Famous prisoners, hauntings recalled in tour of old Smith County Jail - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News


Famous prisoners, hauntings recalled in tour of old Smith County Jail

It was the County Jail for thirty years, but soon it will be renovated and resemble nothing of what it was. Built in 1955 inside the courthouse, it was the lone Smith County Jail until 1985, and now a few trustees still stay there.

Today, Smith County Sheriff JB Smith walked KLTV 7's Danielle Capper through the space and told of the history, the memories, even a story of a ghost.

"Strange things happen here."

As we walk, longtime Sheriff JB Smith talks of the place he called home.

"It's a spooky place. I gotta tell you. I wasn't prepared to move into a jail house to live but I did," said Smith.

When he took over in 1977, this jail had 58 prisoners.

"This is how you controlled the doors here. The doors are locked and unlocked by pulling levers. And then cranking these things manually," Smith showed me.

"We fed through bean holes...this is where you had visitation. The family had to come up and talk through these little holes."

JB recalls assaults, deaths, both natural and suicides, including one in particular whose spirit - to this day - he says still lingers.

"This particular section here is one that has been haunted for years," he said.

"There have been times we have replaced the lights in here, locked the doors and come back not 24 hours later and fund that the lights are still busted out. We can't explain why."

Back in 1983, a woman named Norma Barbee who had been incarcerated for public intoxication, ripped off part of her bed sheet and hung herself.

"She hung herself from right here. You can walk into this cell and feel a cool breeze. We think that's because of according to the trustees a ghost of a lady that hung herself."

Many famous prisoners were held in these cells from murderer Animal McFadden to Henry Lee Lucas."

"We think he was responsible for literally 10, 20, maybe 50 murders across the United States," said Smith of Lucas.  

For JB, this space, with all its memories, is a bittersweet goodbye

"It certainly has been an experience and I'm glad that I was part of that transition from the old into the somewhat new and maybe someday in to the new, because we certainly do need it," said Smith.

Sheriff Smith said to this day he has never had a person successfully escape. He says people have escaped, but have always been caught.

The renovation of the fifth and sixth floors are part of the pay as you go project by the Smith County Commissioners. Soon they will be extra office space for the DAs office and others.

Danielle Capper, reporting. dcapper@kltv.com  

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