Nearly half a century after a New Orleans gay bar arson killed 32 people, the city council has renewed the search for the remains of four victims, three of which were never identified.
The upstairs lounge burned down on 24 June 1973, killing 31 men, including the mother of two who died with them, and injuring another woman and 14 men.
Ferris LeBlanc, 50, a World War II veteran who had fought at the Battle of the Bulge, and three bodies who had burned past identification, were buried next to each other in the town’s unmarked “potter’s field”.
The resolution passed on Thursday directed the city’s attorney, property management director and chief administrative officer to provide “all reasonable assistance” to recover the remains.
The resolution, written by council member JP Morrell, said “the city’s harsh and deeply inadequate response … rooted in widespread anti-gay sentiment” has gotten worse for the victims’ families and friends.
And, he wrote, “poor record-keeping and apathy hinder the efforts of surviving family members to retrieve victims’ bodies and provide them with the dignity of a proper burial.”
The council believes that the city has a moral obligation to do everything possible to aid in “the recovery and respectful intervention of the victims of the Upstairs Lounge massacre”.
On 23 June, a day before the 49th anniversary of the fire, the council issued a formal apology for the city’s response.
LeBlanc’s family wrote, “The council has promised to get to the bottom of the issue and do everything possible to help us end this story.” In a statement to ABC News. “We are cautiously optimistic about this renewed interest and expect it to culminate in a positive resolution.”
The fire was the largest mass murder of homosexuals in the 20th century, the city council’s pardon and Thursday’s resolution noted. The Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 overtook it.
The location of LeBlanc’s body was noted as “Panel Q, Lot 32” of the cemetery, by Robert W. Fissler wrote in a book published in 2018.
But city officials said the maps and other relevant records were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, ABC reported later that year. The network released a 45th anniversary documentary about the fire and efforts to find LeBlanc’s body.
Soon after the documentary’s release, Mayor LaToya Cantrell hired five employees to help the family. But he dropped the case after months of fruitless searches, the network reported.
LeBlanc was separated from her family in California—not because of her homosexuality, but because she hadn’t given her grandfather money, Fieseler wrote in “Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Upstairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gays”. Liberation”.
His body was identified after an anonymous caller told the coroner’s office that LeBlanc was wearing an antique ring made from a silver spoon, Flichler wrote.
The other three were listed as bodies 18, 23 and 28, and were buried for more than a decade before DNA fingerprinting was developed.
“Body 18, an eighteen-year-old white male, … had no identifiable tattoo and had over 70 percent burns,” Fisler wrote. “Body 28, more than 60 percent of his body, was found from his final resting place with pants and an undershirt still sculpted over his skin. Body 23, 90 percent burned, was the most unrecognized person pulled from the ruins All that is known is that he ended up wearing brown shoes and black socks.”
Johnny Townsend, who interviewed more than 30 fire survivors for a book published in 2011, wrote that a survivor heard two firefighters talking while the fire was still roaring.
One was disappointed that he could not reach the fire, Townsend wrote. Another replied, using a slang for homosexuals, “Let them burn.”