Wyoming Frontier Prison is known as The Old Pen, with a reputation of being the most haunted prison in the state. Of all the inmates that were held there, one of the most grisly and psychopathic was Andrew Pixley who was executed in the gas chamber in 1965. Not surprisingly he has not moved on from where he met his demise and justice was served.
Built around 1900, Wyoming Frontier Prison, The Old Pen, was built as a facility to imprison violent offenders on their way to the gallows or the gas chamber.
Since closing its doors as a prison in 1980, The Old Pen, has become a favorite for tourists and ghost enthusiasts seeking an experience with prisoners who have long since gone on to their final reward.
Employees and tourist alike, claim to have interacted with spirits that suddenly appear and vanish before their eyes. Others have reported the overwhelming sensation of being watched and foreboding as the walk through the once hostile environment. Some visitors, so overcome by this feeling have run out in terror believing they were being chased from the premises.
Of all the inmates believed to still haunt The Old Pen Andrew Pixley is the most notorious.
A 21-year-old high school dropout with a few petty thefts to his name, he had drifted from Dalles, Oregon. He was a dishwasher at The Wort Hotel in Jackson, and on the night of August 6th, he took off his shoes, used a woodpile stacked against the building and climbed onto the roof. He quietly opened a screen to a room on the second floor. The room was occupied by 12-year-old Debbie McAuliffe, her 8-year-old sister Cindy, and 6-year-old Susan.
Their parents were relaxing in the hotel lounge at the time, but would return to the room after receiving complaints of noises coming from their room. Inside they found a nightmare scene: Debbie dead in her bed, beaten to death with a rock; Cindy, strangled; and this slight stranger drunk or insensible lying shirtless on the floor of their room covered in their daughters’ gore. Both girls also appeared to have been sexually assaulted. It was believed that the parent's arrival saved the youngest sister from assault and murder.
Judge Robert McAuliffe seized the stranger, while police — and soon behind them, an angry mob calling for for a lynching followed his wife’s screams to the scene.
“It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen,” Teton County attorney Floyd King later said.
From the time of his initial arrest all the way until he was executed he claimed to have no memory of everything he had done to the girls.
Andrew's real name was Armando Benavides, and he had been born in Las Cruces, New Mexico. His mother had abandoned the family when he was 2, and his father had died from tuberculosis when he was 4 years old. His sister and him were then placed in a series of foster homes. When he was 13 years old his mother married C.F. Pixley and she reclaimed her children from the welfare system, and moved them to Oregon.
In February 1965 Pixley was found guilty and was given a death sentence. The local newspapers described where Pixley laughed openly for the first time in the 3-day trial. The father of the slain girls Robert McAuliffe, jumped an shouted, “Laugh some more, you animal”. McAuliffe earlier in the day had tried to attack Pixley after dramatic testimony from both parents and a psychiatrist who described Pixley as an incurable “sociopath”.
During the trial it was described the parents had found both of the girls nude and one of them was missing her nose, leading to the belief that the murderer might have bit it off and the suspicion he might have cannibalized the bodies.
Dr. William Karn Jr. medical director of the Wyoming State Hospital who had examined Pixley for 30 days in order to determine if he was insane, described that “it meant a lot more to Pixley to kill the girls while they were awake rather than while they were sleeping”. At that point Judge McAuliffe started for Pixley and had to be restrained.
Karn described Pixley as a man who hates society. “A sociopath is sick in getting along with the outside world. He hates the human race, himself included". The psychiatrist described Pixley as “one of the sickest we’ve ever seen sociopathically”. He said chances to rehabilitate Pixley were “absolutely nil”.
Throughout his 11 months on death row Andrew Pixley had expressed a desire for death. He insisted he could remember nothing of the two killing on August 7, 1964 but had said, “If I did something like that, I deserve everything I get”.
On December 10th, 1965 Pixley was strapped into the gas chamber and finally put to death for his depravity. The chamber had not been used for 20 years. He occupied the same cell Henry Ruhl did 20 years earlier. Ruhl had been convicted in 1944 of murdering a Cheyenne war worker. Pixley had apparently tried to carve the faces of the 2 girls he murdered into the wall.
He died within 10 minutes, and immediately afterwards his eyes were removed as they had been willed to an eye bank at the University of Colorado’s Medical School
Neither C.F. Pixley his step-father, of Dallas, Oregon or his sister, Mrs Agapita “Aggie” Owens of Las Cruces, N.M. attended the execution. They had spent Pixley’s last day with him in his cell until 8 p.m. the previous night.
The McAuliffe’s divorced and the judge remarried and had a son. Both parents have passed. Susan their youngest child married and has five children.
Employees of the prison claim that the spirit of Andrew Pixley still roams the prison. Many refuse to go anywhere near the his cell believing the picture of the young man that hangs over his bunk watches them, claiming his cold, dead shark eyes watches whoever passes. Others have claimed to hear his voice from beyond the grave confessing his crime as he laughs.
Other witnesses have heard the sounds of young girls crying coming from this gas chamber. Another spirit that is seen is that of a ghost cat. This black cat was executed in the gas chamber as a “test run” to make sure the chamber had no leaks before Pixley’s sentence was carried out.
Although, Pixley’s spirit may be the most feared and experienced, other spirits are seen. Some appear to just be tape recordings, a psychic imprint in the environment; they go about their business without a care. While others are all too happy to interact with living right before they vanish.
The Wort Hotel where the murder was committed is also said to be haunted, some say by the two girls. The hotel burned down and was rebuilt, however the rooms that were built in the original spot where the murder room was situated, claim that these rooms have the most maintenance problems.
Source - Casper Star Tribune
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by Marlene Pardo Pellicer