this day in crime history: february 14, 1929

On this day in 1929, five of gangster Bugs Moran’s men, along with two men unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, were gunned down by men impersonating police officers. The probable sender of this grisly Valentine: Al Capone. I guess Big Al didn’t think flowers and chocolates would do the trick. The killings became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Check out author/crime historian Pat Downey’s interview with Mario Gomes, the man who knows more about Al Capone than anyone. Well, anyone alive, anyway.

Further reading:

Mario Gomes’s My Al Capone Museum: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Mysterynet: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre With Pictures

Ghosts of the Prairie – Blood, Roses & Valentines: The Haunted History of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Wikipedia – The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre   

Deadly Valentines, by Jeffrey Gusfield

this day in crime history: february 10, 1981

 Phillip Bruce Cline
Philip Bruce Cline

On this date in 1981, a fire broke out at the Las Vegas Hilton hotel. The fire came 90 days after a fatal fire at the Las Vegas MGM Grand had killed 85 people. As a result of the MGM Grand fire, the Hilton was undergoing a modernization of its fire safety system on the day the fire started.

Eight people were killed in the fire and dozens more were injured. An investigation into the cause of the fire revealed it to be arson. Police quickly zeroed in on a suspect: hotel employee Philip Cline. Cline eventually confessed to starting the blaze, but claimed it was an accident. The fact that the fire had four apparent points of origin cast serious doubt on Cline’s story. He was tried and convicted on eight counts of murder and was sentenced to eight consecutive life terms in prison. He is currently incarcerated at Southern Desert Correctional Center.

Further reading:

Clark County Nevada – Las Vegas Hilton Fire – February 10, 1981

Las Vegas Review JournalKiller says deadly Hilton blaze in 1981 ‘wasn’t meant to hurt anybody’

Wikipedia – Las Vegas Hilton

this day in crime history: december 31, 1986

rescue

On this date in 1986, 97 people were killed when a fire was set at the Dupont Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The fire was started around 3:30 PM in a ballroom beneath the hotel’s casino. The fire spread quickly and the hotel’s lack of a sprinkler system and locked fire exits (to prevent theft) aggravated the situation. Many of the hotel guests fled to the roof, where they were evacuated by police, National Guard, Navy, and Coast Guard helicopters.

The fire was started by three hotel employees, Héctor Escudero Aponte, José Rivera López, and Arnaldo Jiménez Rivera. The men were angry with hotel management for rejecting a proposal by their labor union, Teamsters Local 901. All three were convicted of murder and given prison sentences. Jimenez was released in 2001, Lopez in 2002. Aponte remains in prison.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Dupont Plaza Hotel arson

Albany Times Union“San Juan Hotel fire Dupont employees get prison terms”

Rescue 911 Video 1, Video 2

this day in crime history: december 29, 1975

TWA

On this date in 1975, a bomb was detonated in the TWA baggage claim area at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Eleven people were killed and seventy-five were injured. A Croatian nationalist emerged as a suspect, but there was never sufficient evidence linking him to the crime. The case remains officially unsolved.

Further reading:

New York TimesTerrorist’s Release Reopens Wound of Unsolved Bombing

Wikipedia – 1975 LaGuardia Airport bombing

this day in crime history: december 24, 1913

ItalianHall1913

On this date in 1913, striking copper miners and their families gathered for a Christmas party at the Italian Hall in Calumet, MI. The miners, who worked for the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company, were in the fifth month of their strike. At some point in the evening, someone yelled, “fire!” The party-goers — who numbered over four hundred — raced for the exits, which were insufficient to handle a mass evacuation of that size. Seventy-three people, including fifty-nine children, were killed in the ensuing panic. The person (or people) responsible for starting the panic, and the motive for starting it, were never discovered.

Further reading:

New York TimesX-mas Tree Panic Costs 80 Lives

Wikipedia – Italian Hall disaster

this day in crime history: november 24, 1917

On this date in 1917, a bomb exploded at the Milwaukee, WI Police headquarters. The bomb, a black powder device, was found outside a Catholic church. The church janitor brought it to the police station, where it exploded while being examined by officers. Nine police officers and a civilian employee were killed in the blast. The case was never solved, but an anarchist group was believed to be responsible.

Further reading:

City of Milwaukee – 1917 Bombing

Wikipedia – Milwaukee Police Department

this day in crime history: november 18, 1978

Photo: The Jonestown Institute
Photo: The Jonestown Institute

On this date in 1978, members of the People’s Temple cult in Guyana assassinated Congressman Leo Ryan, who had traveled to the South American country to investigate allegations of abuse made against the cult.  While he was at an airstrip waiting to fly home, Temple gunmen opened fire, killing Ryan, three journalists, and a Temple defector.

Shortly after the murder of Ryan, People’s Temple leader Jim Jones led the group in a mass murder-suicide.  Over 900 men, women, and children died.  It is believed to be the largest murder suicide in history.

Further reading:

PBS – Jonestown: The Life and death of the People’s Temple

Wikipedia – Jonestown

SDSU – The Jonestown Institute