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Paranormal Investigations and Research
A question we are asked a lot: where there any deaths in the jail? For years we heard about them through remarks made by visitors and MPPIR members. Now, with our new jail museum manager we are finding out about them another way. One is from the research that the current Jail Museum manager does by combing through old newspapers that are mostly on microfiche and looking at jail records year by year. The other way we “know” of deaths in the jail is through our paranormal research and information we get from psychics and sensitives, some of whom are visitors to the jail and some are members of MPPIR.
One of the deaths that occurred in the jail was that of a woman who had been put in jail for the crime of insanity. Olga Knutson would have died no matter where she was, but she was in jail when it happened. The date was February 3, 1907.
Here’s the story and it is a bizarre story at best. Olga Knutson was a 30-year-old mother of an eight month old baby boy. She lived with her husband, a miner, and her new baby in Altman. Everything seemed fine until Olga became paranoid. First she decided that the neighbors were intent on doing her baby harm. Then she said that the sheriff came with a posse and a rope for her. She became so paranoid, that her husband took her to the doctor. He found nothing wrong. A short time later, she became so irrational, that she was taken to the hospital where a short time later, she was put in the Strong Room . The local hospitals had a “Strong Room” for patients suffering from mental problems and became uncontrollable, even violent.
When Olga became too irrational to be handled even in the Strong Room, she was sent to the jail, which was standard practice for the restraint of the mentally ill. She had to be transferred to the Insane Ward of the jail. This Ward was the three cells at the front of the building. It didn’t take long for Olga to totally breakdown, both physically and mentally. She lost all control of her bodily functions and lost her mental faculties. In the middle of the night, the doctor managed to give her a sleeping potion to sedate her and she sank to the floor, apparently asleep. When the Matron checked on her at 5 am, she thought something was amiss and summoned the doctor. By the time the doctor arrived Olga was dead. It was one week after the onset of her mental disturbance transforming her from a sane functioning young woman to an irrational violent inmate of the jail.
No cause was ever found. But then forensics of the day were pretty primitive and autopsy were seldom done. What caused this young woman to deteriorate into madness and death? Does Olga still inhabit the jail cell where her life ended? Are some of the EVPs and actual whispered voices those of Olga? Apparently Olga was not buried in Mt. Pisgah cemetery. She may be buried in Victor cemetery or somewhere near, or she may have been taken elsewhere for reasons only her husband knows.
A clue may come by reading Michael Lesay’s “Wisconsin Death Trip” which chronicles many such people who suddenly become mad and either harm themselves or others, only to have to be incarcerated due to their own violent behavior. Death often came suddenly. The picture you are about to see is of a person who was once alive.
The book dispels the popular myth that cities were hot beds of moral turpitude and industrial madness and rural areas were Edens of happy people. Not so. The sudden madness and death of Olga was not an uncommon thing. Jail records show a large number of people put in jail for insanity. Then, they were sent off to larger insane asylums. What caused this sudden madness? Poison? Environmental exposure to toxic substances? Lead and dyes were used for stained glass windows which were prevalent not only in Cripple Creek but across the old west. Long dark cold winters?
There is another explanation that is cloaked in secrecy. Many men visited Meyers Avenue, the Red light District in Cripple Creek, and contracted syphilis which they took home to their wives. Due to the social stigma associated with this, many people did not seek treatment and tried to treat themselves. The treatment was mercury which in itself would cause madness and death. Whether from the disease or the treatment, many people ended up with insanity and death.
Jail records show that the reason for incarceration was often insanity. If anyone has any information that might enlighten us on this, please comment on this blog. We’d love to hear from you.
But back to Olga. Perhaps the doctor who gave her the sleeping potion recognized her symptoms and helped her on her way. Perhaps he just gave her too much. Perhaps she was dying anyway.
The information on Olga was discovered in the usual way. Research. It was reported in one of the half dozen newspapers that published in the day,and in the jail records. It has also been reported in the unusual way. There have been sensitives who report a feeling of sickness and death in those cells in the Women’s block. Now we have a name and when we investigate the Women’s Block, we can ask Olga if she is still here.
@2011, Story Nancy B, MPPIR
If you like this you should read the follow up: Olga Knutson — A Coroner’s Opinion and Report