Cascade County Sheriff Bob Edwards says he has a little
empathy when talking to people about some of the unexplained things
that go “boo” or bump in the night.
He remembers his days as a detention officer working the
late shift at the old county jail when he saw a mist through a video monitor
that to this day he has no explanation for.
It’s a scene often repeated in horror and thriller
movies — good and bad — where law enforcement comes the rescue at the
end to keep pure evil in check or have it slip away.
Is this just another ghost story? No way, says one
Montana expert on this topic.
“Cops are trained observers so when I hear that a cop had
heard or seen something possibly paranormal, I take it seriously,” said Karen
Stevens, author of Haunted Montana and several other books
featuring spooky tales from the Treasure State.
“Unfortunately, most of them don’t like to talk about
it,” Stevens said.
But Jon Goffena of Roundup, who spent 16 years with
the Musselshell County Sheriff’s Office, said he likes to talk about some of
the bizarre unexplained encounters he had while on duty.
He said he was checking a grade school one night and
could hear what sounded like tiny footsteps upstairs and a child’s laughter. He
said he went into the room and the laughter stopped. However, he saw tiny
footprints in the dust.
Another time he went to a high school at night to check
for vandalism. He could hear footsteps across the gym floor. He came around
from a curtain on the stage and it set off motion detector lights. He gave
chase, but at the time wondered why the other person’s motion did not trigger
“I was definitely in pursuit of something that
wasn’t there,” he said.
Goffena, now a horse trainer and security officer, said
with an easy laugh the he was a believer even before he became a law
“I grew up on the ranch and saw some interesting
stuff in the sky,” he said. “I am a believer in what I saw.”
And he has a lot of stories. One of the more intense ones
occurred when he was no longer a deputy.
He once went to a hospital in Roundup for an allergic reaction. He was lying on
a bed when a nurse wearing a uniform that looked like it came from the ‘50s or
’60s entered the room.
“She comes in and talks to me, takes my vitals …
visits with me briefly and I go back to sleep,” he said.
It was then that another nurse came in to take his vitals. He said he had
already been tended to by a nurse, and gave her name.
“She said they did not have a nurse by that name,” Goffena said.
He said some law enforcement officers will dodge these
kinds of discussion because they are concerned with how it will be
“I have always been open,” he said. “Most guys in law and
enforcement are black and white. If you can’t prove it you didn’t see it.
But Edwards, bracing himself for comments that he will be
called crazy, will talk about his experiences, mostly because he has a witness:
He said the old jail had cells on one side and an
apartment for the sheriff on the other. At one time the sheriff was required to
live in the jail. He was upstairs in the apartment side one night and heard
footsteps coming up the rickety stairs.
“I figured someone was trying to play a trick on me,” he
said, “and I opened the door really fast and was surprised to see there was
nobody there. I went ‘Whoa’ and it freaked me out.”
Edwards went downstairs and asked Mike, the deputy he was
working with, who was upstairs.
“He said ‘You are the only person up there, Bob, nobody
“I told him I was not going back up there,” Edwards said.
He describes the old jail, which was across from the
county building and near the county annex, as “an old haunted house.”
He said he and Mike later were looking at a video monitor
and witnessed a white mist hanging in the air around the hospital cell.
“It looked like someone was blowing out cigarette smoke,”
Mike went down to investigate, but he couldn’t see it.
But Edwards could still see it on the monitor. Mike raised his hand to see if
he could feel it and the mist shot off the screen.
“I had massive goose bumps,” Edward said. “Here I am, a
big tough detention officer in charge of 200 guys in jail and I am worried
about this mist.”
The mysterious mist never returned again.
A few years later, the sheriff’s Explorer’s Post, a
program for young people interested in a career in law
enforcement, would put on a haunted house at the old jail.
Edwards said one of the more seasoned detectives went
down the night before and was doing some finishing touches on the main floor.
He then heard a big metal cell door slam shut and echo
through there. He thought there might be a transient in the building and
unholstered his gun.
Later, he told Edwards: "Bob, I went down those
stairs, shut off the lights, and I will never go down there alone again.”
Edwards is not alone when it comes to tales about the old
jail, or other spooky places around Great Falls.
Michelle Heberle of the Great Falls-based Montana
Association of Paranormal Studies says her group usually gets calls regarding
“We go wherever we have to go,” she said.
Heberle said other than the old jail, the Lobby Bar has
had quite a few paranormal sightings.
Heberle said she has had contact with the spirit of
murderer Duncan McKenzie, who was executed in 1995. The spirit asked to be
She said paranormal investigators also caught the thermal
image of a body builder near a cell where a man had killed himself.
Her organization has not only investigated the jail, but
she says there were asked by county commissioners to do the courthouse.
She said ghosts are pretty nonconfrontational, but yet
want it to be known that they are there.
“Once the client understands that, they can deal
with it,” she says, adding the Bible says “there are spirits all
One spirit even followed her home from the Grand Union
hotel in Fort Benton, she says, but left after a few days because nothing was
familiar to them in their new surroundings.
Herberle says she has only come across one spirit that
She declines to talk about it, saying it didn’t turn out
well for the parties involved.
Edwards said his deputies sometimes get calls from people
reporting strange goings-on.
He said much of that activity can be attributed to the
wind, and it does get windy around Great Falls.
He said in the early 2000s they were getting several
reports of UFOs, or lights in the sky.
“It hasn’t happened in a while,” he said.
He said he coaches deputies to do their best when taking
these kinds of reports, collect the facts and rationalize with the caller,
maybe they saw an airplane or meteor, he said. “A lot of these folks
are very convinced with what they saw. You don’t argue the point with them, you
take your information and document it in a report.
Edwards, who has been with the department since 1992,
said he wasn’t a huge believer in that sort of thing.
"But after personally experiencing what I
experienced in the old jail, I am very empathetic,” he said. “Are
people crazy for reporting that stuff? Absolutely not. After what I witnessed I
will never downplay what I’ve seen. People will read this and say ‘that sheriff
is crazy,’ but I had a witness, so I am happy I had a witness.”