Is Old Lake County Jail Haunted?

Old Lake County Jail

Famous for John Dillinger’s escape, this jail is known now for the ghosts who haven’t yet escaped

Paranormal Claims at
Old Lake County Jail

  • Shadow figures have been seen in the jailhouse halls and drifting into and out of jail cells
  • Cell doors reportedly open and close without explanation
  • Strange unexplained anomalies have appeared in photos taken around the jail
  • Disembodied voices have been frequently heard in the old cell blocks
  • Footsteps are often heard in the jailhouse
  • Lights are said to flicker on and off with no reason

Old Lake County Jail History

Approach the building at 226 S. Main Street, Crown Point, Indiana from the front, and you might think it’s someone’s red brick mansion. And, in a way, you would be both right and wrong. The wide front porch, pronounced central tower, and ornamental cresting on its mansard roof certainly paint the picture of an opulent private residence.

Around the side of the building, however, you’ll find a taller, wider, much less ornamental brick structure spanning the remainder of the block. This bare-bones addition served for decades as the town jail, while the inviting front house served as the sheriff’s residence. This strange cobbling of structures was a focal point for Crown Point criminal justice throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

While it no longer houses lawmen or law breakers, many who have visited it since its closure swear that the Old Lake County Jail and Sheriff’s House still keeps spiritual prisoners on its cell blocks, kept in check by ghostly guards.

Timeline of Old Lake County Jail's History

Swipe or use timeline points to see Old Lake County Jail through the years


Built in 1882, the Lake County Jail was the first permanent structure of its kind in Crown Point. The original structure was small – having just ten cells, six for men and four for women. For decades, the little jail served the needs of the 1,700-person community, but couldn’t keep up with the growth of the town. 


By 1910 the population had ballooned nearly 70% since the jail was built, which warranted cell block expansion to accommodate more inmates. The jail was again expanded in 1928, reaching a capacity of 150 cells.


On January 25th, 1934, notorious gangster John Dillinger was arrested in Tucson, Arizona and extradited to Crown Point to be tried for the murder William O’Malley. When he arrived, Dillinger was mobbed by the press, as well as Lake County Sheriff Lillian Holley, who posed for photos with the killer. Dillinger soon plotted an escape, reportedly carving a wood gun and colored it with shoe polish. On March 3rd, Dillinger stopped a guard with his wood prop and escaped the jail with Herbert Youngblood – and two submachine guns…


…Dillinger and Youngblood took two hostages and made a getaway in Sheriff Holley’s Ford V-8 Tudor. While the ‘wood gun’ aspect is disputed, Dillinger’s escape was certainly real, as was the fallout. Youngblood was killed on March 16th, but Dillinger remained free until July, when he too was shot dead. After his escape, Sheriff Holley’s photo ops and stolen car created a media firestorm. Regardless, Holley weathered the press, though she remained furious about Dillinger’s escape until she died in 1994 at the age of 103.


For 24 years after John Dillinger’s escape, Lake County Jail operated quietly in Crown Point despite a sullied reputation. The law requiring sheriff’s maintain residence in the jail’s house was revoked in 1958, but the cell blocks remained in use for 16 more years. Alas, Crown Point’s growth proved too much for the jail.

In 1974, Lake County’s new Government Center was completed, housing a new sheriff’s office and correctional facility. After a life spanning nearly a century, the Old Lake County Jail was finally closed.

Old Lake County Jail's 2nd floor filming set is said to be haunted


The building sat empty until 1987, when The Old Sheriff’s House Foundation, Inc. was formed to support the jail’s restoration. After the foundation’s support, Old Lake County Jail was opened for tours and sometimes used as a film set, most famously in 2009’s Public Enemies. The jail also hosts a popular haunted house each year. But, many visitors have also come away from the jail believing a much more real haunting exists within. And, some ghost hunters who have gone through the lockup agree with that assessment.

Is Old Lake County Jail Haunted?

Ghostly activity in the Old Sheriff’s House and Jail centers mainly on the old cell blocks of the building, with visitors often saying they see shadowy apparitions moving up and down the cell blocks and in and out of certain cells.

Ghost in photos at Old Lake County Jail

Additionally, some people have reported that cell doors will open and close on their own without explanation. Many photography-inclined visitors have tried to get these instances on camera, and come away with strange anomalies and potential apparitions in their photographs. Disembodied voices and echoing footsteps are also commonly reported from the cell blocks, and lights are also said to flicker on and off at odd times.

Disembodied voices at Old Lake County Jail

Strange photographic anomalies and recordings of unexplained sounds have been captured. Some investigators have reportedly captured numerous EVPs of spirit voices in the building, while others have claimed to photograph shadow figures in the jail.

Criminal Ghosts of Old Lake County Jail

The Old Lake County Jail has opened its doors to paranormal investigators and enthusiasts in recent years, hoping to share the building’s history with more people and allow more interested visitors to experience the haunting activity that is said to hang around even after the ‘Criminally Insane’ haunted house season is over.

Paranormal investigators have come away from the building with countless personal experiences and pieces of evidence.

Strange photographic anomalies and recordings of unexplained sounds have been captured. Some investigators have reportedly captured numerous EVPs of spirit voices in the building, while others have claimed to photograph shadow figures in the jail.

Old Lake County Jail is said to be haunted by the infamous John Dillinger himself after an escape

Old Lake County Jail is said to be haunted by the infamous John Dillinger himself after an escape

Is Old Lake County Jail Haunted
by John Dillinger?

Although no one can be certain which spirits still maintain residence in the jail, the ghost of John Dillinger is a common legend amongst investigators who have ghost hunted there. But, Dillinger is also said to haunt the Biograph Theater location where he was killed, and the cemetery where he is buried.

So, if Dillinger’s ghost still resides in the Old Lake County Jail, it is one of many afterlife residences he maintains. Though perhaps the spirit of James Sammons continues to linger there, or one of the countless other inmates who came and went from the cellblocks during the jail’s operation.

Investigate for Yourself at
Old Lake County Jail

Regardless of where the ghost stories at Old Lake County Jail come from, they have become local and national legends. Paranormal investigators travel from miles around for an opportunity to investigate the historic building, and in 2016 it had the distinction of being featured on the eleventh season of Syfy’s Ghost Hunters.

Investigations and ghost tours remain common today – and if you gather the nerve to purposefully spend a night in the Old Lake County Jail in Crown Point, you might end up with a banshee for a bunkmate.