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TALA Tales: Sonny's Story

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Mom of 3 Boys

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, formerly known as Weston State Hospital, is one of West Virginia’s most haunted locations. Each year, hundreds of people ascend upon the massive stone Kirkbride building in hopes of experiencing one of the many ghosts believed to still walk the hospital halls. Every once in awhile, I like to bring in a human element by spotlighting the story of an actual patient committed to the institution. With a history dating back before the Civil War, there are plenty of souls with stories to tell. Although not everyone featured in TALA Tales has a known ghost story associated with them, I still feel like it is important to share their background. Not only does doing so give investigators and students of history a clearer look at everyday life in the hospital, but you never know when an EVP or other response will reveal a name not previously well-known to the building’s ghost lore. So, without further ado, here is Sonny’s story:
William Paul Hall, Jr., also known as Sonny, was born in Diana, WV in 1949 to parents William Sr. and Iva. At the age of 19, his parents admitted Sonny to the Weston State Hospital, on the advice of a psychiatrist. Sonny was classified as ‘retarded,’ a clinical term at the time. He barely spoke, and was unable to dress, feed, or otherwise take care of himself. Physically, he was said to be very small in stature, and quite hirsute. Presumably, he was getting to be at an age where his parents felt that they could no longer take adequate care of their son, and his doctor suggested having him admitted to the state hospital where he’d be in more capable hands. 
Sonny had been a patient at Weston State Hospital for seven years when his life would come to an end at the hands of another patient. On August 20, 1975, Sonny was being housed in Ward 14, Unit 5. Fifty-nine men called this ward home, and only two attendants were assigned to care for them all. That evening, Sonny was locked into an enclosed sun porch with three other men. All three other men were known ‘troublemakers,’ and were put into the locked sun porch for an alleged 4.5 hours while the two attendants on duty attempted to shave the other 55 men. 
Around 8pm, Arnold Lee Shinaberry, who had been given some matches by another inmate, apparently got bored and wanted to have a little fun. That little bit of fun involved setting Sonny’s long tee shirt on fire. Mickey Scarff, one of the attendants on duty, heard Sonny’s screams and ran to unlock the door. He called for the other attendant and the two helped Sonny to his room. A registered nurse, as well as the only on-duty physician, Dr. Zabat, were called immediately to render aid. Dr. Zabat had Sonny immediately transferred to the WVU Medical Center in Morgantown by ambulance. Upon arrival, he was immediately sent to a burn unit in Pennsylvania. 
The Raleigh Register
01 December 1976

Two days later, on August 22, Sonny passed from his injuries. The autopsy revealed his cause of death as complications from 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 36% of his body. He was taken home to Diana and buried in the Cool Springs Cemetery. He was survived by both parents, four sisters, and a brother.
William Hall, Sr. filed a lawsuit against the institution the next year. On December 7, 1982, he was finally rewarded $10,000 in bereavement and $1783.19 for funeral expenses. The judge agreed that Sonny and the other patients were under-supervised, and proper aid was not rendered in a timely fashion. I wasn’t able to find too much on Arnold Lee Shinaberry, other than a charge of auto theft in 1960, and a potential obituary from 2007. 
Places like the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum aren’t really known for their happy-go-lucky, positive tales…but this one is particularly tragic, especially because it most likely could have been avoided. For YEARS, Weston State Hospital was under fire for its overcrowded conditions, understaffing, and overall poor conditions. There was no need for a defenseless young man to be locked into a small space with three other men for over four hours, unsupervised. Unfortunately, Sonny’s story isn’t the only one of its kind to come out of the Weston State Hospital. I hope you’ll join me here at Theresa’s Haunted History as I work to uncover and share as many of these tales as I can. 
Sources and Further Reading:
The Raleigh Register. 01 December 1976
Beckley Post Herald. 28 August 1975
Sunday Gazette-Mail. 24 August 1975


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