this day in crime history: april 20, 1999


On this date in 1999, two teenage losers looking for infamy (which I will not contribute to by naming them here) went on a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Colorado. The attack was originally planned to be a bombing using IEDs made from propane tanks. The killers planned to wait outside and shoot people fleeing after the bombs detonated, but the bombs failed to detonate due to faulty construction. At that point, the killers approached the school and began shooting people. They entered the building and continued their shooting spree. They eventually committed suicide in the school library after police had surrounded the school. Twelve students and a teacher died in the attack. Twenty-four students were injured.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Columbine High School massacre

SlateThe Depressive and the Psychopath

this day in crime history: april 19, 1995


On this date in 1995, a terrorist bomb was detonated outside the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including 19 children under the age of six. Almost 700 people were injured.

An hour and a half after the bombing, an Oklahoma State Trooper pulled over a car that did not have a license plate. The driver, Timothy McVeigh, was arrested for unlawfully carrying a weapon. McVeigh was soon linked to the bombing by forensic evidence. The investigation led to accomplices Terry Nichols, Michael Fortier, and Fortier’s wife Lori. McVeigh, Nichols and Fortier met while they were in the Army. They were motivated by the deadly raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX by the FBI in 1993. The bombing took place on the anniversary of the raid.

McVeigh and Nichols were both convicted of murder and conspiracy. McVeigh was sentenced to death. He was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001. Nichols was sentenced to life without possibility of parole. He is currently housed at the Administrative Maximum (ADX) facility at the Florence Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, CO.

Michael Fortier agreed to testify against McVeigh and Nichols in exchange for immunity for his wife and a lighter sentence for him. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and a $75,000 fine. He was released after 10 1/2 years and disappeared into the witness protection program.

Some people believe that there were more people involved with the bombing. Theories include involvement by members of militia groups and middle eastern terrorists. The FBI dismisses these theories and considers the case closed.

Further reading:

Oklahoma City Memorial & Museum

Wikipedia – Oklahoma City bombing

Were There More OKC Conspirators?: The Elohim City Connection (Presents evidence of militia group involvement in the bombing)

JaynaDavis.com – From Middle America To The Middle East (Presents evidence of a Middle Eastern connection to the bombing)

this day in crime history: march 25, 1990

happylandfireOn this day in 1990, an argument turned into a mass murder at the Happy Land Social Club in the Bronx, NY.

Earlier in the evening, Cuban immigrant Julio Gonzalez was ejected from the club after arguing with his ex-girlfriend, who worked there as a coat check girl. Gonzalez, who had recently lost his job, was enraged. He screamed threats at the bouncers as they ejected him from the club.

Gonzalez returned to the club armed with a container of gasoline and some matches. He poured the gas on the stairs to the club and ignited it. The fire spread quickly. Due to a lack of working fire exits (they were blocked to prevent people from entering the club without paying), the people inside were trapped. Several managed to escape by breaking through a barrier that blocked one of the fire doors. Eighty-seven people died in the fire.

Among those who survived was Gonzalez’s ex-girlfriend. She told police about the argument and Gonzalez’s threats. They tracked him down and arrested him the following afternoon. Shortly after being arrested, Gonzalez confessed to the crime. He was tried and convicted on 87 counts of arson and 87 counts of murder. He was sentenced to 25 years to life on each count. Since the crimes occurred in a single incident, New York State law required that the sentences be served concurrently, rather than consecutively. Gonzalez is currently incarcerated at Clinton Correction Facility. He is scheduled for a parole hearing in November 2016.

The owners of the building were sued by the victims and the families of the deceased. The case was settled for $15.8 million, divided between the plaintiffs.

Further reading:

New York TimesRefugee Found Guilty of Killing 87 in Bronx Happy Land Fire

Murderpedia – Julio Gonzalez

Wikipedia – Happy Land Fire

this day in crime history: march 11, 2005

On this date in 2005, Brian Nichols, the defendant in a rape case in Atlanta, overpowered the deputy assigned to guard him and took her gun. Nichols then went on a shooting spree that left four people dead. He was arrested after police received a tip from Ashley Smith, a woman Nichols had held hostage for seven hours after escaping from the court house.

After multiple delays, Nichols was tried on 54 criminal counts in October 2008. The jury found him guilty on all counts. He received multiple life sentences, with no possibility for parole.

Further reading:

About.com – Brian Nichols: Atlanta Courthouse Killer

Wikipedia – Brian Nichols

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