealing with as we never received a definitive answer as to an identity, it was clear someone or a couple of someone’s were either trying to communicate or just playing around.  In either case, there was no logical explanation why the K2 meter was going off while in a stationary position either on the floor by itself or in Susan’s hand. 

But what about Anna Corbin?  CCPI member Michelle conducted an interview with journalist Scott Anderson, who has been researching and writing about her murder: 

 

“As a crime reporter, I’ve been investigating the Corbin case for almost 2 years.  As far as cold cases go-it’s about as cold as they come.  Over half the witnesses are dead and those that are left are in their 80’s & 90’s.  I’ve seen all the Court and police records that still exist and some have been streamlined, tampered with or flat out disappeared. The Corbin case may be unsolvable by standard investigative procedures.  I know many in the paranormal community have a different view of this matter because they’re thinking of different investigative methods.  However, I’m open to chatting with folks in the paranormal community about things they think they might have discovered about the Corbin case.…….”

 

When asked if any one was ever convicted of the murder, Mr. Anderson replied:

 

“A 19 year old black ward was arrested and tried different times for the murder.  He was eventually acquitted in the 3rd trial.  No one was ever arrested or tried again.”

 

His name was Eugene Monroe and throughout all three trials, he maintained his innocence and continually denied any connection with Mrs. Corbin’s murder stating he had been framed by another inmate of the school.  After reading the police and court documents, Mr. Anderson discovered that the star witness for the prosecution, one James Mercer  claimed to have had a homosexual relationship with Monroe that was interrupted by Corbin-which led to Monroe killing Corbin later in the week.  Mercer also claimed he heard Monroe say “Someday I’m going to kill that woman.”   But during the trial, his testimony was suspect when he was caught by the Defense in many lies & contradictions and eventually discredited as a witness.  With no other evidence on Monroe, the prosecution still proceeded with all three trials-which finally ended up in an acquittal for Monroe. 

Ironically, after Monroe was released from Preston, he confessed and was convicted of rape and murder in Tulsa, Oklahoma, June, 1951.  Still, Monroe always denied any wrong doing in the murder of Anna Corbin even after admitting the slaying in Tulsa.    

Is there a description or picture of Anna Corbin?

The family either does not have any pictures or is not willing to reveal them.  Mr. Anderson told Michelle what description he has been able to gather is that she was very attractive for a woman her age, appearing younger than her actual years.  She was also small in stature with dirty blonde hair who wore her hair tied back and worked at the Castle as a housekeeper.  

 

Weeks before our visit to The Castle and Michelle’s discussion with Scott Anderson, Michelle was able to draw a composite drawing of a woman she saw in a vision.  She had no idea who it was but felt it was connected with The Preston School of Industry.  Michelle also had no idea of the history or murder of Anna Corbin at this time but now believes this is a likeness of Anna.

“On Oct 30th at 4:00 am, just

weeks before our Castle investigation, I had a very vivid and real experience while I was in a twilight sleep state.  This was not dream but a vision……… 

The woman that I saw had a small build, blonde hair pulled back in a pony tail tight against her head, her face was small, kind of round with small features.  She was a pretty woman, middle aged, late 30’s to late 40’s…………….   I picked up that this woman had been beaten to death with a heavy wooden object, possibly a bat and died at the Castle.   This woman is still there, earthbound and full of anger and sadness………………….”  Michelle T.

On Nov 11th just days before the actual investigation, Michelle had a second vision and this time she was the woman:

 

“I was the housekeeper for a house full of boys. I would go in and clean up and there were boys running everywhere.  I hated this job and I remember thinking this is not fair.  I have to do this job and these boys are a bunch of brats and bad kids.  As I was leaving, I was stopped by one of the older boys, who grabbed my arm.  At the moment of contact, I was flooded with emotion and I actually woke up crying.  It was like feeling a huge rush, going through my body.  Everything he was feeling I was feeling: remorse, regret, guilt and sadness.  I also felt he was talking to me, “…she used to tease me……they all teased me…………..”  I felt he just snapped and he was the one that killed Anna Corbin. And both Ginger and I got his name; Benjamin. There was also another boy, who helped cover it up.”

Michelle T. 

 

An interesting side note, both Michelle and Ginger separately picked up the first name of the boy they believe killed Anna Corbin, Benjamin.  Plus physical descriptions of both boys involved.  Unfortunately, Benjamin is a common enough name so without his last name it is impossible to verify if he was a ward at the school, at least for now.

Conclusion:

Did we find Anna Corbin’s killer?  Possibly.
Is the Castle Haunted?  Inconclusive.

Our group consisted of sensitive Ginger and CCPI’s team psychic, Michelle.  Separately, they sensed similar past incidents and descriptions of Anna Corbin and the circumstances surrounding her murder.  Both described Anna as late 30’s – late 40’s, small/medium build, dish water blonde hair pulled back from her face.  Scott Anderson’s evidence described her as a small pretty woman with dirty blonde hair, who looked younger than her 52 years.  Ginger and Michelle both “sensed” she was hit in the head with a wood bat.  Mr. Anderson stated Anna was bludgeoned in the head by a heavy wooden object.  While mediums can be extremely helpful in research, it is imperative they know nothing going in of the alleged haunting.  This helps them focus in order to keep their perceptions clear and not interfere with their objectivity.  So much for the metaphysical.

As for the scientific side, out of 7 possible scientific indicators; photographs, EVP, EMF disruptions, Temperature fluctuations, eye witness accounts, physical contact, movement of inanimate objects, we have 4.  The evidence is there but it’s weak: spirit orb photographs, Class “C” EVP’s, EMF disruptions with the K2 meter and our group, myself included, witnessed paranormal activity as it happened.  According to CCPI standards, it takes a minimum of 5 indicators for us to classify a site as haunted.  Of course this was just one visit and in order to be thorough in our investigation, we would need to revisit the Castle at a later date. 

All of us experienced some form of visible or audible manifestation at some point during the investigation which could not be explained.  As a researcher trying to validate the data scientifically, it’s hard to ignore the manifestations occurring around you.  This evidence has to account for something: it simply cannot be tossed for lack of verification.  Yet how do we prove the existence of Ghosts or that the Castle is indeed haunted if we cannot present solid scientific evidence?  When someone finds the answer to that question, please let me know.  In the meantime, we will strive to collect and validate as much data as we can.  Having said that, our overall conclusion of the Castle’s haunted status is inconclusive at this time.

For all of us who had this unique experience and great investigation, thank you to Gloria, Ray & Maggie of Ghost Trackers and the Preston Foundation for allowing us to spend the night.

Jackie Meador
CCPI

Anyone wishing to visit The Preston School of Industry, go to www.ghost-trackers.org to find out about spending the night at the Castle.