Non-profit formed for 1925 jail

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register

The 1925 Runnels County Jail will be restored thanks to the work of Runnels County Clerk Julia Miller and Runnels County Jail Administrator Kimberly Dunn. The ladies formed a 501(c)3, with the blessing of County Judge Barry Hilliard and the Commissioners' Court, to help restore the jail for its historical significance and as an educational tool.

Runnels County clerk Julia Miller and Jail Administrator Kimberly Dunn have formed a 501(c)(3) to restore the 1925 Runnels County Jail due to its historical significance. The jail is in need of extensive renovations.

According to Miller, the restoration came about in an interesting manner from something that happened to one of the courthouse maintenance men, "Bob was in the restroom one morning and heard a voice ask, 'Bob are you okay?' This was early in the morning before anyone arrived at the courthouse. Bob thought that maybe someone had come in early so he came out and walked down the hallway. All of the doors were shut so he looked out to the parking lot and there weren't any cars out there. It freaked him out because he said that voice was as clear as someone standing next to him. He went out of the courthouse and waited for others to arrive. He was rattled. I got to talking to him about it and told him that we needed to have some ghost hunters come over here." Miller said that another unexplained incident happened to the other maintenance man, "Cade said that he was in the grand jury room cleaning up after a grand jury meeting. There is a little restroom in that room and he went into that restroom to sanitize it. He'd pushed all of the chairs to the big table to go clean the restroom when he heard all of the chairs sliding as if somebody had come in and moved the chairs. When he came out, all of the chairs were pulled away from the table as if someone was sitting there. He said that he was in the restroom for maybe 2-seconds when that happened and that it wasn't enough time for someone to come in and move all of those chairs."

The Runnels County 1925 jail now has a 501(c)(3) working towards restoring the building.

The strange events didn't stop there. Miller said that as they were talking about the incident, another person, Tiffany, said that she went to the 3rd floor one morning when she worked at the auditor's office, "She said that as she put the key in the door she heard the adding machine going off. She walked in and found the adding machine paper in a pile on the floor, and the adding machine was still going. She got her phone out to record it." Miller said that is when Tiffany noticed something strange about the adding machine tape, "There were no numbers on it. It was all letters. It was an adding machine, it didn't have letters like a typewriter." 

Miller said that she cleared the idea of a ghost hunt with Hilliard and all of the commissioners and sought the help of a couple of local paranormal experts, "I thought about Dan and Connie LaFave at the Old Park Hotel and went to Barry to ask if we could have someone come do a paranormal investigation. I told him that I'd stay here while they did their investigation so he gave me permission. I went to the elected officials and asked them if they'd have any problems with me doing this. I told them that we wouldn't be going into any individual offices, that we'd just be in the hallway and grand jury room. Everyone was fine with the idea."

The Runnels County 1925 jail now has a 501(c)(3) formed to help restore it.

With permission to conduct the investigation in hand, Miller contacted the LaFaves, owners of the Old Park Hotel, which is considered by various paranormal societies to be one of the most haunted locations in the United States, "I talked to them and they said that they'd love to meet with me. We met at the hotel and they said that they'd do the ghost hunt. While we were talking about the courthouse ghost hunt, Dan pointed across the street to the old jail and asked if they could get into it for a ghost hunt as well. He said that they could do the ghost hunt in conjunction with one of their events and that they'd donate the money."

After the discussion Miller put the idea on the Commissioner's Court agenda and told Hilliard and the commissioners that the ghost hunt at the jail wouldn't cost them anything and that they didn't have to do anything for it., "The commissioners agreed so I moved forward with the idea. In March, we did the courthouse ghost hunt and afterward I showed them the jail. Nancy Evans and I had been working and cleaning the jail out to get it ready."

The jail is cleaned out for the most part, but there is still a significant amount of work to be done at the jail. Miller has spoken to the Runnels County Historical Commission, who agreed to support the idea. Miller created a 501(c)(3), the 1925 Runnels County Jail, Inc. Kimberly Dunn said that someone told her about Miller's idea and they wanted to help, "My husband and I wanted to help so I sent Julia an email saying that I'd love to help and told her to tell me about anything she needed." Since then, the two have been busy doing the work to restore the jail. Miller has worked with the Commissioners' Court to keep them apprised of the progress, "About 2 weeks ago, the Commissioner's Court agreed to lease the jail from the county to the 501(c)(3) for 5 years. So, we can start holding events and hosting fundraisers to help with the restoration costs. Right now, we're looking to get insurance to cover us for events. We've started working to raise the $700 or so for the insurance. I've talked to Dan and Connie to set up an ghost hunt event, but the whole COVID thing is going on."

Earlier this year, Garrett “Mac” McWilliams, who was the son of the Runnels County Sheriff Richmond E. (Earl) McWilliams, came back to Ballinger to visit the jail where he and his family lived while Earl was sheriff. The elder McWilliams was in office from 1924-1930. The visit from McWilliams would come to benefit Miller and Dunn's jail restoration project, "One day Tito (Sheriff deputy Clemente Mata) and I went to eat with Mr. McWilliams' son, Gary, who was here the day of Mr. McWilliams' visit. He asked where he could go to donate money to the project. I told him that we weren't that far along yet so he told me to call him when we did get that far along. I contacted him a couple of weeks ago and told him that we're to that point. On Monday, he called me and said that he wants to donate a stocks with a value between $10,000-$12,000. I'm getting the paperwork together so that we can accept the donation."

The restoration project will require a great deal of effort. The interior paint is flaking from the walls, there are areas with wood that is rotted and needs to be replaced, the ceiling needs work, as do numerous other areas.

The fundraising is just the beginning of what they hope will be a rewarding effort to restore a piece of the fabric that is woven into the history of Runnels County. Miller and Dunn will continue to accept donations, which are tax deductible, and have created a GoFundMe page under the title, "The 1925 Runnels County Jail, Inc."