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Prairie Hills Correctional Facility

Paranormal investigators tackle Prairie Hills facility

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SIOUX CITY -- As the sun set behind the three story brick building, paranormal investigators prepared for the night; putting batteries in equipment, stringing out power chords and dividing into groups.

The crumbling Prairie Hills Correctional Facility was the main focus of the night. Before becoming a jail, the more than 100-year-old building was initially a place where poor people could raise cattle and vegetables, then later housed mentally ill county residents.

Now, the building is deemed unusable and is set to be demolished. With no power or running water and no occupants, the building was the perfect place to investigate.

The paranormal investigators had one night to put rumors to rest or to find proof that there is more to the building then crumbling ceilings and rotting furniture.

Before the rooms were cleared out and the doors were boarded up, those who spent time in the Prairie Hills building reported strange occurrences. Doors slamming, faces in the windows and elevators moving without command are just a few of the rumors.

Patty Erickson-Puttmann occasionally worked in the building as the county social services coordinator and helped close it in 2000 before it became a jail annex.

The atmosphere of the building those last years was cold, and stark, she said. The dormitory style with years of history showcased its institutional setting.  She said there were a number of people who died at the facility, though none under questionable circumstances.

Erickson-Puttmann said she never personally experienced any activity or hauntings, but said that others had.

Dave LaFleur approached the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors to get permission for his group PARA911 to investigate the site.

In a 3-2 vote, the supervisors gave his group permission to spend a night in the building, as long as liability waivers were signed.

On Friday, a door at the back of the building was uncovered and the group was given unlimited access to the building.

After being closed for more than five years, the building had fallen into a state of disarray. Ceiling tiles are broken and falling, paint is peeling, black mold covers downstairs walls, and trash and old furniture litter the hallways and rooms.

Little rubber bullets and targets remain from when the facility was used as training ground for the Woodbury County Sheriff’s Department. A pile of old orange jail uniforms took up space in one corner of the gym and rooms with bunk beds remain from its time as a jail.

The group split into three teams of four, that way there was limited “contamination,” meaning there were fewer opportunities to mistake human sounds for something else. Walkie-talkies were used to communicate if something was found, or if there were particular areas of interest.

Audio and video recorders were the main tools for the night, but other classic paranormal investigation tools were used all with the goal of getting “interactions.”

A structured light sensor camera system, known as an SLS camera,  is a way for the investigators to capture video evidence of ghost forms. The forms are depicted as stick figures on the camera, similar to how a video game console sensor can pick up a person’s movement.

A REM pod comes in a variety of different forms and lights up and beeps when the electromagnetic field is broken. The device is set down and investigators asked questions, hoping to get the entity to interact with it.

“Are you here?”

“Can you make that device light up?”

A different device monitored the room temperature and pressure. Any sudden or drastic fluctuations would make the machine light up.

The third floor was considered the main area to look at as well as the first floor kitchen. According to the stories, people had seen a person in a third floor window when no one was up there. In the kitchen, a former cook named Effie was seen on occasion.

LaFleur started investigating paranormal activity in 2008. He has visited a variety of locations in and around Siouxland, as well as sites in other areas of the country.

PARA911 was formed a few years ago. The main goal is “to help people experiencing unknown activity in their homes.” LaFleur doesn’t charge for his services, his only goal is to prove whether or not something is occurring. He’s not looking for small occurrences, events that could be easily explained away, he is looking for obvious proof.

Rosemarie LaFleur and Tracy Lund have been investigating for 10 years and four years, respectively. Rosemarie LaFleur said she is an empath, and when doing an initial walkthrough, she said she felt there was a man on the third floor in what was “his area.” She also said she felt a woman, possibly a nurse on the second floor and a man in the kitchen.

Lund said a paranormal investigators dream is to find an apparition but it rarely happens.

“You have to be at the right place at the right time,” he said.

By midnight, the investigators had a few particular places narrowed down where they believe to have seen paranormal occurrences and one audio recording that investigators thought had a little girl saying “mommy” and “mom.”

After the investigation was over, the team takes time to review all the audio and video footage. Dave LaFleur said many times, things are captured without the people present knowing. He said one of the best pieces of proof his team has found was caught on video without the individual noticing.

After everything is reviewed, any evidence or occurrences that were caught will be presented to the board of supervisors.

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