Bloody Mary’s Lair: The Lost Souls of the Bastille, Part 2

Apr 8, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Hometown History, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sarah Peterson-Camacho

by Sarah A. Peterson-Camacho

If you have not yet read Part 1 you can find it HERE.

Trigger warning for suicide.

Blood was not on the menu the night of Thursday, April 5, 1962, as far as Kings County Deputy Jailer Raymond Van Dyke was concerned. But the spray of crimson erupting in the steely wake of a razor could never have been mistaken for ketchup.

“Van Dyke told Sheriff Orvie Clyde he was overseeing feeding of the evening meal when he saw John Hollomon, 49, a Hanford laborer, slashing at his throat with a razor blade,” reported The Fresno Bee on Friday, April 6, 1962. “Clyde revealed the prisoner had also cut a large gash on the inside of his arm.”

Serving a six-day sentence in the Kings County Jail for public intoxication, “Hollomon appeared to be going into the first stages of delirium tremens, which are caused by prolonged use of alcohol,” The Bee continued. “He is believed to have hidden the razor blade in his clothing.”

As one of the last recorded suicide attempts in the old Kings County Jail, John Hollomon’s gruesome handiwork would prove to be one of the prison’s closing acts. Just two years later, Hanford’s legendary slammer closed its doors in 1964.

Awaiting the storied fortress was the dusty solitude of file storage duties—a rather mundane conclusion after so turbulent a past…at least, until the Kings County Art League entered the picture about a year later.

The Hanford Sentinel, dated Wednesday, May 31, 1995

“Hundreds of Art League volunteers helped to clean the building and renovate it for use as a gallery,” according to a historical retrospective in The Hanford Sentinel of Wednesday, May 31, 1995. “It took six months to put in lighting, clean the building completely, and cover the walls with burlap.”

Rechristened The Bastille Gallery, Kings County Museum of Art, the former jail would serve as the Art League’s gallery space for the next decade. By the mid-1970s, however, the League had moved on to more permanent pastures, putting down roots at the Kings Art Center on Douty Street.

After the City of Hanford bought the property, “there was talk of demolishing the…complex, but people in the community protested,” continued the Sentinel’s 1995 retrospective. “A committee…was put together and thwarted any move to destroy the picturesque building.”

“The committee brought in an entrepreneur who had saved a historic courthouse in Santa Cruz, and turned it into a useable facility. And that was how the first restaurant and bar formed in the Kings County Jail building in 1977.”

“They don’t consider themselves superstitious, but…sometimes things just can’t be explained,” staff writer Betsy Lewis opined in The Hanford Sentinel of Friday, Aug. 13, 1982.

Those unsettling words would mark the beginning of Bloody Mary’s legend, in the very first accounts of a female apparition appearing on the upper floors of the former Kings County Jail—setting off an otherworldly chain reaction that has haunted the hulking structure for over four decades.

“Like the time an unsuspecting cocktail waitress ventured up the back stairs in the dark after closing time to find some spare staples,” Lewis wrote. “Something resembling a haggard woman in a jail smock was sitting by the windowsill. And it moved.

“‘I heard this shriek,’ recalls Jimmy Jimenez, La Bastille’s bartender and manager. ‘I thought somebody had grabbed her. But then she just flew down those stairs a minute later.’

“Within seconds another waitress, who had gone to investigate, also was making tracks out the front door. Jimenez grabbed a knife and took a look for himself…but ‘it’ had gone.”

Opening as La Bastille in 1981, the former prison found itself back in the local spotlight as a late-night Hanford hotspot—and a haunted one, at that.

Waitress Elaine Reed recalled getting the chills every time she ventured into one of the four dungeon-like solitary confinement cells, which were then used for storage. “‘I got this weird feeling…It was colder in there. I mentioned it to someone, and one of the customers told me he had been working on the grounds, and seen a woman gazing from the upstairs window.’

“Reed also says she often has heard noises late at night. Sounds of someone walking upstairs, and mysterious creaks you would expect from a wooden—but not a concrete—building.”

And then came the first of the ghost hunters—and a rather unconventional séance.

“The usual spirits were circulating at La Bastille Friday night,” Betsy Lewis wrote in a follow-up piece for The Hanford Sentinel of Saturday, Dec. 11, 1982, “but the anxiously awaited ‘ghost’ of honor was not among them.”

“About ten baffled guests and three disc jockeys from Fresno radio station KFRE staked out the top floor of the restaurant-bar for their ‘Ghost Hunt’, in hopes of catching a glimpse of the establishment’s alleged resident phantom.”

But the ghost was a no-show that night, no matter how the trio of ghost-busting DJs cajoled and pleaded with her for an otherworldly appearance. All to no avail…

As the 1980s wore on, there would be more ghostly sightings at La Bastille, and not all of them were female. In 1987, La Bastille’s cook “was washing dishes at a sink when she first saw something out of the corner of her eye,” reporter Dennis Pollock revealed in The Fresno Bee on Sunday, Oct. 30, 1994.

“She described ‘goose bumps along the back of my neck and shoulders,’ and a face that ‘was kind of foggy.’ I couldn’t see his mouth or neck. But I could sure see the top part of his head. He had dark gray hair…but he didn’t have any eyes, just dark holes where his eyes should have been,’ said the cook, Daisy Bobb…her supernatural visitor departed by ‘slithering under the table…like a pile of paper sliding off of a table.’”

So shaken was Bobb by her paranormal encounter, she persuaded members of Fresno’s Life After Death Research Society to spend a couple of nights at La Bastille for a round of seances (minus those trouble-seeking DJs). But once again, no spirits manifested, even “with psychics reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and playing a recording of Elvis Presley singing ‘How Great Thou Art’ at each séance.”

By the early 1990s, La Bastille had changed owners, becoming The Bastille in the process. And the bar and restaurant’s resident spirit evolved as well—with a new name, wardrobe, and an apparent backstory.

“Vickie Andre says she first saw the apparition late one evening last year, gliding up the spiral staircase,” wrote reporter Mark Grossi in The Fresno Bee on Monday, March 16, 1992. “…it was a visit from a gentle spiritual presence named Mary.

“‘I’ve seen her many times,’ said Andre, a manager at The Bastille. ‘Call her a ghost, I guess. She’s not evil…She’s dressed in a long turn-of-the-century gown up to her neck. The story goes that she hung herself in the upstairs room. But I’m not telling a story. I’ve seen her more than once.’”

Bastille ad from The Hanford Sentinel, Friday, Oct. 30, 1992

Andre never did reveal just where she’d heard Mary’s origin story, or if she had made it up herself. Nevertheless, the story stuck. By Halloween of 1992, the newly christened ghost even found herself making an appearance in a Hanford Sentinel ad for The Bastille’s All Hallow’s Eve bash.

“What better setting for Halloween than a hundred year old haunted jail,” The Sentinel ad implored readers on Friday, Oct. 30, 1992. “Mary, our friendly Bastille ghost, also wanted me to say that Halloween is kind of a special day for her, and hopes that you will all come down to help her celebrate.”

Another round of seances in the mid-1990s brought The Bastille more press—and more mixed results.

“Downtown Hanford’s The Bastille sells itself as ‘alive with spirits’,” opined The Hanford Sentinel’s City Editor Michael Todd on Monday, Jan. 24, 1994. “Sunday night, members of the Fresno-based Association of Paranormal Investigation attempted to chat with some of those spirits…The association was, by appearances, successful, noting two ‘contacts’ with two ‘entities’ making a home in the bar. Using a Ouija board, the eight members of the group who came to Hanford on Sunday evening, spelled out two names they said were of ghosts, Maria Roxas and Mariano Mendoza.”

Through the Ouija board, Roxas alleged that she was thirty-eight when she died of a heart attack at the jail, brought on by a sexual assault by one of the jailers—and that her spirit stayed on to protect The Bastille’s female customers from unwanted advances.

“Roxas’ timing was off, though,” Todd wrote. “According to letters and numbers read off the board, Roxas was born in 1941, and died at the jail in 1979…however, the Kings County Jail had moved to a new site [by] 1965, and in 1979, the site of The Bastille was being used as an art gallery.

“A second contact produced another unrecorded murder at the site, this one of a seventeen-year-old boy purportedly beaten to death in 1904, after he got into a fight because of people mocking his name. Mariano Mendoza, according to the séance, was arrested for stealing food.”

This latest séance was covered extensively by The Hanford Sentinel—photos taken at the event give glimpses of heightened drama: a circle of hands splayed over a Ouija board, a crying medium being comforted by her companions, a group of chanting psychics holding hands, their eyes closed as they summon the dead.

“After the séance, [Association of Paranormal Investigation member Christian] Dimas said it was unlikely the mediums would return to The Bastille,” Todd concluded, “since the ghosts they said they found were welcome there.”

And not four days after Todd’s feature ran, a scathing anonymous editorial appeared in The Hanford Sentinel, excoriating the whole supernatural affair with biting sarcasm.

“A séance at The Bastille Sunday evening turned up two ghosts nobody’s heard from before,” the editorial began in the Friday, Jan. 28, 1994, edition of the Sentinel. “It’s not surprising that neither specter was the original Bastille ghost, Bloody Mary, who was created by spirited imaginations in 1985…Any self-respecting old jail, it was felt, ought to have a ghost.

“So one evening in 1985, several Bastille regulars happily imbued spirits and made one up. Mary, according to former owner Max Walden, was a hapless one-legged woman who was apprehended by local law enforcement after she drank a wee bit too much, fell into a barrel, and couldn’t get out. This unlucky soul, decided her creative historians, hanged herself in one of the cells, perhaps one of those renovated for posterity at The Bastille.”

The anonymous author then lambasted the faulty memory of the ghost of Maria Roxas, allegedly contacted via the Ouija board. “Unfortunately for historical purists, at the time Maria reported being raped in a cell, the building had been retired from jail use for fourteen years and was in operation as a gallery for the Kings County Art League.

“Perhaps poor Maria is merely confused; it’s been a while since she talked to anybody. In any case, her mission is pure: she hangs around to protect other women from danger.”

(It is no wonder this opinion piece was published anonymously; casting the séance itself in a dubious light is one thing, but mocking a disability, trivializing sexual assault, victim-blaming, and ridiculing the spirit’s attempt to keep other women safe—this is all utterly pathetic hogwash, and the author undoubtedly knew this. Hence the need for anonymity.)

By the dawning of the 21st century, The Bastille had again changed hands, becoming The Bastille Bar & Grill. New owners Victor Rosa and Richard Neill had no intention of promoting the ghosts, however, their emphasis proved to be on The Bastille’s versatile menu and top-quality live entertainment, instead.

The Hanford Sentinel, dated Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

But every October, out came the ghost stories just in time for Halloween. “There are many haunted places and stories found in and around Hanford,” wrote reporter Barbara Swarm in The Hanford Sentinel of Halloween 2003. “The most famous of them all is the ghost lurking in The Bastille. The story of Mary, who lives upstairs in the tower ‘hanging’ around, may be the most told local tale of all. But did you know there are three more spirits lurking in and around The Bastille?”

In addition to the suicidal specter of a scandal-ridden local politician haunting the city council chambers of the old Courthouse, Swarm continued, “the other apparitions are of children; one is a girl who ran away and died in the Bastille’s restroom. Her image can be found right in front of your face—in the mirror.

“The third is of a little boy who giggles every time a girl enters the restroom.”


By the time those heavy footsteps shook the hot, dusty air in the wee hours of a sweltering August Sunday in 2010, ghost hunts at the former Kings County Jail had become par for the course—occasionally mentioned in The Hanford Sentinel, and always around Halloween.

No longer a nightclub, The Bastille seemed more locked in time than ever—torn between two worlds, the living and the dead.

Watery soda still dribbled from the soft drink dispenser near the bar, while inmates’ graffiti still pocked the granite walls with strange carvings like ancient hieroglyphics: notches to mark the days passed in any given cell, or a crumbly tribute to a life too brief. “Tom King, 1903-1923.”

There was the stage for live entertainment, and the booths divided by iron bars. And there were the granite solitary cells, once booked for private parties—or for inmates deemed insane. There was the demonic dragon painted on the wall of the VIP room upstairs, wings jagged and unfurled. A room that was now silent as the grave, those thundering footsteps echoing on into the past.

So just who was Bloody Mary of the Bastille? Did she really hang herself, and was her name even Mary?

I found a partial answer at the very beginning of my research—at the very beginning of those first ghostly sightings back in 1982.

“[Orvie] Clyde, who was with the sheriff’s department for thirty-four years before retiring in 1970, can’t remember anything supernatural or bizarre happening at the jail,” wrote Betsy Lewis in The Hanford Sentinel on Friday, Aug. 13, 1982, “but admitted one incident involving a woman inmate did occur.

“He couldn’t remember her name, but Clyde recalled a middle-aged Hanford woman who had been arrested several times during the late 1930s for public drunkenness.

“She was kept with the women prisoners in a small upstairs room with six beds, he said. One day they found her dead of a heart attack.”

Works Cited
“Jailer Blocks Prisoner’s Suicide Try with Razor.” The Fresno Bee, Friday, April 6, 1962, p. 19.
Lewis, Betsy. “Female Ghost Reportedly Haunts Hanford’s La Bastille.” The Hanford Sentinel, Friday, Aug. 13, 1982, p. 4.
Lewis, Betsy. “’Ghost’ of Honor Fails to Make an Appearance.” The Hanford Sentinel, Saturday, Dec. 11, 1982, p. 4.
Grossi. Mark. “Tales of Hanford Hauntings Come Back to Life.” The Fresno Bee, Monday, March 16, 1992, p. B1.
“The Bastille, Hanford: Don’t Forget!” The Hanford Sentinel, Friday, Oct. 30, 1992.
Todd, Michael. “Séance No Bar to Bistro’s Spirits.” The Hanford Sentinel, Monday, Jan. 24, 1994, pp. 1, 5.
“Benevolent Spirits.” The Hanford Sentinel, Friday, Jan. 28, 1994.
Kazanjian, Gary. “Healing Spirits: The Bastille is Alive.” The Hanford Sentinel, Sunday, May 8, 1994, p. 19.
Pollock, Dennis. “Spirits Still Linger at Old Jail.” The Fresno Bee, Sunday, Oct. 30, 1994, p. F5
Lakdawalla, Pervin. “A Jail, Gallery and Restaurant.” The Hanford Sentinel, Wednesday, May 31, 1995, p. 39.
Terstegen, Melissa. “The Bastille Offering Entertainment Variety.” The Hanford Sentinel, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2000.
Swarm, Barbara. “Ghost Stories.” The Hanford Sentinel, Friday, Oct. 31, 2003.
Bowman, Parker. “The Bastille is a Reminder of Hanford’s Wild West Days.” The Hanford Sentinel, Saturday, June 26, 2021.

Sarah A. Peterson-Camachois a library assistant with Fresno County Library, with a Bachelor’s in English and a Bachelor’s in Journalism from California State University, Fresno. In her free time, she makes soap and jewelry that she sells at Fresno-area craft fairs. She has written for The Clovis Roundup and the Central California Paranormal Investigators (CCPI) Newsletter.


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