As part of the research for my 2011 oral history book Beyond Our Wildest Dreams I came across a startling discovery - possibly the most deadly mob hit in history, a crime so horrifying it made the St. Valentine's Day Massacre feel like a church picnic. Why don't we hear more about it?
My talk with Wayne Dammert on July 5, 2009 was a real eye opener. He was a longtime employee at the fabled Beverly Hills Supper Club in Newport, Ohio near Cincinnati, he was there for the mother of all modern nightclub fires in 1977.
He and others on the scene that night believe it was murder when the structure, loaded with thousands of patrons, exploded into flame in just a few minutes. If so, one of the nation's worst mass murderers got clean away, 163 people were killed.
Wayne also tells us about the wild days of the '50s and '60s when Newport, Kentucky was an "open town", known as "Sin City", with illegal gambling joints all over the place.
Wayne Dammert, employee of the Beverly Hills Supper Club: The night The Beverly Hills Supper Club burned down there were approximently 2,700 people in there. Gangsters wanted to take over, it was very lucrative, the Shillings were making money faster than they could count it. They were going to build a big convention center, they were going to build a hotel there. They were going to have a lake in the middle of all this with a bridge and white horses with carriages. They had already expanded it like crazy and if you wanted a banquet you had to book three years in advance.
They were getting all these threats and finally, on the busiest night we had, May 28th 1977, these guys torched it.
From Wikipedia: On October 28, 2008, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear appointed a panel to investigate claims that arson may have been the cause of the fire. In March 2009, the panel, in recommending that the investigation not be reopened, characterized the new accusations as "a very tiny shred of evidence of arson and a huge mountain of conjecture, unsupported speculation and personal opinion."
The Beverly Hills Supper Club site sits relatively undisturbed these last 30 plus years, surely there's an enterprising TV producer with a Cold Case type show that could bring together a forensic team to go over the site and search for evidence. It doesn't appear that the Governor's panel did that.
You can read more about this tragic event in the book Inside the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire by Ronald E. Elliott and based on an original story by survivor Wayne Dammert.