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Haunting or the madness

Avinesh Gopal
Monday, July 21, 2014

IT is a place where people are sent

to as a form of punishment for the

crimes they commit.

But at one time, people who committed serious crimes such as murder were hanged until death, something that happened until five decades ago.

The hangings were carried out in a separate building known as the

execution chamber, situated within the Suva Prison compound.

People who were hanged until death for serious crimes, mostly murder at that time, were reportedly buried near the execution chamber.

And it has long been rumoured that the area was haunted to some extent, with cries heard at night of someone asking for forgiveness.

Some people who spent time at the Suva Prison at one time or another

told The Fiji Times of hearing reports about the haunting.

Today, we continue with our exclusive interview with a man who officiated in the last hanging of a convicted murderer in the country. He talks about the haunting rumours.

THERE are many reports of places being haunted.

While some people believe in such reports, others just listen to them as rumours or stories as they are.

However, there are some people in our midst too who claim to have lived in haunted places or know of one somewhere.

For some time now, there have been reports or rumours, as they may be termed by some people, of an area just outside Suva City being haunted.

It is the area near a building which was once the execution chamber at the Suva Prison, and where the people executed were buried.

The execution chamber was an entity in itself, with a building some distance away housing those awaiting the death sentence.

During those days, condemned prisoners who were hanged until death were reportedly buried near the execution chamber.

Isoa Koroivuki was 28 years old when he officiated in the last execution of a convicted murderer in September 1964. He is 78 years old now and in a wheelchair.

Mr Koroivuki spoke to us a few weeks ago about his experience while working as the principal prison officer and how he officiated in the last execution.

For the past two weeks, we ran reports of his experience, including the final moments and words of a convicted murderer who was hanged until death.

But when asked last week about reports of the area near the execution chamber being haunted, Mr Koroivuki neither denied nor confirmed the reports.

"The place is said to be haunted. People say when you enter the building, you get an eerie feeling and the hair on the hands and neck just stands," he said.

"When I worked for the HM Prisons Department as the principal prison officer at Suva Prison, I used to carry out patrols within the compound at night to ensure no prisoners escaped.

"I never used to go inside the execution chamber during the patrols but just the outer part.

"It's rumoured that the execution yard is haunted and voices can be heard around there. But the noises can be even from the St Giles Hospital," said Mr Koroivuki.

The St Giles Hospital for mental patients is situated on a hill behind the Suva Prison complex.

Mr Koroivuki said rumours and reports about the execution yard being haunted had been going around for some time.

Some people who served time at the prison also reported of hearing reports about a certain area there being haunted.

There are reports of the words "oilei tamaqu, vosoti au" (Oh Father, please forgive me) being heard inside the execution chamber at one time.

According to some people, they were probably the last words that a condemned prisoner said as the trapdoor below his feet opened and he dropped down with the noose around his neck.

Mr Koroivuki said reports or rumours about those words being heard by some people at one time or another were hard to prove.

"It may be the noise coming from the St Giles Hospital, which is situated on the hill just behind the prison complex. We can't prove the haunting," he said.

Going down memory lane, the execution chamber was said to have been similar to others around the world and the condemned prisoners had to be hanged until death.

According to Mr Koroivuki, the executions were carried out on a Wednesday in September, the reasons for which he is unaware of.

The condemned prisoner's hands had to be strapped to his waist with special leather belts made for the purpose before he was escorted from his cell to the gallows.

Once in the execution chamber, the condemned prisoner was made to stand on the trapdoor and he was asked if he had anything to say before the execution.

After the prisoner had said something, a black cloth was covered over his head and face and the noose placed around his neck.

The court sheriff then used to give the signal to the executioner to carry out the court's order by pointing his thumb downwards.

It was then the executioner pushed the lever to open the trapdoor, resulting in the person facing execution dropping down.

Mr Koroivuki said the condemned prisoner sentenced to death had to be left hanging for one hour before his body was lowered to the floor and the noose removed.

The last convicted murderer who was executed had killed his wife, three months old child and 80-year-old grandfather, he said. He prayed with the 21-year-old killer on the night before the execution and was successful in persuading him to accept God's message in life.

On the day of the execution, Mr Koroivuki escorted the prisoner from his cell to the execution chamber after strapping his hands to his waist.

According to him, there was radiance on the prisoner's face and he and other officers knew that God had forgiven him.

While being escorted from the cell to the execution chamber, the condemned prisoner reportedly told Mr Koroivuki that he wanted to see God, something that showed he was ready for the execution.

The prisoner's last words before he was hanged until death were for Mr Koroivuki — "sir I will always pray for you".

Although the last execution was the first one for him to officiate in, his experience of being there and the last words of the convicted murderer still ring in his ears.

* NEXT WEEK: Crime and punishment

— a paper from the 1970s.

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