HISTORIC ATLANTIC County Courthouse 

The Following Exerpt is from the book:  Atlantic Count Ghost stories, written by: Charles J Adams III (Exeter House Books)

No place in Atlantic County has been more associated with ghosts and the unexplained than the very seat of government for the county, the county court house in Mays Landing.

Jo DiStefano Kapus, who toiled for many years as a title searcher in the stately building, is the keeper of the flame of legend and lore for the court house ghost stories, as well as many more in the county. Her writings have appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the region, and she has been a tireless researcher of the history and mystery of the Atlantic County.

A past president of the Atlantic County Historical Society, Jo was gracious and generous in sharing the stories she has heard for publication in this volume.

The epicenter of her research is the Atlantic County Court House that, many believe, is haunted by at least three spirits.

Although renovated and expanded many times since it was built in 1838, the building retains its stately appearance-and its stubborn apparitions.

“Every once in a while,” Jo Kapus said, a woman is heard crying, after hours, in Courtroom 1. “At night, when the building is supposedly empty, the elevator rings as if someone is riding it up and down. Also after hours, lights go on and off and footsteps are heard in empty courtrooms.”

The elements of a classic ghost story include any personal experiences witness have had, stories that have circulated about the haunting, and a baseline that could establish the raison d’être for that haunting.

All three of those elements are present in each of the stories in the county court house.

The sobbing spirit of Courtroom 1 has made herself known to many over the years.  One was a former senior court clerk who, with two other employees, was wrapping up the day’s work in the courtroom when each one of them heard the distinct sound of crying coming from the back of the room.

As all three stopped what they were doing and turned their heads toward the source of the sound, they sat in amazement and horror.  “We saw a long shiny thing, like a person,” the clerk was quoted as saying. “But, it didn’t have the form-just a long, shining glow in the one side in the

back of the room.”

The trio dispersed quickly. Each used a different exit from the chamber to see if they could pin down the source of the sobbing and the glowing sliver,

They found no one, nothing.

Jo Kapus found something, however. She found it in the pages of the June 8, 1898 Atlantic City Daily Evening Union newspaper.

It was the tragic tale of Japhet Connolly, whose body was found in a shallow grave in the woods near Somers Point. The ten-year-old boy has been reported missing two days prior to the discovery.

“The cruel murderer had strangled his victim,” the account said. “He had torn the lad’s shirt from his body, converted it into a rope and twisted it around his neck until his life was extinct.”

The suspect, right from the time the boy was reported missing, was a 28-year old drifter named William O’Mara, who was spotted with Japhet just before his disappearance.  Evidence quickly linked O’Mara to the crime and he was arrested in Linwood before being taken to Mays Landing for trial.

An enraged citizenry called for his lynching, but justice prevailed. He was found guilty on November 2, 1891 and sentenced to 25 years at hard labor.  Could the sobbing spirit that has haunted the courtroom in which O’Mara’s trial took place be that of Mary O’Mara, his mother? Or, could it be Japhet’s


Both attended the trial and both were reported as weeping throughout the ordeal. So much spent emotion in such a confined space could well have left an eternal imprint that manifests itself still today.

Dottie Kinsey, director of the Township of Hamilton Historical Society Museum, said there have been reports of other spirit activity in the courthouse. “They hear a child running in an upstairs hallway, she said, “but there’s no child there. There are some officers who told me they wouldn’t work there because of the incidents.  “Totally, in a collection,” she noted, “it sounds as if there is something there.”  That would appear to be an understatement.

Lights have been known to turn on without human aid. A chandelier in a court room has swayed and “jingled,” an elevator had gone up and down on its own, doorknobs have rattled, and the sound of voices and footsteps in empty rooms and hallways has been almost commonplace over the years.

Some of these episodes have been explained away as natural or mechanical phenomena, but many defy any rational explanation.

Jo Kapus has uncovered other possible baseline incidents that may have added to the supernatural stew that seems to simmer inside the court house walls.

Perhaps some of the energy is that of Joseph Labriola, who was hanged on September 20, 1907 on the courthouse grounds. A contemporary newspaper account was graphic: “The swish of the weight as Labriola’s body bounded and rebounded in the air was easily audible through the open jail windows and the women became terrorized. Some screeched and screamed in terror.”

Or, the haunting could be rooted or nourished by the imprint left by the man who shot himself during his sentencing in 1984, or perhaps from the fellow who hanged himself in the bell tower in the 1950s, or from a poor soul who suffered a heart attack and died while he and two accomplices attempted to rob the bookkeeping department safe.

County Clerk Michael J. Garvin has heard all the stories. He is non-committal when asks if he believes any of them. “Recently, though, I was here for a ceremony in which they wanted us to ring the tower bell. We had to go all the way up into the actual cupola. The thoughts of the ghost went through my mind, because it is kind of eerie up there, it really is.”

Investigating this location was a real treat, as they don’t let just anyone in there.  We were chapparoned by 2 off duty Sheriffs deputies, since the department of elections office was located in the building.  But it was cool to see the deputies kind of get into the ghost hunting, even asking questions to trigger responses on the devices we brought. 

From what we were told by the Lieutenant in charge, there were multiple criminals hung on the property, and even a shooting in one of the courtrooms. 

Our Journey began by walking through a metal detector, then splitting into 2 groups.  Our group hit the attic first, which was preceded by a shaky spiral staircase that opened up into a large attic space and another wooden staircase, that did not appear to be capable of supporting our weight.

Heading back down we traveled through the underground tunnels that were used to transport the accused to their perspective courtrooms.  During our traverse into the tunnels we were able to remove a part of the wall that opened up into a dirt room and in the middle of the room was a large mound that had human faces carved into them.  Pretty creepy sight to see. 

We spent the majority of our time inside the connected home that belonged to the mayor.  It was old, 3 stories, and hasn’t been occupied in years.  Large rooms that once held evidence, firearms, and endless rows of dust covered shelves.  Paperwork from the early 1900’s still strewn across the floor, detailing transactions made through the court, really set the mood of the investigation. 

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