Southgate, KY Nightclub Fire Disaster, May 1977
OVER 160 VICTIMS DIE IN SUPPER CLUB FIRE
Southgate, Ky. (UPI) -- Medical examiners today tried to piece together bone fragments and recovery crews dug through the charred, muddy debris of the Beverly Hills Supper Club for more victims of a raging fire which killed at least 160 persons during a holiday weekend stage show.
Pieces of bones and skulls of 33 more victims were recovered Sunday from the ruins of the sprawling "Showplace of the Midwest," which Saturday night turned into a blazing inferno -- the worst fire in America in 35 years.
The club was packed for a performance by singer JOHN DAVIDSON.
Officials said about four more hours of work to remove collapsed roofing and steel girders remained before a final toll would be known. Workers were forced to halt the search at 6 p. m. Sunday because of a driving rainstorm.
Authorities had said earlier that they feared the death toll could reach 400, but Southgate Fire Chief DAVID RIESENBERG said, "I'm optimistic we won't find any more bodies." He said the area of the ruins where the search for bodies is now confined was not one of the worst hit by the fire.
"We have found bits and pieces of bodies burned to a crisp, an arm here, a leg there, but mostly just skulls with everything burned from them," a volunteer worker said Sunday.
DR. FRED STINE, Campbell County coroner said 22 of the bodies are "badly charred" and that it may be three days before identifications are complete.
"Some don't even have heads, so that makes it difficult for dental identification," STINE said. He said the bodies were being embalmed in the basement of a makeshift morgue in an armory in nearby Ft. Thomas.
About 3,500 persons jammed the supper club Saturday night, about 1,100 of them in the plush Cabaret Room to hear singer JOHN DAVIDSON when smoke began pouring into the room. Within minutes flames shot through the dense smoke. Screams of horror when the lights failed helped trigger general panic which authorities said caused the high death toll.
Bodies were stacked three and four deep in doorways.
DAVIDSON'S road manager, DON PETERSON, said the singer had just stepped out of a shower when club employes warned them about the fire.
"He immediately jumped into some clothes and ran out the back door and held the door and dragged people out of the room through the stage door," PETERSON said. But DAVIDSON'S pianist-conductor DOUG HERRO, died in the blaze.
"I just can't ... I don't want to talk about it," DAVIDSON said Sunday as he waited for a plane at the Greater Cincinnati AIrport to fly home to Los Angeles.
The comedy team of JIM TEETER and JIM McDONALD, actually on stage when the fire broke out, was credited with saving many lives by staying on stage and keeping the crowd as calm as possible before patrons bolted for the exits. They made their way to safety.
STINE said he understood the fire started in an oil generator underneath the Zebra Room, another party room in the club.
"When they tried to put it out with a fire extinguisher, it blew flames down the hallway to the Cabaret Room," he said.
It was the worst fire in the United States since 1942 when 491 persons were killed in a fire at the Coconut Grove in Boston. In 1944, a circus tent fire in Hartford, Conn., killed 168.
Kentucky Deputy Fire Marshal TOM WALD said the Beverly Hills Supper CLub, which headlined such performers as FRANK SINATRA and DEAN MARTIN, did not have a sprinkler system, but was not required to have one.
PANICKED CROWD PILES UP IN DOORWAYS
Southgate, Ky. (UPI) -- "They panicked. That about covers it," said Kentucky Deputy State Fire Marshal TOM WALD. "They lost their cool, to put in in the vernacular."
That was the reason, WALD said Sunday, for the high death toll in the fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club.
When the blaze broke out, a capacity Saturday night holiday crowd of about 3,500 packed the huge club to hear singer JOHN DAVIDSON.
"The crowd panicked and a lot of them stacked up in the doorways," WALD said. "You think you will try and stay calm in that kind of situation, but when it happens, it apparently is very easy to panic."
"From what I've been able to piece together, all the night club personnel tried to keep the crowd calm," he said. "But, as soon as smoke started rolling in pretty good, they bolted and headed for the exits. Smoke apparently panics people."
Southgate Fire Chief DAVID RIESENBERG said, "Apparently the people got confused."
"Obviously they panicked," he said. "The place was loaded with smoke and flames and the people couldn't find the exit."
JIM SCHWORER, Beverly Hills public relations man, said the fire knocked out the electrical system, which contributed to the hysteria.
"It was apparently dark in there and that was a key factor," said SCHWORER. "People couldn't see what they were doing and the smoke poured in."
One person in the club at the time of the fire, RICHARD SCHAFTLEIN, 32, Louisville, Ky., said the comedy team of JIM TEETER and JIM McDONALD was on stage when the fire broke out and helped keep the crowd calm.
"They were great the way they were just telling jokes," said SCHAFTLEIN, who along with his wife brother and sister-in-law escaped the fire uninjured. "I consider those comedians real heroes. I credit them with saving lots of lives including my own."
"People walked out very casual," he said. "The two comics were terrific, saying things like 'we've had a lot of people walk out on us, but this is ridiculous.'"
WALD said an arson team had been called in, but to his knowledge "it was not arson. I assume it was accidental."
"I don't like what has happened here but after 23 years in the fire business I can believe it," he said. "Still, to a lot of people, it doesn't seem possible it can happen here."
MORGUE IN GYMNASIUM FOR STRONG-STOMACHED
Ft. Thomas, Ky. (UPI) -- Volunteer rescue workers were warned that only those with strong stomachs should enter the sheet-draped gymnasium of the Fort Thomas armory.
The gym was converted into a morgue after the deadly fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in nearby Southgate.
Rows of white sheeted bodies and green bags bearing charred bone fragments -- there were 160 victims in all by late Sunday ... covered the gym floor.
The first bodies brought in Saturday night from the "Showplace of the Midwest" were mostly smoke inhalation victims. They were clad in suits and evening dresses, relatively unkarked by the fire.
But Sunday, as workers plowed through the ruins with blow torches, bulldozers and a 100-foot crane, the victims dug out of the ruins were described as "mostly skulls, charred arms and legs."
Packed in green bags on huge National Guard trucks, the remains were taken to the armory where FBI identification specialists and medical examiners tried to match names with bodies.
The searched wallets, took fingerprints and scoured dental charts. Campbell County Coroner DR. FRED STINE said, however, that even those methods wouldn't work in some cases. Bodies were coming in without heads and minus limbs.
White sheets strung on clothelines around the gym floor kept the curious from seeing the bodies. Volunteers who helped bring the dead to the armory were told "don't go in unless you have a strong stomach."
Relatives had to go in.
Slowly, as doctors, named, then cleaned the bodies, they were released, one-by-one, to grieving families.
"It is sickening," said Kentucky State Police Lt. BEN HARNEY, who helped in the body detail.
Daily Middlesboro News Kentucky 1977-05-30
List of 165 Dead in Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire May 28, 1977
From a "Special Edition of the Cincinnati Enquire on May 28, 1997"
MARIAN ADKINS, 62, Ashland, Ky.
AMELIA ARTHUR, 65, Covington, Ky.
WILLIAM EGAR ARTHUR, 53, Covington, Ky.
RUTH K. BACKUS, 49, Ohio.
WALTER WM. BACKUS, JR., 50, Ohio.
JEAN I. BAKER, 52, Kettering, Ohio.
WARREN BAKER, 54, Kettering, Ohio.
DAN BARKER, 29, Southgate, Ky.
MABLE MARIE BARKER, 54, Trenton, Ohio.
MARTIN HERSCHEL BARKER, 60, Trenton, Ohio.
JOHN B. BEAVERS, 28, Grove City, Ohio.
ANN LOUISE BEER, 23, Hamilton, Ohio.
DONALD BEZOLD, 54, Alexandria, Ky.
PATRICIA MATILDA BEZOLD, 30, Alexandria, Ky.
BARBARA ANN BOHRER, 23, Ohio.
JANE LOUISE BOHRER, 16, Cincinnati, Ohio.
JUDITH ANN BOHRER, 28, Cincinnati, Ohio.
MARY LOUISE BOHRER, 56, Cincinnati, Ohio.
RAYMOND WILLARD BOHRER, 56, Cincinnati, Ohio.
THOMAS WILLIAM BOHRER, 25, Cincinnati, Ohio.
DORIS JEAN BROWN, 44, Kettering, Ohio.
JAMES K. BROWN, 46, Lexington, Ky.
PATRICIA BROWN, 40, Lexington, Ky.
CHARLOTTE FIDLER BURNS, 58, Ashland, Ky.
ROBERT DONALDSON BURNS, 60, Ashland, Ky.
MAXIE HOLLAN BUTLER, 56, Ashland, Ky.
ROY O. BUTLER, 49, Ashland, Ky.
HOWARD B. CARSON, 69, Covington, Ky.
JOSEPHINE CARSON, 65, Covington, Ky.
HELEN MARGARET CASTELLI, 53, Crittenden, Ky.
NORBERT J. CASTELLI, 55, Crittenden, Ky.
STUART PATRICK COAKLEY, 36, Ludlow, Ky.
GERALDINE COLE, 22, Jeffersonville, Ky.
ELLEN HEARNE COOKSEY, 58, Ashland, Ky.
FRED MILLER COOKSEY, 61, Ashland, Ky.
CAROL ANN COTTONGIM, 32, Hamilton, Ohio.
ROBERT DOUGLAS COLLONGIM, 34, Hamilton, Ohio.
ORVILLE COULTER, 68, Ironton, Ohio.
JAMES CARL COX, 59, Florence, Ky.
JAMES BRENT CRANE, 19, Waynesville, Ohio.
HAROLD ALAN DALY, 32, Washington Court House, Ohio.
ROSE MARY DISCHER, 38, Highland Heights, Ky.
GLORIA SUE DUNCIL, 36, Hamilton, Ohio.
MARY NELL DWYER, 25, Lexington, Ky.
ROSEMARY MULHOLLAND DWYER, 56, Lexington, Ky.
SHELIA A. DWYER, 23, Lexington, Ky.
ELMER LEE ELLISON, 60, Covington, Ky.
NORA LEE ELLLISON, 38, Covington, Ky.
GRACE LOUISE FALL, 48, Jacksonburg, Ohio.
WILLIAM LEWIS FAWBUSH, SR., 70, Pewee Valley, Ky.
MARILYN L. FINCH, 41, Elsmere, Ky.
VIRGINIA LEE JONES FINCH, 62, Ashland, Ky.
HELEN WRIGHT FLOYD, 62, Pellefonte, Ky.
JAMES E. FOWLER, 57, Ironton, Ohio.
ANNA MYRTLE FRESHNER, 61, New Lebanon, Ohio.
FREDRICA HEHR FRYMAN, 40, Cynthiana, Ky.
MARTIN SCOTT FRYMAN, 14, Cynthiana, Ky.
TRACY OWEN FRYMAN, 16, Cynthiana, Ky.
WILLARD T. FRYMAN, 40, Cynthiana, Ky.
LENORA HILL GENTRY, 30, Cincinnati, Ohio.
MARY ANN COLEMAN GORHAM, 46, Lexington, Ky.
RICHARD ALLEN GORHAM, 48, Lexington, Ky.
RUSSELL OSCAR GRAY, 22, Cincinnati, Ohio.
CAROL ANN GREER, 31, Florence, Ky.
FRANKIE McKINLEY GREER, 33, Florence, Ky.
CLARENCE F. GRIPSHOVER, 48, Covington, Ky.
DONNYE CLYDE GROGAN, 50, Murray, Ky.
FELTON BIRDSONG HARRISON, 73, Oakwood, Ohio.
DOUGLAS G. HERRO, 27, Canogo Park, Calif.
HARRY RICHARD HODGES II, 27, Columbus, Ohio.
BARBARA J. HOUS, 51, Madison Township, Ohio.
DOTTIE D. ISAACS, 67, Dayton, Ohio.
MARY LOUISE ITTEL, 58, Hamilton, Ohio.
RUTH JONES JOHN, 59, Ashland, Ky.
LILLIAN ROETTGER JUTZI, 58, Dayton, Ohio.
RAYMOND CLARENCE JUTZI, 67, Dayton, Ohio.
ROBERT E. KETTMAN, 34, Withamsville, Ohio.
SUSAN A. KETTMAN, 35, Withamsville, Ohio.
TAMMY KINCER, 18, Lebanon, Ohio.
LUCY MAE KING, 57, Hamilton, Ohio.
PAUL G. KISER, 54, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
MINNIE J. KNIGHT, 70, Germantown, Ohio.
DONALD EUGENE KOONTZ, 48, Hamilton, Ohio.
DOROTHY MAXINE KOONTZ, 46, Hamilton, Ohio.
CARL KRIGBAUM, JR., 55, Louisville, Ky.
DIANE L. LAPE, 25, Cincinnati, Ohio.
ETTA E. LEIS, 70, Miamisburg, Ohio.
GARY LEE LITTRELL, 29, Lawrenceburg, Ind.
SHARON LITTRELL, 26, Lawrenceburg, Ind.
LEONA S. LONG, 72, Dayton, Ohio.
JAMES P. LYON, 42, Ft. Mitchell, Ky.
MONICA A. LYON, 42, Ft. Mitchell, Ky.
MARGARET ELIZABETH MALOWAN, 54, Dayton, Ohio.
SHARLENE MATTHEWS, 27, Cincinnati, Ohio.
HERMAN CLARK MAYFIELD, 35, Jacksonville, Ala.
SARAH McCLAIN, 73, Miamisburg, Ohio.
COLLIS WILLIAM MITCHELL, 50, Wayne Township, Ohio.
MINDA MARIE MOFORD, 16, Dover, Ky.
AGNES IRENE MUDDIMAN, 48, Cheviot, Ohio.
EVERETT H. NEILL, JR., 27, Ft. Mitchell, Ky.
PAULA LYNEE NEILL, 23, Ft. Mitchell, Ky.
JEAN NOE, 28, Taylor Mill, Ky.
MILDRED F. OVERTON, 62, Huntington, W. Va.
RUTH PATTERSON, 67, Coal Grove, Ohio.
HAROLD R. PENWELL, JR., 28, Wayne Township, Ohio.
HILMA C. PFEIFFER, 64, Dayton, Ohio.
LAWRENCE G. PHELPS, 44, Lakeside Park, Ky.
MARGARET ELIZABETH PHILLIPS, 65, Dayton, Ohio.
ALBERTA CATHERINE PIEPER, 49, Louisville, Ky.
MARY L. PITSENBARGER, Greenville, Ohio.
NOLAN E. PITSENBARGER, 62, Greenville, Ohio.
RICHARD KARL POKKY, 23, Cincinnati, Ohio.
DOROTHY POLLEY, 72, Ironton, Ohio.
GEORGE CHARLES POLLEY, 74, Ironton, Ohio.
ETHEL PRUGH, 55, West Carrollton, Ohio.
GARY M. PRUGH, 30, Washington Township, Ohio.
L. J. PRUGH, 56, West Carrollton, Ohio.
VIRGINIA L. RAITT, 34, West Chester, Ohio.
VIRGINIA K. RAMLER, 52, Erlanger, Ky.
ANNA LEE REINICKE, 59, Kettering, Ohio.
NELL REYNOLDS, 71, Louisville, Ky.
ELMA B. RHINEHART, 74, Lewisburg, Ohio.
CHARLES JOE RIST, 59, Catlettsburg, Ky.
MAYMIE LOUISE RIST, 57, Catlettsburg, Ky.
ROBERT R. RODEN, 58, Taylor Mill, Ky.
TERRIE LYNN ROSE, 26, Deer Park, Ohio. (Waitress at Club)
ALMA SCHNAPP, 67, Miamisburg, Ohio.
JOSEPH JOHN SCHRANTZ, 63, Green Township, Ohio.
MARY AGNES SCHRANTZ, 61, Green Township, Ohio.
ROSALIE SCHUMAN, 33, Lawrenceburg, Ind.
ROBERT GLENN SEAMAN, 57, Erlanger, Ky.
PERCY M. SHEPHERD, 64, Cincinnati, Ohio.
CHARLES D. SHERWOOD, 54, Dayton, Ohio.
EVELYN MAE SHOUGH, 61, Kettering, Ohio.
DONNA S. SKAGGS, 22, Louisville, Ky.
PAUL HERMAN SMITH, 54, Cincinnati, Ohio.
ANN LIGHT STALLONS, 44, Murray, Ky.
OPAL LUCILLE STEWART, 57, Harrison Township, Ohio.
FRED KOLBY STRATTON, 37, Norwood, Ohio.
JOHN R. STROM, 52, Lexington, Ky.
LORA JANE SYKES, 29, Bright, Ind.
ROBERT EARL SYKES, 29, Bright, Ind.
STEVEN HOWARD TAYLOR, 26, Cincinnati, Ohio. (waiter at club)
BARBARA A. THORNHILL, 35, Delhi Township, Ohio.
CAROLYN LOUISE THORNHILL, 35, Miami Township, Ohio.
DARLENE E. THORNHILL, 18, Delhi Township, Ohio.
ROBERT H. THORNHILL, 36, Delhi Township, Ohio.
ROSEMARY TILLEY, 33, Kettering, Ohio.
GLENNA NEOMI TURNER, 63, Spring Valley, Ohio.
JOHN L. TWADDELL, 52, Fort Wright, Ky.
DIANA LOU TYRA, 19, Louisville, Ky.
DORIS L. TYRA, 46, Louisville, Ky.
PHYLLIS A. TYRA, 24, Louisville, Ky.
MARY SUSAN VOGEL, 29, Cincinnati, Ohio.
OTILIA MARGARET VOLLMAN, 84, Newport, Ky.
FRED E. WADE, 61, Wayne Township, Ohio.
MARTHA ELINOR WADE, 61, Wayne Township, Ohio.
GEORGE R. WALKER, JR., 32, Louisville, Ky.
BEATRICE E. WENNING, 57, Dayton, Ohio.
GERTRUDE MARY WILLIAMS, 67, Miami Township, Ohio.
BETTY WILSON, 62, Miamisburg, Ohio.
MARY ANN WORK, 29, Covington, Ohio.
ROBERT FRED ZADEK, 39, Miami Township, Ohio.
GEORGE ZORICK, JR., 52, Cheviot, Ohio.
GEORGE ZORICK III, 32, Mack, Ohio.
Source Kentucky and Ohio death certificates.