Through the years, thousands were sentenced and jailed within its walls. And a few, so they say, have never left.
There is a charm to adobe buildings. They are made of the same earth on which they stand, a blend of water, clay, sand, and straw, all dried by desert heat. It is the thick walls of adobe buildings that make them so efficient. The insulation keeps heat out in the summer and from escaping in the winter. But what if heat wasn’t the only thing that couldn’t escape? Places tell stories, and sometimes, if you’re willing to listen, walls can speak.
The Dona Ana County Courthouse is located in downtown Las Cruces and was built in 1937 where it served as the city’s jail for many years. Although the building has not been a center for judicial affairs for a time, some feel that it has never truly been vacant. Today, one portion of the building is leased to a few adventurers. Southwest Expeditions is a tour agency that operates inside the thick, adobe walls of the old courthouse. During their 11 months of operating their business for outdoor recreation tours in the nearly empty 36,000-square-foot space, they have heard and documented a few very unnerving paranormal experiences.
The building has been featured on Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and recently has been opened to the public for self-guided, immersive paranormal investigative tours held at night. David Crider and Miguel Abudd of Backhand Entertainment provide 6* person teams an evening in the jail. Teams are provided with EMF and recording devices, frequency and navigation equipment, and a control station rigged with infrared cameras where one member of the team guides the crew through total darkness.
David Crider invited us on a Paranormal Experience Tour before opening to the public in September. What we share below is our experience alone, and we can only state the same that Crider himself recommended at the beginning of the tour: “We’re not here to tell you what it is or isn’t. If you’d like to know, you must do your own investigation.”
We arrived as the sunset cast its final eerie glare on monsoon clouds over the horizon. A few small lights lit the entrance to the Dona Ana Courthouse building at the corner of Amador and South Alameda Boulevard. We walked in and followed the dim and yellow lit hallway as David had described. Before we met anyone, we walked up to find several items laid out across a table. A few cameras, some camcorders, a voice recorder, blacklight flashlights, a map, walkie-talkies, various EMF readers, and an odd-looking device that I later found out is called a “spirit box”, all laid out waiting for the entire six-person team to arrive.
David appeared out of nowhere and welcomed us into the space. Their office building is full of kayaks, oars, life-jackets, and maps and posters of National Monuments in the Las Cruces area. Vicki Hooser of Out West Paranormal joined us, as did David’s colleague, Miguel Abudd. As all participants arrived, David told us about the history of the revival adobe style constructed building, and then delved into what we were really there for: a paranormal investigation in the jail annex.
David and his crew told us that appearances, cold spots, sounds, voices, and heavy paranormal activity have been reported throughout the entire building, but that we would be touring the jail annex, the portion of the building with the most activity. “We aren’t here to walk you through and tell you about it, we’re here to provide you the tools you need to experience it for yourself”, said David as he described some of what he and others have witnessed. Electronic Voice Phenomena, or EVPs, are the most common experiences that people have within the jail space.
David and Vicki suggested that we speak in loud and clear voices. They suggested that if we bumped into anything, we immediately let the group know it had been us. This all made sense, but then they suggested that we ask questions, out loud and into the dark. This sounded funny at the time, but then they shared a recording with us that was anything but funny. Below is one of several recordings that they shared with us before our investigation commenced.
“A guest asked me a question, and as I answered someone else was captured saying “shut up ” twice. There was no other male present.”
*Courtesy of Out West Paranormal
David and his crew showed us how to operate the equipment and took us into the control room. 9 screens displayed on a large monitor live streaming areas of the jail. One person stayed in the control room to guide the five of us through the halls.
Equipment in hand and our wits sharp, we exited to control room into the pitch-black hallway leading into the jail. Ready to begin our investigation, David reminded us of one last thing: “for your safety, please be respectful of the entities”. And with that, we walked into the darkness.
Now we know you want us to tell you every detail of what happened over the next hour and a half. You might want to know about the shuffling that was heard, or that one woman described the distinct pressure of someone trying to get her attention by tapping on her shoulder, or about how our EMF readers turned red all at once. But those strange events that happened to us could have just as easily been our imaginations, right?
But if we shared everything from our experience you might feel you have nothing left to explore. There was one particularly strange and inexplicable thing that happened to our group that we’re hesitant to share merely because we aren’t sure what to make of it.
Before you read on, we must clarify that this was our experience and ours alone, and we are neither endorsing nor promising that this or anything like this will happen to you if you choose to take this tour. If you understand that distinction between reporting and endorsing, please continue reading about what we heard in The Courtyard.
About 45 minutes into exploring the area, we found the jailhouse courtyard. The courtyard is a large rectangular outdoor area covered with overhead metal fencing. From the dim, light reflected off the storm clouds overhead, the outdoor space had a faint, pink tint. This was the best lit area we had been in thus far in our exploration of the pitch-black jail annex, and even so it was very dark. The courtyard had several benches lining the walls and the 6 of us all chose different benches to sit at.
We sat there for some time in silence just listening to the distant sound of cars passing. Offenses aside, so many people had probably sat there just the same through the years, listening to the distant rumble of vehicles passing by.
Suddenly, distracted from the stillness, we heard a whisper.
It came from one of the corners where a team member was sitting by herself. It started and stopped after just a second or two. And then started again. It was almost as if she were politely taking a phone call and letting someone know, quietly, that she would call them back later. The sound was so unremarkably normal, indecipherable of specific words, and distinguishable as whispering, that no one said anything at first.
When the whispering suddenly stopped and we all were hit by the complete silence left in its wake, someone called out, “Was that you, Tracy?” There was confusion in Tracy’s voice when she responded with “was what me?”
The whisper started a third time but stopped immediately as another team member asked, “the whispering coming from behind you”.
Hesitantly and to everyone’s discomfort, Tracy responded with “I didn’t hear anything.”
We sat there for a moment and the general feeling of uneasiness filled the courtyard. We sat listening, we nervously asked some questions into the darkness, but nothing else happened.
We continued exploring the building and left the Dona Ana County Courthouse Jail that night carrying nothing but a very vivid, very real and thrilling experience.
The jail portion of the building, an area that will be destroyed when renovations continue, will be restored as a 4-star boutique hotel. As excited as we are for a new, repurposed historic hotel downtown complete with a pool and rooftop bar, the renovations beg the question: will whatever lies within those walls find a new home once the cells are torn down?
If you and a team of friends would like to book an investigative tour yourself, the below link will take you to Backhand Entertainment’s site: Reservations must be made ahead of time and guests must be 16 years or older to attend. Tours are offered Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:00 – 9:00pm and 9:30 – 11:30pm. *There is a party minimum of 5-6 people. 877-808-6877